Rear Brake and Handbrake Adjustment
On an '02, the rear brakes have a major effect on the whole system so it is critical that the rear brakes be in good condition and properly adjusted. If they are defective, pedal travel is excessive, pedal feel is poor, the car will not stop well, and the parking brake will be next to useless.
Disclaimer: I am not responsible for your safety - use your own head and exercise some good judgment.
Replace any worn or defective parts - this procedure assumes that all brake components are in good condition. It is absolutely critical that the drums not be worn past the maximum diameter (231mm for stock '02) and that the shoes fit the arc perfectly.
The procedure, in order:
1. Fully loosen handbrake cables at lever. Raise rear of car and place on jack stands. Remove rear wheels and drums. Put gearbox in neutral.
2. Make sure wheel cylinders are not stuck. BOTH pistons in each cylinder must move freely. A quick way to check is to push a brake shoe into the cylinder - the other one should move out.
3. Make sure both adjusters move freely and relatively easily - too stiff and you cannot get a fine adjustment. Set them so the pin is toward the top of the hole in the shoe, but still fully released (backed off).
4. Put the drums back on and slide some 3/4" lengths of 1/2" copper pipe or equivalent over the studs to allow you to use the wheel nuts to clamp the drum to the hub. Securing the drums is important because it keeps everything correctly aligned so you can do a precise adjustment. Pump the brake pedal a few times to center the shoes in the drums - this is even better done if you have an assistant pump the pedal while you turn the drums forward/backward a bit by hand.
5. Doing one shoe at a time, gently turn the adjusters (counterclockwise for the one on *your* left, clockwise for the one on your right, no matter what side of the car) until the brake is locked, then back off until it is free. Do the other shoe. Tweak in very fine increments until there is no more than an intermittent drag felt as you turn the drum. If there is a constant drag being felt, that is too tight. The amount of movement of the adjusters at the threshold is very small - maybe 1/16 of a turn. Tweak adjustment of both shoes until fully satisfied. Repeat on other wheel. Occasionally pump the brake pedal again (as described in step 4) to re-center everything and to confirm that the friction stays about the same after a brake application.
7. Check handbrake cable action. With lever fully off, make sure cables move freely by pulling hard on each cable end and noting that it returns fully when released.
8. Put rear wheels back on and torque the lug nuts firmly but do not lower the car.
9. Adjust/tighten handbrake cables: Pull on a cable until you can feel the slack is taken up, then tighten the nut so that it is held in that position. Check the wheel on that side to make sure it is not locked or dragging. Repeat for other cable. Pull up **lightly** on lever - it should not go too high. Check brake application on each rear wheel - it should require a similar amount of force on each tire to make the wheel turn. If not even, release brake and adjust the looser wheel's cable tighter and recheck as above. When brake application feels even, pull brake lever harder (as in normal use) and make sure both wheels are impossible to turn by hand. At this point the lever should not rise too high, maybe 8 clicks. Double check that brakes are fully released when lever is fully down.
10. Lower the car, fully torque the lug nuts, then go for a quick road test. At 10 to 20 mph, pull hard but gradually on the handbrake lever (keeping the button depressed so it will not lock) and note whether or not the rear of the car squats down evenly. If only one side squats, then the brake shoes or brake cables are not adjusted evenly, or one sides' linings are contaminated.
When an '02 brake system is working correctly, the brake pedal will be high and feel firm while the overall braking balance of the car will be excellent - the whole car "squatting" rather than diving forward. Folks who disparage '02 stock brakes have never experienced a properly-maintained and adjusted stock system.
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