Ford Ranger will not move (parking brake stuck on?)

Hey folks,
I’m trying to help my buddy with his 2005 Ford Ranger, 4.0L V6, manual with 4WD. It cranks fine, shifts through gears, but it will not move. We’re thinking something to do with the parking brake, but I don’t have much knowledge about brake systems. A cursory inspection showed a cable without much rust, some rust on the rear drum brakes, and around the mounting where the brake cable runs into the brake drum. I can pull downward on the cable about three inches, so it doesn’t seem like the cable is pulled too taut. The pressure on the brake pedal feels about normal.

(edit: something sort of important I forgot to mention, which is why I don’t think it’s the transmission. In neutral, we cannot push the truck. When pushing from the rear, it will rock back and forth a few inches. When pushing from the front, the truck will not budge at all with two guys pushing on it.)

What sorts of tests can we do to pin down where the problem lies? If it is the parking brake, how can we loosen it up enough to get the truck moving to a shop (or at least to the garage where we can get to the brake shoes)?

Thanks for any help you guys might have.


Can you safely use a hair dryer in the driveway. A few short minutes at each wheel heating the 1 foot length of cable on each side should free the brakes if that actually is the problem. The problem may be the transmission, though. The shift lever mechanism can wear and allow the transmission to be in 2 gears at the same time. That situation causes the transmission to be locked. The shift lever will continue to move but it will usually have little resistance when this occurs,

Jack up the rear wheels. If they both spin freely then the brakes are not stuck. If they are locked, well…try what Rod Knox suggested and see if you can defrost them. You’re going to need to tear the rear down either way to check them, and do some appropriate cleaning and lubing to prevent this from happening.

Thanks for the advice. It’s going to be a bit warmer tomorrow (i.e. above freezing) so I’ll break out the jack and stands and the blowdryer and see what we can’t get moving. The Haynes manual has a pretty good tutorial for tearing down the rear brakes, so hopefully we can get it to the garage to do that.

If you do decide to do anything yourself with the brakes, a prime rule is to only do one side at a time so that you always have the other side as a reference to see how things go together. It also keeps you from mixing up the parts that are specific to L vs R (on drum brakes usually the automatic adjusters). There’s probably a Youtube video or three of people showing you how to do the rear brakes too.

Obviously it’s not the transmission because it’s a manual and he said it shifts through the gears fine. If it won’t move when the clutch pedal is pressed to the floor, it’s brakes. I have found rear brake shoes rusted and stuck to the drums on a Ranger, and I’ve had them freeze stuck in cold weather after a slushy drive. If you jack up the rear tire and remove the wheel you are looking at the drum. Heat it up with something, even a propane torch or at least a heat gun, then hit it firmly with a rubber mallet or a dead blow hammer. Hit it on the side, not the surface that faces the steel wheel. Don’t hit it as hard as you can, just a couple of firm bumps. At that point it will probably wiggle some, which means it’s free. Put the wheel on, let it down, and try rolling it. The other side might be stuck, too, or maybe not.

Don’t use the parking brake in freezing weather; leave it in gear.

Transfer case ?

If you start to think it might be the transmission or transfer case, be sure to first remove the rear part of the driveshaft. If the rear wheels still won’t spin, it can’t be either the xfer case or the transmission. It would have be the rear brakes, rear axel/wheel bearing, or rear differential. I expect though if you are in a cold climate it is just something in the brakes that is frozen solid due to the winter temperatures.

Probably rusted fused brakes. I know it sounds mean, and you will probably have brake sensations afterwards, but break them free by whatever macho use of throttle, then never let a day go by without running it on the road.

I’ve seen the shoes separate and cause the drums to jam.

" I can pull downward on the cable about three inches, so it doesn’t seem like the cable is pulled too taut." All that tells you is, the Park Brake Pedal in the cab is retracted OK. As you follow the cable from the cab to the rear wheel brakes, that cable enters a rubber covered cable sleeve. I’m willing to bet a dime to a doughnut that the cable is stuck within that sleeve due to rust.
“When pushing from the front, the truck will not budge at all with two guys pushing on it”. My guess is that’s due to the self adjusting feature within rear wheel drums. I will still put my money on rust within the rubber covered cable sleeve. Further, I bet that sleeve is rubbing somewhere to the extent that a hole is worn in it and water has entered causing the rust.

Hey guys, just an update. Thanks for all your suggestions and advice. Today we tried to take the tires off to get the drums off and clean everything up, maybe replace the shoes, etc. Anyway, eight years of salty Wisconsin winters has done some serious damage down there. We were unable to remove one wheel (it was rusted to the brake drum), and were unable to remove the drum from the other axle. However, our generous application of penetrating oil, hammers, and a hairdryer did free up the brakes enough to make the truck driveable.

Not sure what’s going on inside those brake drums still. The upshot is, we weren’t strong enough to fix it ourselves, but the truck will make it to the mechanic (who, I imagine, has larger hammers). Probably needs a total rebuild with new drums, based on the amount of rust flaking off and filling the gap between the drum and the axle. How far gone can a drum be before you can no longer restore it?

Thanks again, everybody!

Patient determination is the greatest ingredient of success, @Bluegill. We appreciate your returning to fill us in on your success.

I’ve seen some old-school mechanics bring out the 5 pound sledge and crack them off, planning to replace them.

I believe Testers method for freeing up a wheel from the brake drum is to loosen the studs a little then drive it up and down the driveway a little to free the wheel up. Otherwise leave it to the guy doing the brakes. You done good to get this far.

@BustedKnuckles I watched some Youtube videos with some guys wailing on those brake drums with a sledge, taking a two-foot crowbar to them, all sorts of abuse. We didn’t have a spare drum on hand, though, so we didn’t want to get too rowdy. Short whacks with a little claw hammer did the trick well enough.

@Bing That seems like a pretty good method. We sort of gave up on the wheel when we realized we couldn’t get the drum off the axle once we got the wheel off the drum. If a half a can of Liquid Wrench doesn’t do it, I’ll leave it to the pros.

A slide hammer with the attachment for drums will always get the drum off… eventually.

You can sometimes free up a stuck sleeved cable by bending it back and forth with your hands.