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 > Technical Articles: / BMW E36 3-Series (1992-1999) >
E-Brake Adjustment

Pelican Technical Article:

E-Brake Adjustment


1 hour1 hr






Floor jack and two jack stands, safety glasses, flatblade screwdriver, metric socket set and ratchet, flashlight

Applicable Models:

BMW E30 3-Series (1984-93)
BMW E36 3-Series (1992-99)

Parts Required:

Two emergency brake cables (if needed)

Performance Gain:

Emergency brake engages properly while car is parked and holds car

Complementary Modification:

Replace the emergency brake shoes
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Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5

Over the years, the parking brake on your BMW may become unadjusted and fail to perform properly. The adjustment of the brake shoes is an easy process, and shouldn't take you more than an hour to accomplish.

The first step is to raise the rear of the car and remove the two road wheels. This will allow you access to the rear calipers. Make sure that the parking brake lever is released. Using a screwdriver, push back slightly on the brake pads until the brake disc is allowed to turn freely on its spindle. Be careful to check the fluid level in the master cylinder reservoir, as pushing the pads back will make the fluid level rise and may cause it to overflow.

Once the brake disc can be moved easily, move to the cockpit of the car, lift up the handbrake boot, and loosen the two nuts that attach the handbrake cable to the inside of the brake mechanism (Figure 1 and Figure 2). If there is any pretension on these cables, then it will be difficult to adjust the handbrake. The adjustment of the parking brake shoes is accomplished by turning a small gear or sprocket with a screwdriver. Unfortunately, this sprocket can only be reached through one of the lug nut holes in the brake disc.

Rotate the brake disc until you can see the small adjusting sprocket through the lug nut hole (Figure 3). You may need a flashlight for this procedure. Reaching in through the hole, use a screwdriver to rotate the cog until the parking brake shoe is tight and the rotor can no longer be rotated. A glimpse of what the cog looks like with the brake rotor removed is shown in Figure 4. If you are working on the right side of the car, you need to turn the cog towards the front of the car to tighten the brake shoes. If you are working on the left side of the car, you need to rotate the cog to the rear of the car to expand the shoes. If you are turning the sprocket a lot, and the brake disc isn't tightening up, then you are probably turning it the in the wrong direction. Repeat this procedure for the opposite side of the car. After you have the sprockets adjusted so that the brake shoes have just pressed up against the inside of the disc, and you can no longer turn the disc, back them off until the disc can spin.

Now move back to the cockpit of the car, and pull up on the hand brake several times to help seat the cables. Finally, pull up on the hand brake so that the ratchet clicks through four notches. Now, tighten up the cables using the nuts at the bottom of the handbrake lever (Figure 5). Tighten each of these nuts to the point where there is just a bit of slight resistance each respective wheel. Now, release the lever and verify that the wheels turn freely. The brake discs should be free to rotate with the handle in the down position, but fully locked by the time that the handbrake is pulled up a few notches past the four clicks.

When you are finished, recheck the master cylinder reservoir, and also step on the brake pedal a few times in order to make sure that the pistons have repositioned themselves properly against the brake pads. Also verify that the parking brake lamp on the dashboard illuminates as soon as the handle is pulled up.

Well, there you have it - it's really not too difficult at all. If you would like to see more technical articles like this one, please continue to support Pelican Parts with all your parts needs. If you like what you see here, then please visit our online BMW catalog and help support the collection and creating of new and informative technical articles like this one. Your continued support directly affects the expansion and existence of this site and technical articles like this one. As always, if you have any questions or comments about this helpful article, please drop us a line.

Palle Bo Madsen adds the following tip:

Due to the fact that everybody only uses the emergency brake as a parking brake, the brakedrum gets rusty inside, at least in the wet and cold season/climate.When You then try to adjust or brake it in, the rust becomes a glassy layer on the inside of the drum and on the brake shoes. This glass like layer has very little friction, so You can't stop the car with the emergency brake, but only use it as a parking brake.

Remedy: The BMW workshop changes the disc, the brakeshoes and the brakepads...

I use sanding paper either by a rotating machine or by hand to remove the rusty and or glass like layer from the inside of the drum and the brake shoes. Then I put it back together, adjust it with the cogwheel as You have described it and then run the emergency brake in. Now it is working as it should...

Comments and Suggestions:
S Andy Comments: I would caution anyone using Mr. Maddens tip on sanding to wear a good particle mask, as this causes an extreme amount of BRAKE DUST which may contain ASBESTOS
February 5, 2017
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Agreed. Wear eye, skin and breathing protection. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Dilly Comments: Hello nick, i had a wheel bearing replaced at the rear driver side and after installation, i noticed a clicking sound on the rear but when driving more than 70km/hr..and when applying ebrake when not moving the left side seems to work fine but the right side driver inclined up seems like not tight. The mechanic tried adjusting the adjuster but the cable seem not to question is whats making the clicking sound?
November 1, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I wouldn't know exactly what is making the sound. Could be the rear parking brake components. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Max Comments: is it normal to have only drum brakes in the rear wheels of BMW e36 318i 1997. i found only few bmw cars with this type of brakes, most contain Disk+drums in the rear wheels. So please guide me which one braking system is good and also can i swap them with the disk+drums braking system.
October 20, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: You'll need the rear trailing arms, brake master and all the rear brake parts as well as parking brake parts. Give The Pelican Parts parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can figure out what part or repair kit you need.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
BUZ Comments: I've got a strange scraping noise scraping/squeak left rear only, its like scrape......scrape.......scrape.....scrape. So its not constant but on and off, when braking and when coasting too. Checked Ebrake shoes, checked pads and checked rotor. Everything looked like new. I've still got the scraping noise. Could it be a wheel bearing? Thanks.
June 8, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Wheel bearing, backing plate or axle. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
bobdelaplage Comments: Wow, great feedback from you guys!!!!
THX a lot
June 1, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the feedback. Glad we could help.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
mikko Comments: My e36 has drum brakes. Is this tutorial only for the disc brake models?
April 16, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Yes. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Asuvathan Comments: Hi, i have a 95 325is and my rear brakes dont have shoes, would this method still work without them?
March 5, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: You remove the rotor and they are not there? Are the parking brake cables attached to anything? - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Promit Comments: My Z3 2000 2.3 manual holds in place with the e-brake but not well. On an incline it starts to roll away unless I really crank the handle and leave it in gear. Is the adjustment likely to fix it, or is it a glassy rust issue? How can I check?
January 24, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: See this article: - Nick at Pelican Parts  
heze Comments: need help after adjusting ebrake on 2006 bmw 325 xi wagon it keeps loosing for some reason why I tighten both side as much possibly help replce front /back all around ebrake adjustment will not stay in place yyyyy
November 25, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: See this tech article to be sure you followed the correct steps: - Nick at Pelican Parts
Kylemiller Comments: My ebrake doesn't even work so does this thread here help me fix it
September 11, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: You didn't mention what vehicle you have, but this article could help. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
nighthawk Comments: I was adjusting my e brake when the one of the studs on the e brake handle broke off. the nut stayed on so it is still tight, but i need to get this fixed as soon as possible. what part would i need? whats the cost of it? and how difficult is it to replace?
May 25, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: That is part of the brake cable. You will have to replace it.

Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can figure out what part or repair kit you need.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
Alex Comments: Hey guys, I have a 1998 BMW 318i. It was parked for about 50 days while I was out of town, but my wife said she started it periodically for me. Now the starter is acting frozen - this is about a month after I had the starter replaced for the same issue - but another big problem is my handbrake is ceased up so I can't even push start the car. I'd like to fix the brake problem first as I obviously cannot drive it before it's fixed. Only one wheel is actually ceased rear driver's side all the others turn okay. The ceased wheel only turns about 2mm but stops abruptly like it's hitting something in either direction. I've taken the wheel off but I don't have the time to really be taking the whole thing apart without some clear knowledge of what to do or really where to start. I'm not to the BMW world.
April 4, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Remove the rear brake caliper on the frozen side. If it is still frozen, try to back the parking brake off. If it will not back off, you may have to cut the parking brake cable. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
matsla Comments: i managed to tighten the handbrake on the left side, but on the right side i could not get the cog wheel to move very much. it seems like it has gotten stuck on the spring, and the cog seems a bit worn after i tried and failed too many times.
December 25, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The adjuster may be frozen. Remove it and see if it is seized. If so, replace it. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Samdearne Comments: Hi, was wondering if you could help me. Im after a expander bar for the p/s side rear brake drum i have trued getting one from bmw there self but have been waiting 3 months now an need a mot an it wont pass as the handbrake only works on the one side??? Its a 323i coupe e36
November 22, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799 and they can help figure out which part or repair kit you need.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
Jay Comments: Just got a 1996 318ic, where are the adjustment cables underneath the boot? I don't even see them... are they tuckered away under the carpeting? If so, how do I access them?

I tried doing it blindly and think I made it worse, I might have overtightened it and now the ebrake does not go up.
July 29, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: There is a single adjustable nut on the cable end at the brake lever. However, most of the adjustment is made at the brake shoe in the rear. This is just for adjusting the parking brake handle engagement once the shoes are properly adjusted. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
R L Comments: 95 BMW 525i -rear brakes smoked, got hot, seemed to lock up, replaced the rotors, calipers, pads and master cylinder. The problem occurred again. Car slows down, seems to pull as if brakes are applied. Brakes become hot and smoke.
June 19, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: You could have a restricted brake line. When it acts up, jack the corners of the vehicle to locate the hung wheel. Then crack the brake bleeder, see if problem goes away. If so, bleed brakes, then redo test working your way up the line to the master cylinder until you locate the restriction. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
kevyoung Comments: Would be nice if you mention that you have to take OFF the rotor.
May 1, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: We do, see this link: - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Jon Comments: I have an e46 M3 2003 and recently the button on the ebrake started sticking. It used to come out after playing with it, but now it is completely stuck in place. Since it started sticking, when it came out, it felt like it had the normal tension in the button, so I am thinking that the spring is not worn out, but I really don't know. I'd appreciate any advice on what I might adjust to remedy this.
March 20, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: As far as I know, the only fix would be to replace the handle. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
chris Comments: I changed my cv axle recently, using an axle puller. Now when I drive in gear I hear a clicking noise as speed increase and vibration when feeling the e brake lever. Also, when I reverse with the e brake disengaged I feel tension on the cable and it's picking my rear end up after a few feet. Is the e brake catching on something?
February 17, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I would inspect your work and see if there are signs of anything hitting the axle. It could be what you suspect, could also be a faulty axle. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
matt Comments: Hi its matt again.. I realized every time I drive over bumpy roads it makes some metal noise like something is loose and hitting something in the braking area.. thanks
November 11, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the additional info. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
matt Comments: Hi. I have a e36 323i coupe. After going over a damaged road without knowing, after I release the e brake from parking, I drive and it makes squeaking noise like it's not released properly. And then I pull the e brake up a little bit while the car is moving, it makes a *click* noise and stops the squeaking noise.. what do you think is wrong? Thanks
November 10, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The parking brake shoes may have come apart. I would inspect the brakes on the axle of the vehicle that are making noise. Remove the rear rotor to inspect the parking brakes. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Ross Comments: Hi I'm having some trouble starting my Car. It is a 2002 BMW 325 CI. The car won't crank nor start soon after I replaced the clutch and the intake cover gasket. although I had got it to start when I Jump the starter, would not start with the key, any advise will greatly be appreciated

Thanks so much!
October 14, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Don't know how your starting problem post ended up in the E brake adjustment section but it sounds like you left a connection unplugged. Put a test light on the starter smal wire and see if it has power when you put the key in the crank position, Check all the electrical connections you unplugged to do the job. Possible a wire broke inside the harness when you moved it, old harness get brittle over time - Kerry at Pelican Parts  
Boon0114 Comments: Absolutely spot on take time to read the instructions and its a doodle.
August 20, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the feedback. Glad we could help. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Ray Comments: Hello, i have 2001 E46 320i BMW. i have recently changed the back and front disc pads, brake pad sensor and cleaned the speed sensor. i have also on the ignition to accessories and tried to clear the dash light. however, the hand brake and abs and a organge lights are still on. Could somebody help me please. i am a newbie.ta.ray
August 19, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: If the yellow and red brake warning lights are ON, this indicates a fault in the ABS system. You will need to read the fault codes using a BMW scan tool. Once you have the fault codes, you will know what area to look for problems. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
mjgtp Comments: I have a 2000 Z3, and i've had an odd behavior since I purchased the car a year ago. - when I pull up the ebrake handle while on a slight incline, the car rolls back slightly and raises up on the rear passenger side, almost like that side is the only side engaging? Why would the rear end raise up like that? Could this signify a broken cable? I've included a photo of the adjustment screws
August 6, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The rear is raising because as the vehicle rolls the suspension moves. As long as it holds, this is OK. However, it sounds like only one side of your parking brake is holding. I would inspect the rear parking brake componenets and at the minimum adjust the them. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Sam Comments: Hi
BMW320i Automatic 1994
My wife had to urgently brake for a taxi that swerved in her way. Since then the ABS light comes on intermittently and the brake pedal has to much travel. After spending a huge amount of money to have the brakes repaired and sending the car back a second time, the service centre presented me with a test certificate that the brake performance is in spec with the required standards. Needles to say the ABS light still comes on intermittently and the brake pedal goes to the floor when cold and improves somewhat as the car warms up.
Sam Jonker
June 2, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: If pedal travel has increased, this can be due to worn components like brake pads, cracked hose or contaminated brake fluid.

The ABS light is an indicator of a problem. I would check the ABS system for fault codes using a BMW scan tool. Start by addressing the fault code, it may help to remedy your issue.- Nick at Pelican Parts
bjf66 Comments: prior to installing the brake shoes, I blew out the dust inside the disc rotor make sure you havent got your head in there, as it is most probably harmful for you
Didnt have any brake clean so used WD40, and emery paper to break the glaze of disc rotor, and inside where Emergency Brake shoes are touching
adjusted the shoes so hub wanted turn, jumped on brakes a few times, this centralised the brake shoes, and then adjusted the hand brake cables up by gear stick so that hand brake comes on firmly at 4 clicks, took it for test drive
all good
April 19, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the info. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
bjf66 Comments: Hi Guys
Love this site, use it all the time when needing to work E36 320i
Just changed the emergency brake shoes as high pitch squeel developed coming from the Rear RH drivers side Aust, so having changed the disc brakes some 3 yrs ago I knew had to be the emergency brake hand brake, as you can see the top show had desintegrated which was causing problem

keep up good work
cheers from down under
April 19, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the info. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
JonStaysFrosty Comments: I have the same problem as BRIAN and collott. Can anyone recommend a supplier for an e-brake handle? Or will any AEM one do?
March 29, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Give out BMW parts specialists a call 1-888-280-7799. They will help find a replacement handle for you. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
riverplate Comments: i have adjusted the ebrake in my 328 is tight an does not go anywhere downhill in the front, but if the car is backwards downhill the ebrakes is not workingit keeps moving backwards eventhou the ebrakes is pull all the way up
any ideas what could be or is normaul
January 5, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Inspect your parking brake shoes and componenets to be sure nothing is worn out. The parking brake should be able to hold your vehicle in both directions. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
steve01 Comments: My bmw e46 rear wheels both have movement in the just slightly left to right when the handbreak is on also when i pull away fast you hear a loud thud coming from the back ive been told it could be my handbreak shoes does anyone have any advice as to what it may be?
April 9, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: You may have parking brake shoes that have detached from the backing plate. The backing plates can get rusty and the retaining springs pull out.

This tech article will help you with replacement:

- Nick at Pelican Parts
PetrH Comments: today I used this procedure on my 328i vert european versionand I had to turn both sprocketes left and right in the direction to the front of the car not left to the back as states the article. It took me a while to figure out, maybe it will help somebody;-
April 8, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the feedback and tip. We appreciate it. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Jasminesdad Comments: I tried adjusting my brake today but the wheel doesn't turn when i release the parking brake. Both wheels are off the ground. Is there something I'm missing?
February 21, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The parking brake shoes may be over-adjusted. Try backing the adjuster off. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
david Comments: hi, iv just installed a new handbrake cable in my e36 325i the shoes fit correctly and springs are fine to, the cable has the tension but there is no grip with the shoes, i have done everyhting else as describe in the guide, is there any pics available to show the correct fitting of the cabble pls both side of shoes and spring. this would be very helpfull.
February 6, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I would grab a repair manual. It will list the special tools and each step of the procedure. Give our parts specialists a call: 1-888-280-7799 They will help you find what you need. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
collott Comments: The button for releasing the handbrake has popped out, it recently got stuck, then somehow freed itself, now it seems to fly out when releasing the handbrake to reveal a thin wire rod with a hook on the end, nothing appears to be broken but I can't seem to get it to stay in. are we talking a new lever here or what?
August 25, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Yes, you are going to have to replace the parking brake lever. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Billy C Comments: yesterday I tried to replace the brakes on a 2003 325i. I followed your directions and got to the point of removing the old rotor. of course I removed the set screw in the rotor, but I could not get it to come off the hub. i tapped the rotor a couple of times with a ball hammer, but it would not budge. is it just pressed on the hub? any suggeswtion on what to do?
August 5, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Sometimes the rotor will get stuck to the hub due to corrosion. Check this tech article for some tips: - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Alex Comments: I'm attempting to adjust my handbrake but when I go to tighten the nuts from the handbrake itself it seems like the cable is spinning with the nuts and they won't adjust, any help?
July 8, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Are the nuts separated? you have to unlock the two nuts, then adjust the cable. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
nye36 Comments: I've recently taken my car out of storage and my rear passenger side ebrake is seized. I'm pretty sure it's the ebrake because the car sways like the ebrake is on it could use some adjustment. Any suggestion to take care of this seize?
June 10, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Check that the cables are free, if so, the shoes could be stuck to the rotor from sitting for so long. You will have to to disassemble the rear brakes to inspect them. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
GULF E30 M3 #10 Comments: Easy-peasy. I did this for the first time ever just now and following the directions in this article it worked like a charm on the first shot. It took all of about a half an hour including from jacking the car up to washing my hands at the end.
March 5, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: What a great looking car! - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
Clint Comments: I have an BMW E36 325i 1991 Model, i am having trouble adjusting the park brake, the car has rear wheel disc brakes, I am unable to find the 'adjusting sprocket' through the lug hole, is this only for 'Drum' brake models and if so, how do i adjust the Park brake on a disc brake model - help
January 27, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: It can be difficult to locate, especially through the hole with the wheel still on the car. If you haven't done it before, I would remove the wheel on one side so that you can get a handle on where it is and what you need to do to adjust it. - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
January 17, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: There's a spring inside the handle - this is probably broken or worn out. The best solution is to probably replace the whole handle assembly with a new one or a good used one. - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
S54 E46 M3 Comments: For some reason a click randomly started coming from the parking brake assembly. i assumed it was bad springs or hold down bins, and replace them. That didnt stop the click. Adjusting the parking brake quietens the click but is always there. any ideas?
December 1, 2010
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Hmm, I'm assuming that you mean it's clicking as the wheel is turning. That might be a wheel bearing on it's way out. - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
Sub Comments: You dont have to take the wheel off, just take one bolt off, rotate the wheel and look through till you see the cog.

To clean the drums off, bmw recommends using the ebrake to stop the car a bit.
September 20, 2010
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: You are correct, this is good advice. Thanks for the tip. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
henry Comments: I've recently installed new parking brake pads on my e36 325i and unfortunately they don't seem to fit right. I checked the part no. and everything seems fine, I even bought new hardware to ensure proper fitting. The problem occurs when I put the rotor back on the hub after installation, the fit is EXTREMELY tight and the rotor will just barely go on. I haven't driven the car yet because I think the parking brake pads are flush against the inside of the rotor and I don't want to damage anything by driving with the brakepresumably engaged. Any ideas as to what the problem may be would be greatly appreciated.
September 14, 2010
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Sure, you need to adjust the parking brake shoes by winding the sprocket all the way in, otherwise it will be very tight. Then, adjust the shoes according to the article. What you have described is typical for a new installation. - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
Terry Comments: To avoid a rusty brake drum, periodically use the handbrake while approaching a stop to clean them off.
June 14, 2010
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I would say using the parking brake regularly is a better idea. There is risk involved if you pull brake too far or is doesn't release. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Don6666 Comments: love the follow up tip
way to go
February 19, 2010
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the feedback - Nick at Pelican Parts  

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Page last updated: Wed 1/17/2018 02:10:09 AM