Brake Adjustment Gone Horribly Wrong


After changing the parking brake cable that the previous owner of my 89 Toyota pickup truck had been driving around without for who knows how long, the back brakes were pretty far out of adjustment. On this truck the brakes adjust when you engage the parking brake, which hadn’t happened for a while. I tried repeatedly engaging the parking brake, but there was still a great deal of pedal play.

So I crawled under and started adjusting the brakes by hand. One side adjusted up just fine, but the other side, after I turned the star wheel to a point in which the wheel wouldn’t turn any more froze up!

The manual says to stick two screwdrivers in the tiny little hole, using one to push back the spring loaded adjuster and using the other to move the adjuster screw. Even doing this, I can’t back the screw off! I’ve soaked the thing with penetrant and even bought a crisp new stubby screw driver, and nothing is working.

I’m really at a loss here! The only thing I can think of is maybe pulling the axle half-shaft, but I’m not sure I can do that with all the brake hardware still on there!

Any suggestions?


You are aware that the bake adjustment bolt on one side of the vehicle is a left-handed thread, right?


You are aware that one adjuster has right-hand threads and the other side has left hand threads and so must be turned in the opposite direction…

Pull off the drum on the good side and study the mechanism in order to figure out how to deal with the jammed side. A brake spoon always works better than a screwdriver…Many “homeowner brake jobs” leave the rear drum brakes in a very poor configuration…


Hmm! I thought about that, but I noticed in my manual that it said, when talking about getting a drum off:

Using another flat-baded tool, relieve the brake shoe tension by turning the adjusting bolt clockwise.

Because that sentance doesn’t mention one drum or another, I assumed both adjusters turned clockwise to shorten. I will give it a try turning it the other way!


Brake spoon, eh! I figured there was probably a special tool for this.


First, pull the wheel that does adjust off and look carefully at the brake. Maybe it will be obvious what has gone wrong on the other side and what to do about it. Remember that the parts of the adjuster may be mirror imaged on that side relative to the other – frozen – side

If all else fails, you can try brute force. Use a big-mutha wheel puller and pull the wheel off. Given sufficient force, either the wheel will pull off or something in brake (I’d guess probably one of the pins that holds the shoes to the back plate) will break. Unless what breaks is the wheel puller, you should end up with access to (what remains of) the brake mechanism. Most of the parts you might damage should be readily available and fairly cheap.

Yes, I’ve done that, and it worked.