Rear brakes on your 2002 Tacoma feel tight?

July 29, 2009

It may be the emergency brake cable acting up.

First I’d better mention that I write a lot better than I wrench.  This blurb, therefore, is for the very occasional shade-tree mechanic, not for the dedicated gear head who will probably find it ludicrously simple.

For example when I started the project I didn’t know which cap to take off to loosen the brake shoes.  Honest.  It’s not that simple.  There are two black things at the bottom where they used to be on a Beetle.  They don’t come off.  Then there’s a little one up at the top.  That’s the one, it turns out.  I took the wheels off, thinking I might find an adjustment port in the plate under the wheel, like on my golf cart.  No.

Deprived of an easy and obvious way to loosen the brake shoes, I selected the looser wheel and tried to take the drum off without easing the shoes back.  I remembered my mechanic mentioning you can thread two bolts into special holes on Toyota drums to work as a sort of drum-puller.  I tried two, 5/16” bolts.  These worked, but one stripped before I had torn the drum free from the shoes.

Stymied, I went to the garage and returned with a 20 ounce framing hammer.  I was going to do some pounding and see if that would help.  With the help of the hammer, I was able to relocate the unadjusted brake shoes enough to slide the drum off over the top.  Remember that this wheel was the one which was tight, but far from seized.

Once I got the drum off I realized the emergency brake cable lever and linkage looked kinda stiff, so I decided to whack it a bit.  It took a fair amount of work to move it, and it is supposed to articulate freely, right?  I found some lithium grease in a spray can in the cupboard, so I socked it to the various levers of this linkage until it had freed up.  Then I nuked the area with brake cleaner so that I wouldn’t wreck the shoes.

Not having learned the lesson which should have been obvious at this point (that the emergency brake linkage is what is causing the brakes to bind, and the shoes can be freed up by forcing the lever back towards the drum) I tried to transfer what I had   learned of brake anatomy on the right side to the left-hand drum.  Just for the record, the adjusters are threaded right-hand on the right, and left-hand on the left.  If you remember nothing else from this tale, retain that.

Then when you have a screwdriver poised to rotate the adjuster, you can puzzle out which way to turn it.  I admit I guessed and got lucky.  The way it wanted to turn (I can’t remember which) didn’t actually free up the shoes, but it did no harm, and before long I decided to try banging on the emergency brake lever with my hammer and that freed up the shoes.

It wasn’t quite according to plan, but it was obviously the correct thing to do, because the drum came right off once I had forced the lever back into place.  Then all I had to do was lubricate the linkage and work the levers until it responded to the pull of the brake springs.

I remember watching my mechanic use coarse sandpaper on the drums and shoes to roughen them up before reassembly, so I did that and carefully put the drums and wheels back on.

Then I had to set up the back brake shoes, of course, because I had turned them way in to facilitate assembly.  The emergency brake operates the adjuster plate inside the brake drum each time the cable is tightened, so I methodically put the parking brake on and released it many times until the brakes would hold on a moderate slope.

When I moved it the truck immediately felt lively and healthy after the repair.  Before, it had felt cranky and rough, not pleasant to drive.  I guess the stuck wheel put an awkward load on the suspension, and did its best to keep the vehicle from moving at every start and turn.

The job took a morning of leisurely work, but paid off in much better ride and performance from the truck, not to mention  the dramatically increased life expectancy of the brakes.

So the lesson?  Before you try to turn back the adjusters, get the slack out of the emergency brake lever.  You may not need any more.

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One Response to “Rear brakes on your 2002 Tacoma feel tight?”

  1. southern man Says:

    It’s ironic that you would write about this today, as just a few hours ago, I hooked up the boat and trailer to the Tundra and proceeded only a few feet towards the garage to repair faulty trailer lights, when I sensed a drag. Got our only to discover that I forgot to remove the bow seat from under the boat and in front of the trailer axle. I had placed it there weeks ago. The upholstery survived the trauma, but I’ll be sure to check for gravel on my seat before hunting bass next week.


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