How can I remove rusty drums when brute force and solvents don't work?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 1996

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1988 Lincoln Town Car with 75,000 miles on it. I used your
suggestion of several months ago for separating the rusty wheels from the
drums. Loosening the lug nuts slightly and hitting the brakes hard while
driving slowly did the trick. Now for the hard part; trying to remove the
rusty rear drums. I tried rust solvents, and slide bar puller with no luck.
My mechanic even tried heating them up with a torch and whacking them with
a sledge hammer. Any other suggestions? -- Don

TOM: Gee, Don, you've tried all of our usual techniques -- although we
usually start with the sledge hammer and save the rust solvents for later.

RAY: My guess is that your brake shoes have worn grooves into the drums.
It's obvious that you haven't replaced the shoes since Dukakis lost to
George Bush. And since they wore out years ago, every time you step on the
brakes, your rear brake shoes carve a little more of a "Panama canal" into
your drums. And because the shoes are now wedged into the drums, you can't
pull the drums off.

TOM: What you have to do is completely unadjust the rear brakes. Normally,
you want the shoes to be within a nose hair of the drums, so you don't have
to move the brake pedal very far before there's contact. But now what you
want to do is the opposite. You want to get those shoes as far away from
the drums as possible, in hopes of getting the shoes out of the groove. You
may have to use heat as well to free the shoes, but once you do, you should
be able to force off the drums.

RAY: If that doesn't work, you can try chiseling the hold-down pins off the
backing plate. They're part of what is holding the shoes on, and once
they're removed and the shoes and drums may be able to come off in one
piece...with springs flying, rust scattering, and brake dust in your

TOM: If all of that fails, you can always go for the "axle-ectomy," where
the rear axle is actually cut off to free the drums. But I've only had to
do that once in the last 20 years, so I suspect one of these other
approaches is going to bear fruit -- or at least metal.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One