How to adjust rear brakes in 2002 Toyota Sienna

I had my 2002 Sienna in to the dealer for some messy maintenance, and of course they gave me a list of recommended items. One was clean and adjust rear brakes, $72. I googled, and learned almost every Toyota dealer wants you to pay them to adjust your rear brakes. Pay from $35 to $48 to adjust automatic adjusting brakes? I don’t think so.

This prompted a discussion on the Sienna Club as to how those brakes are automatically adjusted. No one seems to know, though there were some guesses, including taking the spoon and doing it manually. I looked in Haynes for 1997 - 2001 Camry, and for Sienna 1998 - 2002. They both say, “Make a number of forward and reverse stops and operate the parking brake until satisfactory pedal action is obtained.”

That sounds to me like, “We really don’t know for sure what adjusts those brakes, but if you do this sort of at random, we think you will eventually get them adjusted.”

The Camry has the adjusting lever on a pin with the parking brake lever, on the rear shoe. The Sienna has the parking brake lever on the rear shoe, and the adjusting lever on the front shoe at the top.

Does anyone know for sure? Thanks.

I have no idea how the brakes adjust themselves, but the common method of adjusting them is to apply the parking brake, and then apply the regular brakes fully for a couple seconds. Then let off the pedal and release the parking brake, and presto, the brakes should be adjusted.

I have never had to do it, but I believe you are right or at least close for some cars. It may be that you need to back slowly and then hit the brakes firmly a few times to do it. It may or may not include using the parking brake, but if the OP has not been using their parking brake that could be it.

Note to OP: You should always use your parking brake when parking. If you don’t it may rust in position or you may find that you car moves down hill with a manual in gear when parked or you may find your automatic stuck in park when you are parked on a hill. With an automatic always set the parking brake firmly before putting the transmission in park, especially on a hill.

I do use my parking brake. Most of my time is spent in the mountains of Mexico, and there is no place level near our house. I had to drive to an uncle’s house to rotate my tires because I did not wish to jack up the car on a hillside. I have such a habit of it when I am in McAllen on perfectly level ground, I push that parking brake on by habit.

When I took the car in, I had just come in from 1600 miles across country and there was little parking or backing up for that 1600 miles driving straight ahead. Essentially, that is why I would like to know how they adjust themselves, or as lprocter says, how I can adjust them, for exactly that type of situation.

Also, it seems to be a secret, and I hope to at least inform the Sienna Club if no one else, if I can find out. It is ridiculous for the service people to be charging for something that was designed to be self-adjusting.

Thanks for taking the time to type in, Joseph, but this is my problem. No one seems to know. What lprocter says sounds like a strong possibility, and I will try that, though. But, “it may be” or “may or may not” is only more guessing, as much as I appreciate the time taken to answer.

If no one knows, I may write Toyota a letter and ask them. Of course,that will take weeks if they even answer at all.

Thanks all.

So are you having any symptoms that would suggest to you that the brakes need adjustment? If not, don’t worry about it.

“Clean and adjust rear brakes” is probably just dealer speak for popping off the rear drums, cleaning all the brake dust out, lubricating some of the moving parts and adjusting if necessary, which it might be if a driver never uses their parking brake. 72 bucks is pretty ridiculous, but it’s the dealer, after all!

I was thinking as I drove home just now, lprocter. What you described is sort of what I do when I park in the mountains. When I park on those steep slopes, I hold the foot brake firmly with my right foot, firmly press the parking brake with my left foot, then put the transmission in Park.

When I go again, I hold the foot brake firmly with my right foot, release the parking brake with my left foot, then move the transmission from Park, usually to Reverse, but this depends upon where I park.

I think the ‘unpark’ essentially complies with what you said, put the parking brake on and press the foot brake.

This Sienna has 139,000 miles on it, and there has been no rear braking problems at any time, though I do drive somewhat conservatively as a general rule. I am not even convinced the rear brakes really need adjusting, though the whole trip of 3600 miles in February, with little of the backing or parking such as I do in Mexico might have temporarily caused a minor misadjustment. But, anyone nasty enough to refuse to tell a car owner how to keep the brakes trimmed correctly, is also capable of trying to bill someone for something that does not need doing at all.

I do very much resent Toyota’s failure to disclose the correct process for adjusting the brakes when doing a lot of straight down the highway driving. I went to Toyota’s home page, and the only FAQ they have is that on ANY brake concern one should immediately see the highly qualified and trained personnel at the local Toyota dealer. Telling a person who wants to know how to trim his brakes to take the car to the dealer, a dealer who has already shown he has no concern for the welfare of the car owner, is simply not acceptable.

Thanks again for your time. I did send a ‘insufficient information’ note to Toyota and will be writing a follow-up letter if I get no e-mail in a day or two.

Just to be clear, your brakes don’t just wander out of adjustment. What you’re adjusting is the distance the shoes are from the brakes to compensate for the shoe linings wearing away. Now, keep in mind that those linings are maybe a half an inch thick when they’re new and will last upwards of 100,000 miles for most drivers. So the actual rate at which your brakes go out of adjustment is incredibly slow-- even if you’re using your parking brake or braking in reverse once every 10,000 miles they are still going to stay in adjustment just fine. The only time you need to manually adjust them is when you’ve replaced the shoes and need to reset them to where they should be-- even then you usually just get them close and then do the procedure you described in the original post to have the adjusters do the fine-tuning.

It’s no surprise that Toyota is not going to publicize this procedure because it practically never needs to be done. If people get it in their head that their brakes need to be manually adjusted, people will attempt it themselves and, more likely than not, some of them will screw it up. If you’re not having any issues personally, I doubt Toyota is going to really be able to do anything to respond to your complaint. What are they going to do, issue a service bulletin informing their dealers how to explain this to customers? Might not be a bad idea, but you don’t personally really have a grievance that they could address even if they wanted to.

And, while I agree with your indignation at them charging an exorbitant fee for a totally unnecessary service, this brake cleaning and adjustment is hardly the only unnecessary service they sell for an exorbitant fee and, as frustrating as it can be, people will still pay for them. Unless you’re settling in to topple the whole dealership system in this country, I’m afraid this is one of those situations where you’re just going to have to settle for not paying for it yourself.

I agree with almost all you say here. Your posting agrees with my theory that my brakes probably do not need adjusting at all, they just assume most people don’t do whatever is needed to keep them adjusted, which leads me to think the parking brake is involved. I thought that maybe in that 3500 miles cross country round trip they could be worn out of adequate contact, but your view seems to be that would not be the case. “incredibly slow”.

And, for sure in Mexico, I do all of the various things that have been suggested for enabling the automatic adjusters.

Where I do not agree is your apparent belief is one should do nothing. Since that is political, IMO, and this is not a political forum, I am only going to give a brief explanation. I spend a lot of time in Mexico, and love the Mexican people. But, they have a lot of problems there, including bad water, bad infrastructure, and corrupt officials. One quickly learns the reason things generally work better in the US is because we do complain when something is not right. In Mexico, they don’t complain and thus they get treated like crud.

Clearly, Toyota is indirectly admitting that many of their car owners are driving around with maladjusted brakes. Even it it’s not true, they are admitting it.

That becomes a significant safety issue. Texas is the most litigious state in the Union, and there are plenty of lawyers who would love to litigate something like this.

Right now I am in the USA, not Mexico, and I expect someone at Toyota or the dealer to tell me how one enables the adjusting. If not, then I will be escalating this as a major safety issue.

Essentially, I do not agree with you that expecting to be told the correct way to adjust those brakes is going to topple the whole dealership. I respect that as your opinion, I just don’t see it that way.

Today I took the car in for a new charcoal canister, and told the service writer I wanted to know how they were adjusted. He told me he would ask, but he had been told they used to use the ‘back up’ principle, but people back up so much they were over adjusting them. He also admitted they did not actually check the brakes to see if they need adjusted. They just routinely recommend this on older cars.

When I picked up the car, he said he had asked and they told him it was the parking brake, period. Thought I’d give feedback on this.

So, the fact I normally use the parking brake means almost certainly the brakes did not need adjusting at all.

Thanks for input on this.