Parking Brake Cable Replacement

APPLICATION: This should apply to all Vanagons. But only Vanagons. I don't believe this particular procedure exactly cross-references to Buses as the Bus parking brake system is slightly different.

Your situation: One of your parking brake cables is broken. You need to replace it.

TOOLS NEEDED: jackstands, socket set and ratchet, wheel chock, jack, various types of pliers, brake shoe spring/washer removal tool, lug wrench, possibly Liquid Wrench, various screwdrivers and a hammer if things get nasty, a Haynes manual (if applicable), and a 10mm wrench.

The first thing you need to do is chock one of the front wheels. This is very important! Remove the hubcaps from your rear wheels. Then use the lug wrench to loosen the wheel nuts, but of course don't remove them yet. Use your jack to get the jackstands under the rear trailing arms so that the wheels are supported off the ground. Once you've gotten this done, remove the wheels.

If the van is in gear take it out of gear and put it in neutral. Also release the parking brake. Go to the rear and remove the two 11mm bolts that hold the drums on. Once these are loose, pull the drums off. If they don't come off easily, make sure you remembered to release the parking brake. If they still don't come off try banging on them with the hammer for a bit to loosen them up. If that doesn't do it, you will probably have to back the self-adjuster off. This can be done by removing a rubber plug from the backing plate and using a screwdriver to back the adjuster off.

OK, enough of that. You've got the drums off. You will see that the parking brake cable terminates in a square end with a square hole through it. This loops around a hook at the end of a lever, which is attached by a pin to the rear-most brake shoe. When you pull the cable, it pulls the lever, which pushes the shoe against the drum. Simple. Well, now you need to get that square end off the hook on the lever. The easy way to do this is push the lever forward with your finger while you wiggle the end of the cable off of it. It may take a little wiggling, but it will come eventually.

Once you've got that done, slide under the van at about the middle. Follow the parking brake cable from the rear wheel to the equalizer bar, which is where the two cables to the wheels meet with the cable from the handbrake lever. Haynes calls the one from the handbrake lever the "primary" cable and the two to the wheels the "secondary" cables.

You need to free the cable you are replacing from the equalizer bar. If the cable is broken, this is probably fairly simple. You will see that the cable end rests in a divot in the equalizer bar. To one side of this divot is a larger hole that allows the large cable end to slip through it. Simply move the cable end over and slip it out the hole. If you find that there is too much tension on the assembly to do this, then simply loosen the adjustment nut, which is the 10mm nut at the center of the equalizer bar.

So now you have the cable free at both ends. The cable must be removed by pulling it forward out of the backing plate. You cannot pull it from the brake shoe end, it must be pulled from the equalizer bar end. If you follow it back to the backing plate you will see that the cable sheath there is metal and it slides into a hole in the backing plate. Mine gave me a hell of a time and would not come out of that hole. You may want to spray some Liquid Wrench around the hole on both sides (don't get any on the brake shoes!). I had to get a set of pliers on mine and twist it. This didn't really work as the thing broke right off flush with the hole in the backing plate. So, I cut the square cable end off the cable using my sidecutters and then slid the spring-like cable protector off the cable. Then I pulled the remainder of the cable out through the front, leaving the remainder of the broken-off piece in the hole in the backing plate. I then proceeded to use various combinations of screwdrivers and hammers to force this piece out. It took a good hour, but it finally came. To do this, I had to partially disassemble the brakes, which meant removing the shoe hold-downs and springs, and lifting them up and out a bit. I didn't take them fully apart, however. This is where you will need that brake shoe hold down washer removal tool. Save yourself the trouble and go buy one.

Anyway, once you get the leftover chunk out, you can put the new cable in. Put it through the hole in the backing plate, square end first and from the front, just like the old one came out. Then hook the square end around the hook on the brake shoe actuating lever while you put the brakes back together.

Then run the cable back through the factory tie downs (on mine there was a plastic holder attached to the trailing arm to locate the cable) and to the equalizer bar. Now you need to attach the cable to the equalizer bar the same way you removed the old one. It may be necessary to slacken the adjustment here as above, especially since you probably have much less slack with the new cable than you did with the old broken one. Once you get the cable end seated in the divot, finish putting the brakes back together, put the drums back on, put the drum bolts back in, and put the rear wheels back on. Tighten the wheel nuts securely, but don't really crank on 'em. You want to tighten them with the lug wrench so that the wheel doesn't wobble but don't overdo it or you can wrench the thing off the jackstands. While you are under the van you will notice that the cable sheath has three movable rubber things on it. These are to protect the cable at those points where it will rub against something. Position the rubber things so that they protect the cable where it rubs.

Now you are going to adjust the parking brake. I followed the procedure in the Haynes manual, which goes something like this:
You should still be out of gear with parking brake off.
Pump the brake pedal a few times to center the shoes, especially important if the drums have been off.
Pull the parking brake lever up sharply and then release it.
Pull the parking brake lever to the second click and leave it there.
Get out and spin the rear wheels. You are looking for a slight drag of the brake shoes when you spin the wheels. I would say more drag than typical brake-adjustment drag.
To increase the drag, get under at the equalizer bar and turn the 10mm adjusting nut to take up the slack in the cables.
You will have to adjust some, and then get out and check the wheels, then go back and adjust some. I will say don't be afraid to crank on it for a while as in this case, a little adjustment really does not go a long way.
When you think you have the drag right, go back in the car and pull the brake up the the fourth click. At this point the wheels should be locked and you should not be able to turn them even when trying hard. If you can, tighten them up a little more.
Once you've done this, release the brake and make sure the wheels spin freely. If they are still binding due to the parking brake, back off the adjustment a little.

And that's basically the whole adjustment procedure. Once you've got it adjusted well, then get it down off the jackstands and don't forget to tighten the lug nuts.

Sean Bartnik
October 6, 1997

Back to the tech page.