Most cars are still fitted with drums on the back wheels with the handbrake
operating directly on the
by a simple mechanical
High-quality, high-performance cars, however, often have disc brakes on the
rear as well as the front wheels. With all-round disc brakes, it is very
difficult to operate the rear brake
by a mechanical linkage from the
handbrake. So some manufacturers have come up with a different handbrake
The most common type of disc handbrake mechanism is fitted to cars such as
the pre-Fiat Lancias, Jaguars, Porsches, BMWs and Volvos.
This type of handbrake consists of separate brake shoes, not pads, and works
like a normal drum brake except that the drum is formed by the inner surface of
the centre of the brake disc.
The brake shoes are fitted with
material just like a normal brake
shoe, so they wear out over a period and need renewing. Fitting new shoes is
covered in another Mechanics sheet.
If you are having problems with the handbrake, the first job is to check
that the cable has not become frayed, seized or detached underneath the
Jack up the rear of the car and place it safely on
stands. Follow the
cable back from the handbrake
, looking for signs of damage. Get a friend
to operate the hand-brake while you watch for any lost movement. If any
operating levers appear to be stiff, squirt the pivot points with
Checking and adjusting the shoes
Rotate the brake disc and look through the adjustment slot to check each
brake shoe in turn. If there is enough lining left, use a screwdriver
to turn the star wheel adjuster until the wheel is locked. Back off the
adjuster half a turn.
To adjust the cable, use the adjuster nut at the U-shaped yoke or on
the primary cable or rod.
Having established that the cable is in good condition, you should next
check the adjustment. It is best to consider handbrake adjustment on an
all-disc system in two parts. First you have to adjust the brake mechanism
itself and second you adjust the handbrake cable.
Find the handbrake cable adjuster and slacken it right off. Make sure that
the cable seats properly where it passes through the backplate of the brake
Then find the adjustment access slot, which is on the perimeter of the
part of the disc assembly. It may have a blanking plug in it. Turn the
brake disc so that you can view the handbrake shoes there should be at least
'/gain (2mm) of lining material left.
Star wheel adjuster
Assuming the shoes are all right, look for the star wheel adjuster.
This is usually fitted at the six o'clock position. Give the star wheel
adjuster and its surrounding area a squirt of penetrating oil so that it moves
Turn the star wheel adjuster with a short heavy screwdriver by resting the
screwdriver on the edge of the slot and levering against the arms of the star
wheel. Turn the wheel until the rear disc is locked in position and you cannot
move it by hand. Then slacken off the star wheel by half a turn - you can judge
this roughly by counting off four arms. Adjust the other side in the same
In most cases the cable adjuster is under the car and is the same as that on
a typical drum handbrake. The most common has the adjuster located at a
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The handbrake on most cars is a mechanical linkage of rods and cables, operated by a lever on the car's floor or dash. Over a period of time, the linkage wears - the cables become slack, or the pivot points and linkage pins become badly grooved, allowing slack to build up. You can compensate for wear until the handbrake adjuster won't take up any more slack, then you need to fit new parts.