How to Adjust the Brakes in Vehicles

by Contributing Writer; Updated June 12, 2017

Most all Vehicles make and model Vehicles come equipped with adjustable slack adjusters. The slack adjusters are the main components that compress and retract the brake shoes away from the brake drums. When air is applied to the brakes, the slack adjuster compresses the brake shoes to the brake drum. When the air is released from the air brakes, the brake shoes retract from the brake drums. Excessive use will cause the brake shoes to wear down and come out of adjustment. The brake shoes will then need to be adjusted to keep the brakes working properly.

Under The Hood:

 How to Adjust the Brakes in a Toyota Pickup

Disengage the parking brake and put one wheel chock behind each of the truck's front wheels. This will keep the truck from moving as you work on it.

Position a floor jack under the rear of the truck and lift it up until the wheels are off the ground.

Slip two jack stands under the control arms located next to each wheel. Lower the jack until the car is resting on the jack stands.

Remove the lug nuts with the lug wrench. Take off the wheel and set it aside.

Twist off the brake drums, striking them with a hammer, if necessary, to make them come loose.

Wear a respirator or face mask and wash the brake shoes with soapy water after removing the drums.

Locate the star-shaped self-adjuster under the wheel cylinder and turn it clockwise. This will spread open the shoes a bit. Slip the drums back onto the shoes. If the drum goes on very easily, then you know you have adjusted the brakes correctly.

Reinstall the wheels on the pickup and tighten the lug nuts by hand. Lift the truck with the floor jack and move the jack stands out of the way. Lower the truck to the ground and put on the parking brake.

Tighten the lug nuts with the lug wrench and remove the wheel chocks from behind the tires.

Items you will need

  • Wheel chocks (2)

  • Floor jack

  • Jack stands (2)

  • Lug wrench

  • Hammer

  • Respirator or face mask

 How to Adjust the Brakes on a Peterbilt

Pull the Peterbilt truck onto a flat surface and apply the air brakes. Position the wheel chocks in the front and back of both rear wheels. Release the air brakes.

Slide under the rear of the Peterbilt truck and locate the two slack adjusters that are mounted to the rear axle. Each slack adjuster has an adjustment bolt on the rear. Position a ratchet and a socket onto the adjustment bolt of the driver side rear slack adjuster. Push in on the head of the ratchet to release the locking spring. Turn the adjustment bolt clockwise one full turn. Shine the flashlight through the back of the wheel hub to see if the brakes are compressing toward the brake drum. If not, turn the adjustment bolt counter-clockwise to compress the brake shoes to the brake drum.

Continue to turn the adjustment bolt in the direction that compresses the brake shoes to the surface of the brake drum. Once that the adjustment bolt stops turning, shine the flashlight through the rear of the wheel hub again to ensure that the brake shoes are fully compressed to the surface of the brake drum. Turn the adjustment bolt in the opposite direction one-quarter to one-half of a turn to position the brake shoes to the proper distance from the surface of the brake drums.

Crank the engine up and let the air pressure build up to between 80 p.s.i and 120 p.s.i. Apply the air brakes for about ten seconds and then release the air brakes. Slide back under the rear of the truck and shine the flashlight through the rear of the wheel hub to ensure that the brake shoes have remained at the proper position from the surface of the brake drum.

Move to the passenger side rear slack adjuster and repeat the same process as outlined above to adjust the Peterbilt truck brakes.

Items you will need

  • Wheel chocks

  • 1/2-inch drive ratchet

  • 1/2-inch drive socket set

  • Flashlight

 How to Adjust the Brakes on a 2001 EZ-GO Golf Cart

Find a flat, clear space to drive your E-Z-GO Golf Cart. Sit in the driver seat and have another person sit in the passenger seat to evenly distribute the weight.

With the golf cart stationary and turned off, press down hard on the brake pedal with your foot four to six times. Note the point when the brake shoes make contact with the drums. The distance from the resting point to the contact point is known as the free travel, and should range between 7/8-inches to 1-1/8 inches.

Turn the key to the "On" position, then push the "Direction Selector" knob toward "F" to go forward. Press down on the accelerator and drive in a straight line at a slow speed, then slam on the brakes.

Take your foot off the brake pedal when you feel the brakes adjust and slow your E-Z-GO cart, but before it comes to a complete stop. Repeat this "Aggressive Stop Test” once more at a slow speed, then eight more times at maximum speed, for a total of 10 times.

Drive your E-Z-GO cart at maximum speed and then step on the brake pedal with moderate force if you have oversensitive brakes. This usually means that there is rust on the brake drums. Repeat the test until you remove the rust and loosen the brakes.

 How to Adjust Brakes on a Motorcycle

Drum-Style Brakes

Adjust the front brake drum. Twist the lock nuts on the drum's cable adjuster and brake rod arm counterclockwise with a wrench to loosen the adjusters. Using a wrench, twist the cable adjuster counterclockwise to tighten the cable tension or clockwise to loosen the tension. Spin the front wheel slightly to test the engagement of the front brake. Adjust the cable until the front brake just begins to slow the front wheel as it spins. Adjust the brake rod arm using a wrench, twisting it counterclockwise to tighten the arm and clockwise to loosen it. Stop when the front brake can effectively stop the front wheel when the brake lever is pulled in. Tighten both lock nuts with a wrench.

Adjust the cable tension at the front brake lever perch. Twist the large round lock nut on the cable adjuster counterclockwise to loosen it. Twist the cable adjuster counterclockwise to tighten the cable tension, loosen the cable by twisting the cable adjuster clockwise. Adjust the cable tension until the brake lever has 1/8-inch of free play before engaging the brake. Twist the lock nut clockwise until it is seated firmly against the brake lever perch.

Adjust the rear brake, using a wrench to loosen the brake rod's lock nut. Twist the wing nut on the end of the brake rod to adjust the brake engagement point. To engage the rear brake earlier, twist the wing nut clockwise. Twist the wing nut counterclockwise to require more effort to engage the rear brake. Tighten the brake rod's lock nut with a wrench once you are satisfied.

Hydraulic Brakes

Adjust the front brake lever using the rotating adjuster on the lever's pivot. Push the brake lever forward slightly, twist the adjuster to the desired setting and release the lever. Adjust the rear brake pedal, using a wrench to loosen the lock nut on the pedal's threaded adjustment rod. Twist the adjustment rod clockwise to engage the brake earlier and counterclockwise to engage the brake later.

Reset the brake caliper's pistons. Remove the caliper from the motorcycle. Insert a large flat screwdriver into the caliper, between the brake pads, and push the pistons back into the caliper housing. Reinstall the caliper onto the motorcycle and pump the brake pedal or lever repeatedly to rebuild hydraulic pressure and close the piston around the brake rotor. Stop when the lever or pedal requires a firm pull to engage the brake.

Bleed the brake circuit. Attach a length of clear plastic hose to the brake caliper's bleed valve and open the brake master cylinder's fluid reservoir. Place the open end of the hose into a jar or container. Using a wrench, turn the bleed valve clockwise one-quarter turn to open the valve. Pull in the brake lever and hold it in place to force a small amount of brake fluid into the plastic hose. Close the bleed valve, turning it one-quarter turn clockwise with a wrench. Release the brake lever. Refill the master cylinder's reservoir with fresh brake fluid as needed. Repeat as necessary until the brake fluid in the hose is clear and free of bubbles and debris.

Items you will need

  • Wrench set

  • Flat screwdriver

  • Clear plastic hose

  • Jar or container

  • Brake fluid

 How to Adjust Brakes for an 8N Ford

Park the 8N tractor on a flat surface and chock the front wheels to prevent the tractor from rolling.

Slide behind the left rear wheel and locate the adjustable bolt on the back of the wheel backing plate. The adjustable bolt has a square head that requires an adjustable wrench to turn. Also locate one of the access holes on the back of the backing plate that will allow you to see the brake shoes.

Shine the flashlight through the access hole and locate the position of the brake shoes. Turn the adjustable bolt on the backing plate clockwise with the adjustable wrench until the bolt stops turning.

Shine the flashlight back through the access hole and make sure that the brake shoes have moved completely against the surface of the brake drum.

Back off the adjustable bolt a couple of turns counterclockwise until the brake shoes are about 1/8-inch away from the brake drum surface. Use the flashlight to determine the distance of the brake shoes from the brake drum surface.

Items you will need

  • Wheel chocks

  • Flashlight

  • Adjustable wrench

About the Author

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