How to Remove Rusted Brake Drums on a 2003 Chevy Cavalier

A few weeks ago, I noticed a dull grinding sound while braking. At first, I thought this was the tell tale sign that my front brakes were going. I replaced those, but they weren’t quite worn down and the grinding sound didn’t go away. Turned out it was the rear drum brakes.

I had never changed them, and my 2003 Chevy Cavalier had just ticked over 100,000 miles. So, I figured it was time to change the rear brakes.To change the rear drum brakes you need to remove the tire, remove the brake drum, and then work on the brakes. But… the drum was completely rusted to the wheel hub.

Standard Tips

There are plenty of videos and articles that offer advice on removing a stubborn drum. I watched them, read them, and tried most of these techniques.

Use a hammer. Take a heavy hammer and tap around the drum. Tap in between the studs, and tap the center hub. Sometimes it helps break the rust free.

Penetrating oil Spray it around the hub, let it sit, and see if it helps. Combine with a hammer and some leverage to fix mild cases of stubborn drums.

Use a torch for heat. This seems a little drastic, but it can help. Take a propane torch and heat up the hub and the drum. As they heat up, they’ll expand. When they cool down, they should contract. Sometimes, this breaks the rust enough to pry the drum free.

What If That Doesn’t Work?

The trouble is, none of these standard techniques worked for me. I spent an hour prying, oiling, hammering, and torching that drum. I went to Autozone, and they gave me the same tips. My father-in-law, a long time mechanic and car salesman, said to keep trying and use a heavier hammer. After another hour of fruitless efforts, I was at my wits end.

I had seen on YouTube a special kind of drum puller. There are a few different variations, similar to this product, but they all do the same thing. They grip the back of the drum, apply steady pressure against the drum, and slowly pull the drum free. But… these tools are $60-100. I wasn’t spending that for a one time expense.

Instead, I gerry rigged a homemade equivalent to these tools. First, I took the clamp/bracket that went to a long u-bolt (similar to this one) and hammered one side of the clamp to flatten it out. This allowed me to slide the clamp behind the lip of the drum and grip it. Did the same thing to create a second grip on the other side of the drum. Then, I placed a small crowbar against the edge of the hub (any strong, metal pipe will do), and u-bolted the two brackets around the crowbar.

This effectively created a homemade drum puller. As the nuts on the u-bolts tightened, they pulled the drum against the crowbar, which pushed against the center hub. I tightened the nuts down fairly tight, so that they were applying constant pressure on the drum. I sprayed some penetrating oil around the hub. Took the hammer, and with one good whack on the hub the drum popped free.

The exact form of the tool is up to you. The idea, however, is to apply constant pressure on the drum and then pop it with the hammer. You might be able to do this if you have a helper and you both pry against the back plate while you hit the drum with the hammer, but that alone may not put enough pressure on it. This tool took about $5-10 in spare bolts/brackets that I already had lying around the garage, and didn’t include buying an expensive, one-used tool that I’ll probably never need again.

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