How to install brake shoe hold down spring with regular pliers

Drum brake assembly is one of the most intimidating tasks for inexperienced auto mechanics and DIYers. The brake drum has many parts held together by springs that can be difficult to install without the right tools. This is why you need drum brake spring pliers when working with drum brakes.

Drum brake pliers are multi-functional. They have the tools you need to install and remove all the drum brake springs.

A typical car brake drum has at least 3 types of springs including the brake return springs, brake shoe hold down springs, and a lever return spring. These springs are tensioned or compressed and require a special tool to remove or install them. A good pair of brake spring pliers can do the job.

Unfortunately, not all drum brake pliers have all the tools for working on all the springs in the drum. In particular, some brake pliers lack a tool for installing brake shoe hold down springs. This requires that you use a separate hold down spring tool or be creative with the tools you have at hand.

In this article, I will show you how to install brake shoe hold down springs without a special tool. Instead, you only need is a pair of needle nose pliers, zip ties, and a bit of creativity.

What is a brake shoe hold down spring?

A brake shoe hold down spring is a heavy duty coil spring that is part of the assembly that holds down the brake shoe onto the backing plate.

The spring pushes against the retaining cup to keep the brake shoe in place on the backing plate. Both the hold down pin and the retainer cup keep the spring compressed to prevent it from flying off.

A shoe hold down spring has a high amount of tension and requires a strong load to compress it. To install it, you start by putting the hold down pin from the back of the backing plate and through the hole on the brake shoe web.

Then attach and compress the spring and retainer plate assembly before twisting them a quarter a turn so that the wings at the end of the pin will lock the cup to keep the spring from flying off.

You can do all this using a drum brake retainer spring tool but when you don’t have it, this is how to do it with ordinary pliers and zip ties.

How to install brake shoe hold down springs with regular pliers


  • Needle nose pliers
  • Zip ties
  • Utility knife/zip tie cutter/side cutter

Step 1: Compress the hold down spring with pliers

Put the hold down spring between the jaws of the needle nose pliers and compress it. Keep squeezing the handles to keep the spring compressed.

Step 2: Attach zip ties to the spring

Attach a zip tie to the side of the compressed spring and fasten it. Loop another zip tie to the opposite side of the compressed spring and fasten it.

The zip ties will keep the hold-down spring compressed.

Step 3: Mount the brake shoe onto the backing plate

Attach the brake shoe to the backing plate. Make sure you don’t interchange the front and rear brake shoes.

Step 4: Install the hold down pin

Push the brake shoe hold down pin from the back of the backing plate and align the shoe so that the pin goes through the hole.

Step 5: Install the hold down spring

Install the compressed spring so that it circumscribes the hold down pin. The spring has no direction you can attach it from either side.

Step 6: Attach the spring retainer cap

Align the slot on the spring retainer cap with the wings on the end of the hold down pin. Slide the cap on the pin and twist it quarter a turn to lock it.

Step 7: Remove the zip ties

Cut off the zip ties to ease the tension on the spring. You can use a utility knife, zip tie cutter, side cutter, or any sharp object. This is where the knife on your leatherman pliers comes in handy.

Because the retainer plate is loose, hold it with one hand so that it does not turn while you cut off one of the zip ties. Adjust the plate to make sure it does not pop off.

Once you remove the zip tie on one side, the tension on the spring will keep the retainer cup from moving. Just make sure the slot on the plate is perpendicular to the wings on the pin end.

Remove the other zip tie. Now the brake shoe hold down mechanism is securely in place.

Repeat the process to install the hold down spring on the other brake shoe.


Well, there you have it. This is how you install the brake shoe hold down spring without tool. All you need is a pair of needle nose pliers to compress the spring, zip ties to keep coil springs compressed, and side cutters or knife to cut off the zip ties.

Lastly, remember to observe the following safety precautions when working with brake springs.

Safety precautions

  • Wear safety glasses when assembling the brake drum because the springs can fly and cause injuries.
  • Put on gloves and a dust mask because touching or inhaling the brake dust can be harmful to your health.
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Julio a.k.a Pliersman is the owner and creator of the Pliersman Website. As a handy person, he possesses a variety of pliers (both general-purpose and specialty pliers) which he uses to complete various tasks. When Julio is not blogging, he spends his time in the garage fixing cars or building stuff.