How to properly adjust the parking brake

How to adjust the handbrake: correct handbrake adjustment

The handbrake is an integral part of the braking system, the purpose of which is to keep the car stationary with respect to the main plane. The handbrake, in simple terms, differs from the main brake system in that it is needed mainly to hold the car on sloping surfaces, as well as used in emergency situations when the main brake system ceases to perform its functions.

Most likely, every motorist has faced the situation when he forgot to remove the parking brake… Most often such a mistake is made by beginners, but experienced motorists are not distinguished by forgetfulness. In any case, it is better to put the car on the parking brake and to secure your car from various troubles, than to forget or neglect it and regret about consequences in future.

In order to avoid unpleasant situations, the motorist should not only use the handbrake, but also know how to adjust it. It is difficult to understand exactly when it is necessary to make a handbrake repair, but knowing the principle of operation and the device of the handbrake, the adjustment will be timely and easy to perform for any driver.

By the way, there is an opinion that infrequent use of the handbrake contributes to prolonging its life. But in reality it is vice versa. The less often the driver uses the handbrake, the less movement the cable makes in its own capsule, which ultimately leads to a decrease in performance.

The design and operation of the parking brake is an uncomplicated topic. The handbrake involves:

  • The mechanism that causes the brake to engage (lever/accelerator);
  • the cables that act on the main brake system to initiate the braking process.

There are 1-3 cables in the handbrake device. A common handbrake arrangement is one with three cables: a front brake cable and two rear brake cables. The front cable interacts with the lever and the rear cables interact with the brake parts. The connection is made by adjustable lugs, and wheel nuts allow for varying the size of the actuator.

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Release of the brake or return of the device to the initial state happens thanks to the return spring, which is located on the cable front, equalizer, or directly on the brake structure.

How the handbrake works is also quite easy to explain. When the handbrake lever is moved to the standing position and a detent click occurs, the brake mechanism is functioning. The cables that hold the rear brake shoes against the drums are tensioned. The cable tension causes the wheels to lock and the vehicle brakes.

To release the handbrake, squeeze the release latch and return the handbrake lever to its original position.

When the handbrake is adjusted

Before we start looking at handbrake adjustments, let’s go over the causes of handbrake malfunctions and how to check them.

Causes of handbrake malfunctions

5 common causes:

  1. The parking brake cable has broken or jammed;
  2. The brake has accumulated a lot of dust and dirt;
  3. The handbrake was incorrectly adjusted from the beginning or the cables are the wrong length;
  4. the brake pads are worn out;
  5. vehicle oil or brake fluid is leaking.

Diagnosing the handbrake yourself

There are two methods:

The 1st method is to go up a strong incline and put the car on the handbrake. The car stops well and stands – the handbrake is correct, if the car starts to roll backwards and even more tension on the parking brake does not work, then the handbrake does not work. Then the car is repaired or the handbrake is adjusted.

The 2nd method is to pull the handbrake as much as possible, then engage the first speed and gently take your foot off the clutch. If the engine stalls – then the handbrake is working properly, if the car starts to move, respectively, the handbrake needs to be repaired.

For example, for the newer VAZ proper adjustment corresponds to three – eight clicks; for vaz 2109, produced before 1995 – five – seven.

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For the Chevrolet Lanos, this figure is seven to nine cogs.

When you need to adjust the handbrake

Moments at which the adjustment is made:

  • After the brake pads have been replaced;
  • after the drum brakes (brake discs) have been replaced;
  • after the brake pads have been adjusted;
  • after the handbrake cable has been replaced;
  • after the adjustment unit has been reinstalled;
  • after the stroke has increased to ten clicks.

To get rid of malfunctions with the handbrake you can turn to a car service or try to do it with your own hands. Adjusting the handbrake yourself is possible, if you have at least minimal knowledge about the functioning of the car, then there should be no difficulties. Also handbrake adjustment should be performed in a specialized place, and the instruction manual should help to perform the repair quickly and efficiently.

Handbrake adjustment – a step-by-step guide

Often, handbrake repair involves replacing the cable. Although predominantly just tensioning the cable will avoid problems with the handbrake and fully restore performance. Proper adjustment corresponds to five to six clicks during the tension of the lever, if the number is different – the brake is repaired.

In a good case, the handbrake adjustment should be implemented on an overpass, a car elevator or a pit for the car. If there are none – it is important to set the supports when the rear of the body is lifted. Before tightening the handbrake, it is also recommended to learn more about the PT design.

So, to properly tighten the handbrake:

  1. Raise the handbrake one to three prongs;
  2. loosen the equalizer locknut with a wrench;
  3. tighten the equalizer adjusting nut – the cable must then be tensioned; if it is not tensioned you need to replace the handbrake cable;
  4. then tighten the knob by the appropriate number of clicks (depending on the make of the machine) to check the cable tension;
  5. if you have to sweat when you turn the rear wheel, the handbrake cable is tight. Tighten the locknut;
  6. then lower the parking brake and try turning the rear wheels. They should turn smoothly and gently. If it does, great;
  7. The last thing to do after the car is back in its usual position is to test the handbrake by engaging the first speed.
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If you did everything according to the instructions and everything worked out – praise yourself for the work done and go on your way! But if there is the slightest insecurity, or you do not know, for example, what is a lock nut – do not take the risk, and better go to the service station. After all, it’s your safety.

Design and adjustment of drum type parking brake, how to avoid mistakes

I come across phrases like “adjusted a handbrake, tightened a cable” at car forums from time to time. Perhaps this is the case for some parking brake designs, but it often indicates that the person does not have a very good idea of the mechanism of the parking brake.

Consider the classic drum-type parking brake mechanism. As an illustration, I use a photo of the brake mechanism of the Chery Tiggo 5. It combines the disc working (main) brake mechanism and the drum parking mechanism. The same design is found on many other cars. For example, I’ve seen the same design on KIA Sorento of 1st generation, as well as on Nissan Qashqai. Sometimes the service brake and the parking brake are combined in a single design, as, for example, on VAZ cars or on Suzuki Grand Vitara. The disc-type parking brake mechanism (example – Ford Focus) is not considered in this article.

Before proceeding to the illustrations, I want to note that the parking brake design discussed here uses two types of adjustments.

The first adjustment is the tension of the cable and the number of clicks of the “handbrake” lever in the passenger compartment. The main purpose of this adjustment is to ensure that the cable is not overtightened and that when the lever is released the wheel brakes are in the original (free) state, and at a certain number of clicks the cable ensures the operation of the brake mechanism (usually 5-6 clicks until the wheels are completely blocked). When the lever is released, the cable should not pull on the brake pad drive and when the lever is raised, the cable should be stretched to drive the pads. If the cable is adjusted correctly, the cable will have a slight slack when the lever is released in the passenger compartment, and therefore will not pull out for long, and this adjustment will be required very rarely. An example of cable tension adjustment can be seen at Adjusting the handbrake cable on the Chery Tiggo 5 .

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The second adjustment is the position of the pads, i.e. the adjustment of the gap between the pads and the drum. It is necessary to ensure the effective work of the brake. If the gap is too big, the lever stroke in the cabin will not be enough to block the wheels, because the stroke of the shoes is not enough to press with enough force against the brake drum. If there is too little or no clearance, the pads will rub against the drum or “seize” too early, hence the risk of not fully releasing the mechanism when the lever is fully released, the pads will rub against the drum on the move. As the pads wear, the gap will increase, and the adjustment must be repeated. At the end of the post, after the pictures, I will give my recommendations for the pad position adjustment procedure. Sometimes there are designs with automatic clearance adjustment, then this adjustment is not required (example – VAZ rear drum brakes).

It is the second adjustment that is often neglected by inexperienced car owners, trying to adjust the position of the pads by pulling the cable. As a result, we have a constantly engaged brake mechanism, overheating of drums, pulling out of the cable, the need for repeated adjustments, etc.

The design of the drum-type parking brake mechanism of the Chery Tiggo 5 is shown on the photo below. The mechanism works very simply. When you lift the lever in the cabin, the cables of wheel brakes drive are stretched, they pull on the brake levers, and they dilute the brake pads, pressing them to the drum. The smaller the original clearance between the shoes and the drum, the more the wheel is braked with fewer clicks of the lever in the cabin. When the lever is released, the pads return to their original position under the action of the retracting compression springs. This makes it clear why you should not adjust the clearance with a cable, as the brake mechanism will always be in an intermediate, semi-operational state when running.

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Below are illustrations with my comments. At the end of the post are recommendations for adjusting the brake shoes.

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