How Drum Brakes Work

By: Karim Nice

Brake Adjuster

Figure 6. Adjuster mechanism

­ ­For the drum brakes to function correctly, the brake shoes must remain close to the drum without touching it. If they get too far away from the drum (as the shoes wear down, for instance), the piston will require more fluid to travel that distance, and your brake pedal will sink closer to the floor when you apply the brakes. This is why most drum brakes have an automatic adjuster.

Now let's add in the parts of the adjuster mechanism. The adjuster uses the self-actuation principle we discussed above.


As the pad wears down, more space will form between the shoe and the drum. Each time the car stops while in reverse, the shoe is pulled tight against the drum. When the gap gets big enough, the adjusting lever rocks enough to advance the adjuster gear by one tooth. The adjuster has threads on it, like a bolt, so that it unscrews a little bit when it turns, lengthening to fill in the gap. When the brake shoes wear a little more, the adjuster can advance again, so it always keeps the shoes close to the drum.

Some cars have an adjuster that is actuated when the emergency brake is applied. This type of adjuster can come out of adjustment if the emergency brake is not used for long periods of time. So if you have this type of adjuster, you should apply your emergency brake at least once a week.