A Step-by-Step Guide to Adjusting Your Classic VW Drum Brakes for Improved Performance

Brakes play a critical role in ensuring safe and reliable classic VW Bug operation. If you’ve noticed that your brakes feel weak and have excessive pedal travel, a brake adjustment might be all that’s needed to restore their effectiveness. In this article, we will walk you through the process of adjusting drum brakes, assuming you haven’t updated to disc brakes. With some basic tools and a step-by-step approach, you can perform this task yourself and improve the performance of your braking system.

Tools Required: Before diving into the brake adjustment process, gather the following tools to ensure a smooth and efficient experience:

  • Screwdriver for turning the adjustment stars
  • Lug wrench for removing the wheels
  • Jack and jack stands for lifting and securing you VW Bug

Inspecting the Brake Parts: To ensure a successful brake adjustment, it’s essential to inspect the brake components thoroughly. Although it’s easier to inspect the brakes with the hubs off, you can still perform a visual inspection with the hubs in place. Follow these steps to inspect the brake parts:

  1. Check the shoe retaining pin and cups: These components are responsible for holding the brake pad in a vertical position. Verify that they are not worn and are correctly holding the brake shoe. If the shoe moves when pressure is applied to the side, the hub needs to be removed, and the clip and cup should be replaced.
  2. Examine the return springs: Although these springs are challenging to see with the hubs on, they are easily noticeable if they are broken. Inspect the return springs for any signs of damage or wear.

Adjusting the Drum Brake Shoes: Now that you have inspected the brake parts, it’s time to proceed with adjusting the drum brake shoes. Begin with the front brakes and follow these steps:

  1. Prepare the VW to be serviced: Engage the hand brake, block the rear wheels, and lift the front of the bug using a jack. Secure the vehicle with jack stands. Remove the front wheel of your choice to gain access to the brakes.
  2. Locate the adjustment star: Rotate the hub until you can see the brake adjustment star. Each wheel has two adjustment stars. For the front wheels, the stars are positioned at the 3 or 9 o’clock position towards the front of the car.
  3. Adjust the star: Using a screwdriver, slowly turn the star while simultaneously spinning the hub until the brake locks up. Once the brake locks up, back off the star slightly until the wheel spins freely. Repeat this process for the other star on the same wheel.
  4. Reseat the brake shoe: Get into the Bug and apply the brakes forcefully several times. This helps reseat the brake shoe evenly. Adjust the brake shoe by turning the stars until the shoe no longer hangs.
  5. Repeat the process for the other side: Move to the other side of the front brakes and repeat the adjustment process. Once both front brakes are adjusted, replace the front tires and lower the front of the car.
  6. Adjust the rear brakes: Ensure the front tires are blocked securely, then release the handbrake. Lift the rear of the car and place it on jack stands. Remove a rear wheel and inspect the shoe retaining pins, cups, and return springs. Locate the adjustment star, which will be at the 6 o’clock position. Repeat the same adjustment procedure as with the front wheels.

Testing the Brakes: After completing the brake adjustment process, it’s crucial to test the brakes to ensure proper functionality. Follow these steps:

  1. Test at low speeds: Begin testing the drum brakes at very low speeds, such as in your driveway. Gradually apply the brakes and assess their performance.
  2. Test on low-traffic roads: Once you are confident in the brake adjustment, proceed to a low-traffic road and test the brakes at slow speeds. Pay attention to the braking response and ensure that the brakes stop you classic VW smoothly and effectively.

Adjusting drum brakes is a task that can be accomplished with basic tools and a methodical approach. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can enhance the performance of your brakes and restore confidence in your Bug’s stopping power. Remember to conduct regular inspections and maintenance to ensure the continued effectiveness of your braking system. Safe travels!