As a home mechanic working on your own car, one of the more frustrating jobs is wrestling a stubborn brake drum separated from the hub when you’re replacing brake parts. Over the miles of use, rust and corrosion can essentially weld the drum onto the hub making it a real bear to break free. But with the proper tools, techniques and a little moxie, you can separate even the most reluctant brake drum safely without damage.
This article will walk you through the whole process like a friend peering under the hood with you.
Here’s a quick step-by-step guide:
Use penetrating oil and let it soak to loosen rust sealing the brake drum to the hub. Attach a brake drum puller evenly and tighten the center bolt to pull the drum off. If still stuck, tap edges with a hammer and wedge screwdrivers under to break the seal. Avoid hammering directly on the hub itself to prevent damage. Apply lubricant during reassembly to discourage future seizing.
Why You Might Need to Separate the Brake Drum
Before we dive into the “how”, it’s important to understand why freeing a seized brake drum is necessary. Here are three common reasons:
- You’re replacing worn brake shoes – Brake shoe replacement is one of the most common brake jobs. To access the shoes you’ll need to remove the brake drum they expand against.
- You’re replacing wheel bearings – The bearings inside the hub allow the wheel to spin freely. Once they become worn, pitted or seize up, they must be replaced. This requires first separating the hub from the brake drum.
- Inspecting primary brake components – If you suspect problems with brake shoe condition or want to check the brake hydraulic cylinders, the drum needs to come off to inspect those parts as well.
In all these scenarios, the first step is breaking that stubborn ranch dressing-like bond between the brake drum and hub.
What You’ll Need Before Starting
Attempting a brake job without the proper tools usually ends in frustration (not to mention bloody knuckles!). Here’s a list of must-have tools before tackling the task of separating a seized brake drum:
Table 1: Recommended tools for separating brake drum from hub
|Socket wrench set with impact wrench
|Allows you to remove bolts and lug nuts quickly
|Hammer and punch
|For freeing stuck components through brute mechanical force
|Mechanically pulls brake drum evenly without damaging it
|Loosen stubborn rust welds so components slide easier
|Gloves, ear and eye protection
|Safety first! Brake work can be dangerous
|For cleaning parts and surfaces
Of course you’ll also need a basic floor jack and two sturdy jack stands to safely raise and support the vehicle. And don’t forget your trusty shop light for peeking into those dark wheel areas.
Alright, with the proper toolkit gathered, let’s get this drum off!
Step 1 – Break the Lug Nuts and Remove the Wheel
After safely raising and supporting the vehicle, the first order of business is removing the lug nuts securing the wheel. Using your impact wrench with the right size impact socket, break loose each lug nut but don’t remove them fully yet. Breaking their resistance first makes lowering the wheel later much easier.
Once all nuts are broken loose, finish removing them completely by hand with a standard socket wrench. Set them aside in a secure place along with any wheel trim covers.
Now slide the wheel off the hub and set it flat out of the way. This exposes that #*$%! brake drum you have to wrestle off next!
Step 2 – Remove the Brake Drum Retainer (if equipped)
Many brake setups have a small u-shaped spring clip called a brake drum retainer that keeps the drum centered on the hub as the wheel spins. If your vehicle is one of them, remove this clip next using a screwdriver, pliers or your fingers. Just bend one side inward enough so the whole spring can collapse and come out.
Some vehicles may have retaining screws instead of a clip that must be backed out fully with an appropriate bit or socket. Set aside any retainers, springs and screws so they can be reinstalled later.
Step 3 – Attack that Drum with a Puller
Alright, with the wheel removed and no longer that spring clip or screws retaining it, let’s free that stubborn brake drum. First take a good look around the circular brake surface and locate any small threaded holes or slots. These allow for screws on specialty puller tools to attach and evenly pull the drum off.
If the holes are just simple unthreaded indentations, hammer pequeños threaded studs into them so the puller screws can grab securely. Just be sure to remove them afterward and chase the threads once the job is done.
Most common puller sets have three curved arms with threaded bolt tips. Position the puller centering it on the brake drum surface while lining up the tips with the attachment holes. Tighten down the center forcing screw bit-by-bit with a wrench until the drum suddenly… POP! Breaks free from the hub in a rusty shriek of release! Hah! Gotcha!
Step 4 – Bust out the Brute Force
Uh oh. You tightened that puller until veins burst out on your forehead like Popeye but the drum still mocks you unwilling to budge. When fancy pullers fail to work their magic, it’s time to break out the brute force.
First take a hammer and sturdy punch and smack the drum face around its circumference prying upward on one area while striking the next. The drum is generally much softer metal than the hub so you only risk scarring the drum surface which gets replaced anyway. Just be careful not to miss and smash your hand between!
If banging around the edges fails to break that stubborn rust weld, secure a long pry bar or 2×4 wood plank under the drum edge and over the suspension arm. Position your heaviest hammer above on the drum face like Thor ready to strike! Ask any nearby friends or pets to shield their eyes, then rain down thunderous blows upon the drum surely loosening it to the cheers of surrounding bystanders…
Still stuck? Well alright. At this point not even Thor could free this demon drum. Stand back and grab the can of penetrating oil because here comes the secret weapon…
Step 5 – Soak that Sucker in Penetrating Magic
When wrestling against the mighty forces of corrosion, a little bottle of liquid can free up far more stuck parts that brute force. Reach for that can of penetrating magic in your toolbox and thoroughly coat every little nook on the seam between the brake drum and hub you can reach. Don’t be shy – empty half the can around its circumference if needed to let capillary action work down into pores and gaps.
Now just walk away and let the penetrating solvent do its thing. Go have some lunch or catch up on your favorite TV show for a while. Let that chemistry work into the deepest rust-locks for 20 to 30 minutes until it’s ready to give up.
Return armored with determined patience and hit it with the puller again. Or tap those edges with the hammer trying different spots this time. Feel it wanting to come loose through those tools in your hands. It knows it has now been beaten but is just looking for the path of least resistance. Guide it out and…victory!
Step 6 – Inspect and Replace Components
Hooray! Lay the filthy freed drum aside and behold the hub and brake components lurking inside. Now you can thoroughly inspect the brake shoes, cylinders and seals determining what needs to be replaced or just cleaned up.
While you’re replacing parts, consider just installing a fresh new brake drum too. They only cost around $30 – $50 and avoid reinstalling one scored or out-of-spec from all the beating it took coming off.
Reassembly is the reverse starting with any new brake components seated into place. Then just slide the fresh drum over being sure the retainers and seals sit flat without binding. Apply a thin layer of high temperature brake lubricant on the hub contact surface both to promote cooling and discourage it seizing up again later. Lastly reinstall the tire, lower the vehicle securely back on the ground and get ready to take it for a victory spin!
Beating a Feisty Brake Drum
As you’ve learned, separating frozen brake drums takes patience, leverage, chemistry and even a little brute force sometimes. Just remember to always use proper tools for each automotive job and take appropriate safety precautions. Emergency rooms see enough accidents without getting visits from home mechanics taking short cuts.
With this drum-busting procedure under your belt, other stuck mechanical tasks around the garage won’t seem so intimidating anymore. You got this! Now get back out there and grease up those knuckles because there are plenty of bracket bolts yearning to meet Mr. Penetrating Oil too. Happy wrenching!
1. How do I know when I need to replace my brake drum?
Signs you need a new brake drum include squealing or grinding noises when braking, brake fade (reduced braking power), excessive vehicle vibration when braking, visible cracks or damage on the drum surface, or worn brake linings that have grooves cutting into the drum surface.
2. Do I have to replace the wheel bearings when replacing brake drums?
Not always, but it’s a good idea to inspect the bearings any time you have the brake drums off since bearings can wear out around the same intervals. If the bearings are pitted, discolored, or don’t spin smoothly, replacement is recommended.
3. What’s the easiest way to remove a rusty brake drum?
Applying penetrating oil liberally around the drum and letting it soak in for a while is the easiest method. The oil loosens rust and corrosion so the drum slides off easier. Gently tapping the edges can also help break the seal.
4. Can I damage components when trying to separate a stuck brake drum?
You can damage the drum itself if you use excessive brute force. The softer drum usually gets scarred before the harder hub material. Use pullers evenly and avoid hammering directly on the hub. The drum absorbs most abuse without affecting the rest of the system.
5. How do I reinstall the brake drum after replacement?
Clean any grease, oil or rust from the hub contact area, apply high temp brake lubricant, slide the drum into place aligning any retainers or springs, adjust the brake shoes inward, and reinstall any retaining clips or bolts removed initially.