Replacing a drum-brake wheel cylinder

Brake fluid is generally renewed when a leaking or sticking wheel cylinder on a drum brake is replaced with a new one.

However, if the fluid has been renewed recently, or it is not convenient to replace it, you can take steps to keep fluid loss to a minimum while replacing the cylinder.

Such precautions also make the system easier to bleed after it has been reassembled.

Detaching the cylinder

This is a leading-and-trailing-shoe brake: a two-leading-shoe brake has two cylinders.

Take off the master-cylinder reservoir cap and, if possible, screw it back on over a sheet of thin plastic stretched over the mouth of the reservoir.

The plastic sheet blocks the breather hole in the cap and creates a vacuum when the fluid level drops, preventing all but a little of the fluid from escaping.

If there is a flexible hose leading into the brake, clamp it off with a brake-hose clamp, taking care not to damage the hose.

With rear brakes on a live axle, clamp the flexible hose(s) connecting the brake pipe on the chassis to the one on the axle.

Screw down the reservoir cap over a sheet of thin plastic.

type. but fixings with bolts or nuts are likley to be stiff, and it is best to apply penetrating oil to them a few hours beforehand. Make sure none gets into the drum.

sized sockets and tapping this with a hammer. The concave side of the clip goes next to the backplate.

Two-bolt fixing method - remove both.

Remove the brake drum and shoes (See Renewing drum-brake shoes). Loosen the brake-pipe union at the rear of the wheel cylinder, and unbolt or unclip the wheel cylinder before uncoupling the brake pipe from it.

The method varies according to type but fixings with bolts or nuts are likely to be stiff, and it is best to apply penetrating oil to them a few hours beforehand. Make sure non gets into the drum.

Removing an E-clip, single and double bolts

If the cylinder is fixed by a single stud, you need remove only one nut and lock washer to free it. The cylinder has a projection which fits into the backplate to stop it from turning.

Seal off the flexible brake hose with a hose clamp.

Loosen the union before freeing the wheel cylinder.

If the cylinder is held by two bolts, remove both to free it.

There may be a gasket between the cylinder and backplate; the gasket must be renewed - a new one should be supplied with a new cylinder.

The circular base of the cylinder projects through the backplate. A pin prevents it from turning. Outside the backplate a spring clip shaped like a round capital 'E' fits around a groove in the projection to hold the cylinder in place.

Lever off the clip with a screwdriver and discard it.

Renew both the clip and the gasket under the cylinder: replacements should come with the new cylinder.

After fitting the new cylinder and gasket to the backplate, drive the new clip on to the projection by pressing it on with a suitable-sized socket and tapping this with a hammer. The concave side of the clip goes next to the backplate.

Removing the brake pipe

When removing the brake pipe, loosen the union nut before taking off the wheel cylinder.

Two unions on one wheel cylinder

Sometimes there are two unions to disconnect from a wheel cylinder - as on two-leading shoe brakes, where there is a bridge pipe from one wheel cylinder to the other.

Disconnect the bridge pipe first, and plug the end with a bung to prevent dirt entering.

Slacken the second union - usually a brake hose - and remove the cylinder by drawing it through the backplate and unscrewing it, while holding the brake-hose union with a spanner.

When the cylinder is free, use it to pull an inch or two of brake pipe through the backplate.

Hold the union nut steady with a spanner and unscrew the union by twisting the cylinder. This method of removal avoids twisting the brake pipe.

Unions tend to be stiff and corroded. Apply penetrating oil a few hours before unscrewing one - make sure none gets into the drum.

When you unscrew the union nut, always take care not to twist the pipe or hose. With a metal pipe, make sure that the nut is turning on the pipe and not twisting the pipe with it. Also, brake-pipe union nuts are soft, so use a well-fitting spanner of the correct size and ensure that the nut is fully in the jaws.

A difficult nut may need a self-locking wrench to start it.

Seal the end of a disconnected pipe or hose temporarily with a rubber plug, or a polythene bag held on with a rubber band. Do not touch the brake pedal.

If a nut seizes, do not try to force it off with a spanner or you may 'round' the corners and make it even harder to turn, and the spanner will begin to slip.

Instead, apply penetrating oil, leave it to soak in for a while, then use a self-locking wrench.

Seal the end of the disconnected brake pipe with a polythene bag held by a rubber band.

Use the wheel cylinder to pull the brake pipe through the backplate. Hold the union nut steady with a spanner and twist the spanner to free the union completely.

Sometimes the bleed nipple must be removed before the brake pipe can be pulled though. Save its small cap.

Reassembling the cylinder

Clean the backplate, and wire-brush the pipe union(s) and nut(s). Wipe away grit and flakes of rust.

Screw the union(s) together finger-tight, taking care to avoid cross-threading.

Fit the new cylinder by reversing the steps you took to remove it. Tighten the union(s), being careful to avoid twisting a pipe or hose.

Refit the brake shoes (See Bleeding the brakes), and adjust them if they are not self adjusting. Uncover the reservoir.

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