Emergency Brake


New member
I have an 85 Westy. Is there any kind of adjustment and/or maintainence for the emergency brake? Mine doesn't seem to hold well, and my driveway has some pitch. Also is it damaging to leave it in gear on an incline? I have looked in the archives and in the Bentley. Can't seem to find anything, but will keep searching. Thanks. Kate

Capt. Mike

You've left out some imporant information -- how many miles, and what brake maintenance & repairs have been done?

Adjusting the parking brake is described in the Bentley, section 46.11. But . . .!

The low hold on the brake may very well by a symptom of deeper problems that should be checked out first. If you have more than about 50K and don't have a recent competent brake inspection & maintenance, several common maladies could have cropped up. Read the Bentley Section 46.6-46.10 to grab a better understanding of the emergency brake role in total rear braking.

The rear brakes in a Vanagon are self adjusting. A small rachet works on the star wheel adjuster every time you apply the emergency brake. Those star wheels are notorious for freezing up -- they are right in the middle of one of the dirtiest environments in any vehicle -- and must be free moving or the shoes gradually wear & get out of adjustment. The emergency brake grip is a function of wear, so will also loose effectiveness.

Another consideration is unbalanced wear. Since the emergency brake only activiates one shoe, it's possible for one shoe to wear disproportionally. That's why I suggest a 2nd viewing port elsewhere on this Forum.

Any brake system will wear. If the drums have gotten out-of-round, the emergency brake can only grab on portions. Unlike the hydraulic brakes, which have sufficient power to compensate for some out-of-round, the emergency brake is basically left to grab the high spots. Also, the leverage of the emergency brake may not have the range to apply full movement to reach a worn out drum. Drums do wear, and unfortunately, way too many 'mechanics' want to "turn the drums" automatically as part of a brake job. The amount of wear allowed is so small that turning often eats away all the wear range and may actually ruin the drum by making it outside allowable inner diameter specs.

NEVER turn a drum that is within out-of-round specs and NEVER turn a drum below its safe working range specs. If you turn it near the end of permissable wear, it will not have any reserve before the next job and will cause the cylinders to work outside their design range. This could lead to total rear brake failure.

So you may be due for a brake job, even if there is adequate lining left. Unfortunately you must remove the drum to get to the other items for inspection. IF you do brake repairs, I suggest you get a new hardware kit as well -- VW sells all the springs & clips in kit form, though you'll probably have to order it as few stock them anymore. A good investment considering safety and the cost of a full brake job anyway.

Regarding leaving the car in gear. Yes it's OK, but not as a replacement for the emergency brake. In ideal form, the brake should hold the vehicle and then you put it in low or reverse as a secondary. If you've ever seen an automatic transmission car do that clunk/jerk when they take it out of park, you will understand the strain. In a manual, depressing the clutch usually removes the strain but it's still a good idea to have a working parking brake.
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New member
It has 209K on it, and I am waiting for repair/maintainence receipts from the PO.
I will take it in and have it inspected. What you say about deeper problems may certainly be the case. Its creeping a little while parked- in reverse and the emergency brake fully engaged. I have been chocking the wheels as well.


New member
I have a 1991 Westy and am experiencing a problem with the emergency brake not releasing when the hand lever is released. I checked the Bentley and also had the cabling checked by a reputable mechanic. He also said the rear brakes are in good shape.

If I set the brake, 2 times out 3 when I release the brake and begin to drive away I can tell that the rear wheels are still locked by the brakes and then they release because the engine causes them to release.

Is there anything I can do to correct this problem? I will do some diagnosis, but would like some advice as I am about to get under the vehicle and inspect the cable action. WHat should I be looking for?


110,000 miles, 91 Westy, no record of brake work in the records I received when I bought the van last month.


New member
I had been adjusting, bleeding, and generally fooling with my back and emergency for 3 nights when I noticed that the backing plate where the emergency brake cable enters had rusted and the anchor point for the cable had torn right through. No wonder there was no tension! Also the holes to reach the adjusters were all peeled back and bent, making adjustment a real pain in the neck. Oh well, off to the wreckers for a couple of backing plates. Hope they're good, new ones are shamefully expensive.


New member
I have a 78 bus and recently tried to adjust the brakes , but ran into problems when I found that the "front" adjusting star on the drivers side rear wheel wont move more than two clicks either way. The "rear" star moves freely but does not seem to move the pad closer top the drum. Why???
Could something not be right? The linings seem to be thick enough. Also , does the emergency brake, engage on both drums or just one, if so why might it not engage on my drivers side rdrum? Whats the deal. I cant drive my girl until I work this out . please help

Capt. Mike

If your star wheel does not turn, it is dirty or damaged and must be replaced/overhauled, which requires removing the rear drum. Drum brake overhaul is discussed elsewhere in this forum. The emergency brake operates equally on BOTH rear wheels; if not, that should be corrected during the overhaul.

Brakes are a tough, dirty environment. The can easily become rusted, fouled and dirty without wearing out the linings. The rears do a substantially less amount of stopping than the fronts, thus rear shoe life is often several times front pad life. That doesn't meant they can be neglected. Emergency brake adjustment, after correcting the problems, can be found in the Bentley. Don't worry too much about slightly uneven equalizer.

Carlos E.

New member
I have a '76 westy in great condition and I need to take her to a mechanic for the inspection to get tags in Pennsylvania (no central DMV). In PA you 1st go to a notary to get your temp tags then go to a mechanic for the inspection, which must be done within 10 days of getting the temp tags. Everything should pass but I cannot get her out of the garage, I think because the emergency brake has stuck. Seven days have gone by and if I can not get the inspection done soon I will need to pay another $93.50 to get my temp tags again. This has happened before (the brake sticking that is) but I simply pulled and released the brake again and it released properly. When I last drove it was in the snow and salted roads the day we moved, conditions I never wanted to drive her in. We have been so busy I have not moved her for 2 months, although I have started her a few times since then. I inspected the brake cable and it seems to be functioning properly but the brake is still engaged. I have looked at other forums and posts and have not found anything to help my situation. All of the instructions for involving the rear brake drums say to first release the emergency brake. Do you have any suggestions? Any input would help. Thanks
Chester Co. PA
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Carlos E.

New member
Reprinted from other forum:

driven in salt & snow + not driven for 2 months = formula for trouble.'

Your brakes could be stuck from three causes:

The parking brake could be stuck on, through corroded cables. Construction
& repairs are well documented in the Bentley. Follow the cable from the
cable pin (Bentley 8-10, Fig 10-1.) through to the entrance into the backing
plate. You can disconnect at the stabilizer bar to isolate the frozen
section. You can also observe the shoe through the inspection port for
motion. Common to cars driving in corrosive environments and not maintained
is the cable gets rusted inside the metal chassis tube. New cables come
with sealing boots. Routine maintenance dictates frequent clearing &
lubrication, especially after any corrosive environment driving and before
any long lay-ups, inspecting the boots for condition and fit. A good
penetrating oil can often clear the cable sufficiently for a while; I like
PB Blaster. Fill the tube and force through with compressed air. There are
now several lubricants specifically for cables but I like 3M's new lubricant
that goes on like a spray and then dries to a grease. You might also use a
grease gun with a pointed rubber tip.

A 2nd cause is the flexible brake lines have deteriorated to the point the
are swollen inside. This could still allow flow TO the brakes because of
the tremendous mechanical advantage of the master cylinder, but not allow it
to return since there is only the brake spring for return pressure. Brake
line deterioration is part of routine maintenance inspections and will
normally show up during the every-2-year brake fluid changes as dark
discoloration and residues in the expelled fluid.

Finally, you could have so much corrosion inside that the brakes have
literally rusted into place. You may be able to back them off manually,
perhaps doing some prying & tapping to break lose through the inspection
port, or rocking the vehicle back & forwards with power (if shoes are stuck
to drum). The brakes are remarkable water & contaminate-proof due to the
overlap design of the backing plate to the drum but . . .! If you have been
running without adjustment and inspection port plugs or cylinder bleeder
cap, you are asking for trouble. For long-term storage, it is sometimes
advisable to release the parking brake and use wheel chocks. Then exercise
foot & parking brakes during frequent vehicle starts & checks.

Capt. Mike


New member
78 westfalia rear brake locked

Greetings, I have a 1978 westfalia that was parked too long with the parking brake on and now the passenger side rear wheel is locked up. I have taken it to some local vw mechanics and no one seems to know how to fix it. I am at a loss on what to do. Has anyone had this problem and fixed it? Any ideas?


New member
Slightly different problem:I have a 1987 Westy Camper, today when parking in driveway which is graded, the brake warning light comes on when the handbrake is applied, this only happened when using the handbrake and seems only to happen on a grade, even a slight one. Anyone had this experience, if so any ideas what it could be?