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BMW E30 3-Series Parking Brake Adjustment

Pelican Technical Article:

BMW E30 3-Series Parking Brake Adjustment

Jared Fenton


1 hour1 hr






Floor jack, two jack stands, two wheel chocks, safety glasses, lug wrench, WD-40, an assistant, metric socket set

Applicable Models:

BMW E30 3-Series (1984-93)

Performance Gain:

A parking brake that holds once again

Complementary Modification:

Replace the parking brake shoes
101 Performance Projects for Your BMW 3 Series

This article is one in a series that have been released in conjunction with Wayne's new book, 101 Performance Projects for Your BMW 3 Series. The book contains 272 pages of full color projects detailing everything from performance mods to timing the camshafts. With more than 650+ full-color glossy photos accompanying extensive step-by-step procedures, this book is required reading in any 3 Series owner's collection. The book was released in August 2006, and is available for ordering now. See The Official Book Website for more details.

I don't 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 don't 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 E30 3 Series models from 1984-92. Keep in mind that this article is specific to cars with rear disc brakes. The 318i from 1984-86 uses rear drum brakes. The procedure for adjusting them is the same as well.

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.

Here's 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, which is the next step. For those of you not familiar with jacking up the rear end, I highly recommend you check out Wayne's 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. Slowly pull up on the handbrake until it clicks five times. Once it clicks five times, it is in the correct position to be adjusted.

Now have a helper turn the rear wheels. The idea here is to turn the adjusting nuts until the rear wheels just stop turning. Be sure use turn each nut in equal turns until both wheels begin to drag and stop. Once they stop turning, release the handbrake and check that the wheels spin freely.

Once they spin freely, Spray a little WD-40 over the parking brake mechanism. This will keep things nice and lubricated. Now re-install the rubber boot around the assembly and lower the car.

And that's it, you're done!

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:
Brake it to me Comments: I just rebuilt calipers and replaced pads and rotors on all 4 wheels on my '87 E30. Brakes work well now, but PB lever only pulls up one click. Worked fine before. Plus, it feels like PB shoes are binding up when car sits outside for a few days. Do PB shoes self-adjust when pads are worn out?
June 7, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: They are designed to. See if you can retract the adjuster. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Bubba Woody Comments: Im sorry, I thought i was in the 1976-2002 page. My car is a 1976 BMW 2002 that I was asking about in the previous question. Thanks Bubba Woody
February 6, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: No problem, got it now. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Bubba Woody Comments: I need the two hoses that have the nuts on each end that are the hoses for the emergency brake. The person that did my rear brakes said that in order for me to use the e-brake that i needed these two hoses. he said they had a nut on each end or a female connector or male bolts on each end. He told me not to use the E-Brake until these two lines are replaced. I think I may be on the right page and the right hose displayed. I did not get to see the hoses because i wasn't present when the job was done. My question is, are these the hoses i need for the E-Brake? Thanks for your time and info. Bubba Woody
February 6, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: hoses or cables? The brake cables will have locking nuts, sounds like what you are describing. 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  
Ebrake problem Comments: I have a concern now installing the emergency brake cable from the trailing arm. When removing from its hub location I had to hammer it out but now installing the new cable it is not tight its loose to slide in and out...

Is this right?
January 18, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: What vehicle? Can you share a photo of the mounting bore? - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Luke Comments: I've been getting a dragging and scraping noise while I drive coming from the parking break, I've tried tightening and loosening the cables but neither seem to help they just make the noise a bit worse any suggestions?
1991 BMW 318i e30
August 13, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Have you inspected the parking brake components? It is possible a lining fell off and is loose inside the brake. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Josh Comments: I just replaced my rotors and pads for the first time by myself. I didnt do anything to the parking brake, no new shoes or moving of the shoes. The handle goes up 1 click real easy, but after that it's very hard to get up. The most it will go is 4 clicks. Is the adjustment the same for loosening, just in reverse? Also, how do i know if the shoes are rubbing while i drive with the brake disengaged.
June 2, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: What time of vehicle are you working on? In theory, it should be reverse. Jack the rear of the vehicle and spin the wheel with the trans in neutral, the wheel should spin without the brake dragging. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
March 3, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the additional info. We appreciate it.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
Larry Comments: I just bought a 1991 318is. The parking brake is frozen inside the brake rotor and the car will not roll. How do I get the rotor off? It is stuck.
December 28, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: If it is that stuck, you will have to cut the rotor off or break the hold downs for the brakes. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
savannah996 Comments: Please include how to adjust the brake shoes in the rear rotors. Simply tightening the cables is sometimes not enough.
October 11, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: There is a small star wheel adjuster that can be adjusted through the backing plate with a small flathead screw driver, turn the adjuster until there is a light dragging noise as you turn the rotor.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
Rick Comments: regarding an1990 E30: Can anyone tell me the size of the screw that holds the armrest to the door panel? I have lost the one that hold the top to the door beneath the mirror switch
October 4, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Take the same screw out of the other door and head down to the hardware store and try to match it up.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
Rick Comments: In reference to a 1990 E30 325ic. I removed the rubber parking brake boot and I see a very small green wire that is not attached to anything. I do not see where to attach it and I do not know what purpose it serves. Any response is appreciated.
September 12, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: That wire should connect to the switch that turns on the parking brake light, it should be on the parking brake.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
Terry Comments: The whole stud rotates when I turn the but. This prevents the handbrake cable from tightening. This occurs when tension begins to increase, so defeats the purpose of the but. Tried to hold the stud at the end, but it ends slipping and damages thrrad
September 2, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Make sure that the adjustment nuts are not double nuted, some cables will have wrench flats on them also, look for them. But the cables might need to be replaced if the nuts are frozen and will not come free.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
AFH Comments: Hi, I have just had my parking brake shoes changed on my E46 330 convertible, only trouble is, the handbrake appears no better pulls all the way up and doesn't hold on a hill. I suspect they have just tried to adjust it and have damaged my trim around the handbrake. Short of taking it to another garage how can I tell if they have actually replaced the shoes? thanks
August 6, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: There may be an inspection hole plugged with a rubber grommet that you can unplug and look at the thickness of the shoes. Did they want to do a brake job? The calipers and rotors would have to come off to do the parking brake shoes. Are all of those components new? Jack up the rear of the car and support it. Then try spinning the rear wheels with the parking brake applied. It could also be that the cables have stretched beyond any possible adjustment - Kerry at Pelican Parts  
E30 expert Comments: Yeah your ebrake is locked up. Sameeeee thing happened to me. Take the rotor off.
October 14, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: You may have to undo the parking brake adjustment to remove the rotor - Nick at Pelican Parts  
1991E30 Comments: My 1991 e30 has the rear right side brake dragging it makes a really loud grinding sound when i drive it. Will adjusting the emergency break help this?
May 8, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Are you sure its not the brake pads? If it is the shoes now that there is damage adjusting will probably not help, you are going to have to replace them and all broken components. - Kerry at Pelican Parts  
jarot Comments: how would i install a new parking brake cable? i cant seem to figure it out
March 29, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Unscrew it from the parking brake handle. Then disconnect it from the parking brake shoes. Then slide it out of the vehicle. Install new cable in reverse order of removal. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Half Comments: Your articles are great. I have an 84 325e and have replaced the timing belt, adjusted the valves, replaced valve cover and all manifold gaskets and replaced fuel injectors. Also fuel supply and return lines. I have a mystery leak of fluid on drivers side carpet. Feels like rad fluid. Any ideas?
January 20, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Could be the heater core. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
JazzCat Comments: Hi Jared:

I replaced all rotors and brake pads on a 96 328i. All went fine but now I can't get the hand brake to click up into a hold posiion. It just pulls up and drops.
October 11, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: You will need to adjust the parking brake. Loosen the cables at the handle, then adjust the rear brakes until they hold the wheel. Then back them off until free. Then adjust cable until wheels hold with a few clicks up. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Chuck Comments: Are there rust resistant parking brake rotors for a 2007 BMW 328 coupe?
March 7, 2010
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Not sure about rust repellent. The Zimmerman rotors we have are pretty good and come with a coating. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
2E30s1E36 Comments: These directions and the ones on the E36 page about adjusting the shoe internally through the lug hole involve turning the wheel making adjustments until you first start to feel drag on the wheel or until the wheel stops. One of my E30 has a limited slip diff, and since its preloaded quite a bit, the rear wheels basically turn together when the car is jacked up and I'm turning them by hand. This is a problem because once I get one of the cables the exact right tightness on one side, I can't do the other side because I can't tell the difference between resistance due to this particular wheel and just feeling the resistance of the other wheel through the read axle. The only way I can think of around this is to disconnect one of the halfshafts from the diff, but that is kind of a pain for just adjusting the handbrake. Is there a better way?
August 24, 2009
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Hmm, I cannot think of a better way, except that you should be able to hear the scrapping of the brake shoes if they are engaged. You also might want to tighten them up until they are tight and then back them off a few turns until you are sure they are loose. Then repeat for the other side. Then, adjust the cable on your e-brake handle and test each wheel (car still up in the air). If stuck, then you're good. If not, then turn each of the little adjustment wheels a bit further. - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
E-thirty fan Comments: so i tightened up the e brake at the handle and i still have no brakes any suggestions?
August 21, 2009
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Take a look here: - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
beaker fan Comments: is the procedure the same for a 1996 325 tds?
August 8, 2009
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The E36 procedure is located right here: - Wayne at Pelican Parts  
knows nothing Comments: just replaced all the brakes, brake lines on 1987 325is. Heard a loud pop as we drove it into the garage for repair. Now: wheels rotate backward fine; but, only will go a short way forward and then freeze????? Any suggestions?
May 3, 2009
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Hmm, it does sound like there may be a broken parking brake spring or something like that. I'm thinking you need to take the rear brakes apart and check. - Wayne at Pelican Parts  

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