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Drum brake is making loud clunking sound?

2001 Nissan Altima, the back passenger side drum brake is making a loud clunking sound. It’s making the noise at the same one position when the wheel spins. But if I press the brakes slightly to slow down and coast, the clunking noise stops. What could this problem be?

The other problem is I tried to look at it but I can’t take the drum off. I whacked it with a hammer and it didn’t have any outward movement. What other methods should I try to take off the drum? I know of the bolt in the thread hole but didn’t try that yet because I didn’t have the right bolt and don’t even know if that would work either.

It sounds like your shoes are still contacting the drum. Did you adjust the adjuster at all? You need to remove the plug from the back of the boot and then use a thin metal rod to shorten the adjuster. This should give you more clearance between the shoes and drum and it should let you pull the drum off.

How do you know the brake drum is the source of the sound, and not something else?

I only ask because the last time I heard a clunking sound, it was in my fiancee’s 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe. I first suspected it was the CV joints, but it turned out the spare tire was loose, and bouncing around when I accelerated or decelerated.

I caution you to open your mind to other possibilities, especially if you take it to a mechanic, in which case I recommend you mention the symptom, but not your theory of the cause.

The bolt in the thread hole will definitely help break the drum free from the hub. But if it breaks free and you still can’t get it off, the adjuster may need to be loosened via the hole in the backing plate. I’ve never found that easy to do, but it may be necessary.

To test if the noise is really from the brake, can you safely pull on the parking brake while driving? That operates the rear brakes only, via the brake cable and not the hydraulics.

Whitey: I did lift the car, take the tire off and spun the drum by hand back and forth. The sound was coming seems like the top of the inside of the drum, Just like to remove the drum to start ruling things out or find the problem.

In that case, the first thing I’d suspect is that maybe a piece of hardware inside the drum has broken, and the brake shoes are shifting when they’re being used.

…of course I’m just guessing. Let us know when you get the drum off, and if you don’t find the cause, post pictures of what you find.

Make sure the e-brake is off when trying to remove the drum otherwise it will never come off…A rust lip can form inside the drum and cause a noise.I usually grind the rust lip until the noise stops.

Where the drum slides over the hub (where it’s rusted now)…spray with PB Blaster or WD-40 a few times a day for several days. Then, pull the wheel and hit the drum with a hammer radially inward toward the hub all around the outside of the drum. Start with 100 wacks, then try hammering the drum off…no go…do another 100…using the thread hole you mentioned will also help.

So I tried to adjust the star wheel adjuster but the problem is that the rubber plug was not there and been exposed to everything, so it seems like it’s rusted up.

Just to see I went to the other wheel in the back and I was able to adjust the star wheel adjuster which did have a plug on that side. And also tried to see if that drum would come loose, that also had no play outward.

insightful: I thought spraying some WD-40 into the drum is not good and will gunk things up in there unless the brakes and parts are getting changed. This drum the whole thing goes into the backing plate, I can’t grab the outside and yank it by hand or can’t use that drum puller tool.

I’m going to get the bolt, looked up it’s a 8mm by 1.25 thread pitch if that’s correct, and what are the odds that it’s so stuck the threads strip out the drum hole?

Spray into the gaps where the lugs come through the drum. The rust bond is there where it sits on the hub. You can try to direct it through the back to that area if it still won’t come off. The oil might get on your pads from the back but you gotta do what you gotta do to get it off.

I’ve experienced a clunk sound on my truck associated with the drum brakes before. It happened b/c the shoes weren’t sliding freely against the backing plate. They’ll stick then when they come unstuck they make a cluck sound. To fix it I had to lube the sliding surfaces on the backing plate up better with some brake grease. Something like that probably, or a spring has broke, shoes have come loose from their rivets, etc.

Removing brake drums is a common complain we hear here. Spraying with rust penetrant where-ever it makes sense as described above (including the adjuster through the back hole) and letting it soak for a couple days while you use the car helps. To finish the job, It helps if you can first back off the brake adjustment, so it’s worth taking some time to see if you can figure it out. How that’s done exactly varies from car to car. On my Corolla it’s a really difficult job if done when laying on the ground under a jacked-up and jack-standed car, b/c of the angle you need to get your head and eyes in to see the adjuster wheel. If the car was on a lift and your were standing up while you did it it would be much easier. On the Corolla I have to tie a makeshift piece of wire to something above to hold the little lever up then use a custom bent screwdriver to turn the wheel. On other cars there’s a hole right in the front surface of the brake drum so it is easy as pie to adjust the brake shoes with that design.

To remove the drum. I don’t recommend the hit it with a big hammer approach if that can be avoided. Too easy to damage something. Start with installing the correct size bolts into the threaded holes in the drum and see if you can push it off that way. That method is surprisingly effective btw, and I expect it will work for you, especially if you can back off the adjusters first. But even if you can’t, try it; I’m guessing the bolts will still probably push the drum off without much difficulty. If the drum remains stubborn, heat it up with a propane torch. This can take a while b/c the drum can store a lot of heat. So heat it up, then wait 15 minutes, and see if the bolts will push it off then. If it is still a no go, take it to a shop who has an acetylene torch, that’s will get the drum really hot and should get the job done then. I’d do that before whacking on the drum with a big hammer. If all else fails I guess you got nothing left but to whack it with a hammer, but do that as last resort. A few love taps with a big hammer using only moderate force wouldn’t do much harm likely, so that might be worth a try if the drum remains stubborn.

I’ve told this story here before, but years ago I was trying to remove a brake disc which was rusted stuck to the hub. Nothing I tried worked, so I heated it up with a propane torch. Still nothing. So I was laying under the car wondering what to try next, not even touching the disc, when the disc suddenly let go of its grip on the hub up and dropped on my leg … lol … that’s why I say heat combined w/patience often works.

I was referring to this:


You are right, not replacing the rubber plug can cause a lot of damage. Some brake hardware has probably rusted through. You are probably going to need new hardware and a new adjuster. Make sure you get the correct one, they come in right and left.
Do as others have suggested. put penetrating oil at each hole a stud comes through and at the hub. Use the boltd to break the drums free. If you get any movement but the drum keeps springing back, look on the inside of backing plate, and you should see the round heads of two pins that hold the shoes in place. Grind those heads off and you should be able to force the drums off. You will get new pins in the new hardware kit.


George-do NOT spray into the adjuster hole. That’ll contaminate the shoes and drum, and woul do little to free up the drum.

As for the clunking sound, the OP needs to get this fixed soon, if they can’t get the drum off have a shop fix it. And have the other wheels checked, too. This is a BIG safety problem.

Yeah, if I was going to spray anything inside the drum through the hole, it would be brake cleaner. I don’t know whether WD-40 would hurt anything, but the only downside of spraying brake parts cleaner in there is that the instructions usually say to try to keep it from getting on rubber parts, such as the protective rubber sleeves on the brake cylinder.

EDIT: Having read the other responses, I would feel safe using penetrating oil on the lug bolts to seep through the rust holding the drum on, but I recommend you rotate the hub and let it sit in various positions so gravity can spread the penetrating oil around.

Drum brakes does only 20% of the braking… the reason shoes last so long.

Another idea is a brake drum puller. . I 've never used one myself, but here’s what one versions look like. Maybe your auto parts store would rent you one for a day.

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Good caution. Anything robustly sprayed into that hole, the excess could drip onto the braking surface of the drum. I’ve sprayed a little brake cleaner into that hole in a pinch to remove brake dust from the adjuster, but not anything else.

Nice! I need to get myself one of those.