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Pelican Technical Article:

BMW Technical Article

BMW E36 3 Series Parking Brake Adjustment
Jared Fenton
Wayne R. Dempsey

Difficulty Level: 2
Difficulty scale: Adding air to your tires is level one
Rebuilding a BMW Motor is level ten

     I donít know if this happened to you or not, but did you ever park your car on a hill, only to slowly see it start rolling away after you come out of the store? Granted, this is a worst-case scenario, and how many people donít put the car in gear while parked? Regardless, the parking brakes eventually wear down over time, causing them to become ineffective in holding the car when parked. In this tech article, I will go over the relatively easy steps involved in adjusting the parking brakes on the BMW E36 3 Series models from 1992-99.

     Parking brakes work essentially like a drum style brake. There are two shoes mounted on the inside of the brake rotor. When you pull up on the handbrake, it drives the shoes outward, causing them to grip the inside of the brake rotor. Over time, friction wears the shoes down, causing them to not grip the inside of the rotor. The solution is to re-adjust the shoes so that they again come into contact with the rotor.

     Hereís how it is done. Start off by chocking the front wheels. This will keep the car from rolling when you jack up the rear wheels. Now remove one lug bolt from each rear wheel. We only need to remove one. Now begin to raise the rear end. For those of you not familiar with jacking up the rear end, I highly recommend you check out Wayneís article on jacking up your BMW.


     Be sure to jack the car up on a structural member. Otherwise, you risk damaging the chassis. I have seen jacks go through floorboards on cars before. Also be sure to support the car on jack stands. NEVER rely on a jack to keep the car up in the air.

     Once jacked up, put the car in neutral, release the handbrake and pump the brakes a few times to seat the pads. Remove the rubber boot around the handbrake. You will now see two nuts in front of the lever. These nuts are used to adjust the parking brake. Loosen these nuts until the cables are completely slack.

     Now go to the rear wheels. Put the car in neutral and make sure the handbrake is released. Now rotate the wheel by hand until the lug bolt hole lines up with the parking brake adjuster. This will be located about 65 degrees off centerline. If you are looking at the wheel, imagine that the very top is 0 degrees, now go right until you reach 65 degrees (about 1/8 rotation around the wheel) Once you have found the adjuster, use a screwdriver to reach in and turn the adjuster until the wheel no longer turns. Once the wheel stops turning, back the adjuster off slightly.

     Now go back inside the car and set the parking brake a few times to seat the cables, and then release the parking brake. Now slowly pull the handbrake until it clicks four times. This is the position we need to have the brake at in order to adjust it. Tighten the adjusting nuts evenly on both sides until you are just able to turn the rear wheels with slight resistance.

     Re-install the rubber boot over the parking brake handle and lower the car. Once on the ground, re-install the lug bolts in the rear.

     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.

Comments and Suggestions:
Bill Comments: It would be nice to know which way to push the screwdriver, since one way loosens it you could crank 'till the cows come home and it wouldn't get tight.
August 18, 2017
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: what vehicle are you working on? - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Joeshimaster Comments: Hi,

I have an e36 318i that I bought as my first car. Up until now, the parking brake was fine but all of a sudden it just decides to stop working. Now when I pull it up, it clicks I usually hold the button in when lifting it but just to show it still clicks and when I relieve pressure it just drops back down with a thud. The spring in the button appears fine and springs back out when depressed so I have no idea what's wrong. Hopefully someone here can help, I need the handbrake for driving to school as my area has a really steep unavoidable hill with a stop sign conveniently placed at Tue steepest part RIP clutch.

April 18, 2017
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Best bet is to pull the handle while watching the cables at rear, are they moving and attached? if so, inspect the rear parking brake components, something may be worn out or broken., Often times the parking brake friction material falls off the shoe. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Elliot Bradley Comments: I learned the hard way that without maintaining some positive contact and keeping some direct pressure on the screwdriver while turning the parking brake adjustment screw it's fairly easy to accidentally remove the adjustment screw completely. The reason for this, as I was somewhat unpleasantly surprised to discover, is a spring located directly behind the screw that will push it out of its proper location into the interior space of the brake risk. These pieces will need to be removed and the assembly repaired which is time consuming at least.

SO BE CAREFUL! Some pressure should be maintained while the screws are turned; failure to do so may result in the ejection of the screw and the spring rather than resulting in a successful handbrake adjustment.

By the way, the adjustment screw has an Allen head... Not sure why this procedure recommends using a screwdriver?

Another thing is that my rear brake disks actually have TWO adjustment screws, not just one. the first is an eighth of a turn clockwise from the top just like was explained above. Then I discovered another adjustment screw identical to the first, at an eighth turn from the bottom. Somewhat vexing that the procedure didn't mention any lower adjustment screw?

I fear that the rattle heard by Toni, described in the comments above, might be the same rattle I now hear in the rear brake discs of my 323is ppl l from the dislodged adjuster screw and it's companion spring as they rattle around and bind up between who knows what or which else other mechanisms are inside the disk as the wheels roll on my unexpected early morning drive back to the parts store again to properly equip myself to either get the rusty seized Allen bolt to break free or to drill out the fastener and pull the brake disk off the hub. *Fingers crossed* I just hope that there's not too much permanent damage from the wicked rattling sound the adjustment screw and it's little ejector spring friend make when the wheels go

Unfortunately this went from a being a fairly simple maintenance procedure to a much more complex repair requiring removal of the rear brake calipers and disks which are held fast to the hub by rusty, siezed allen bolts. FML
December 29, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: What year and model is your vehicle? it may be different than our subject vehicle.

Thanks for sharing your installation process and experience. These type of comments add so much to the Pelican tech community.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
toni Comments: I have a 02 plate 316ti and when it gets to 80mph it starts to rattle. What could be causing this
July 29, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Where is the rattle coming from? - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Vinnie Comments: Hi there
I wonder if you can help. I have put new brake shoes in on my bmw e36 and set the the hand brake to four clicks but when I still park on a slight down hill the handbrake still does not hold. What can the problem be?
March 24, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Try jacking up the rear wheels and see if you can spin them with the parking brake on. Your cable may be binding and not letting it move enough to apply the parking brake shoes. - Kerry at Pelican Parts  

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