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Soft brakes

My dad and I just changed the rear brake shoes on my 95 Civic. The old ones were almost worn down to nothing…but these new brakes are very very soft. While they work (and so does the hand brake) I am experiencing a lot of play in the pedal and slamming on the brakes does not produce a very quick stop at all. No squeal, no sudden jerk to a stop–did we miss a step? Could we have gotten air in the brake line? It cost me $20 for the shoes and new springs versus the $200 the shop was going to charge. Should I bite the bullet and take it in?

Are the rear brakes drum brakes? (You did mention shoes). If so then the most likely thing would be that you didn’t adjust them properly. There would have been an adjuster screw between the two shoes with a star wheel on it that expands & contracts the adjuster. When you put the drums back on, you leave the shoes expanded to the point that they are just a hair shy of dragging on the drums. This can be done with the drum off if you had the drums machined.

If you didn’t have the drums machined then you’d need to adjust them after the drum is on through the little access hole on the inboard side. There are brake adjuster tools for the star wheel or you can use a screwdriver. Keep spinning the wheel while you turn the starwheel until the point where you can just hear the shoes dragging.

Try that and see if it helps.

All of that assumes that you didn’t open up the hydraulics - as in replacing a wheel cylinder or something.

Another possibility is that the brake lines have air in them. Start the car and drive around the block. Press on the brakes while sitting still and leave your foot there. If the pedal slowly goes towards the floor, you need to bleed the brakes to get the air out. You may need to change the fluid, anyway. It should be changed every 30,000 to 40,000 miles.

Thanks! I will see what is there–they are shoe brakes (if that makes any sense) so if there are drums involved we did not touch those. I do have the Haynes manual but to be fair I didn’t read it, my dad did. He’s never worked on a Honda before (only Fords) and the manual said the brakes ‘self-adjust’ and he wasn’t sure what that meant.

I will pop the wheels off tomorrow and hope to see an adjuster screw! I knew that job was a little too easy, besides the strength it takes to get those shoes back on. Thanks again!

Wow. You are near over you heads eh? You had to touch the drums - they are the big metal cups that you had to take off to get at the brake shoes - and then put back on.

The brakes will self-adjust but have to be left in about the right spot when you’re finished with the work. As the shoes wear down they will push outward. The teeth on the star wheel act sort of like a ratchet. It is possible that if you sat in the driveway and applied the parking brake 500 times or so, the automatic adjusters might put the shoes in adjustment. But the thing to do is do it manually when you reinstall the drums and let the auto mechanism keep up with it from there.

Yes, yes I am in over my head! I’ve since looked at the manual and thought “oh, there’s the drum…duh.” Gotta start learning somewhere, right? Nothing like embarrassing myself in a public forum. Thanks for not being too hard on me!

digitalcowgirl, no need for embarrassment as you are absolutely right: “Gotta start learning somewhere, right?”

Brakes are one of the most common things that people get started on. They are relatively simple and you can normally tell pretty easily if you got something wrong. My real advice is to stick with this brake job. You got this far - you can get it straightened out. Just do the adjustment. If they’re still soft report back & people can help you move on to the other possibilities.

Do test drive with caution. Don’t leave the driveway until you know you can easily make a full stop.

And do some extra learning while you’re messing with it. Find the section of the manual on brake bleeding and use the bleeding procedure to replace your brake fluid and suggested by jtsanders below.