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BMW Parking or Emergency Brake Adjustment – Models with Center Console Hand Lever

October 13, 2011

This answer is applicable for many BMWs in addition to the one listed below.

car year: 2002
car model: 325i
How do you adjust the emergency brake?

The Parking (or Hand or Emergency)  brake on BMW models with center console hand levers, up through the mid 2000s, has adjustments at the cable ends (at the hand lever, under the boot) and at the parking brake assembly at each rear wheel.

This DIY is applicable to the following models:
E10 – 1600 & 2002 (1600, 1602, 1600-2, 2002, 2002tii, 2002ti)
E9 – CS Coupes (2.5cs, 2800cs, 3.0cs, 3.0csi, 3.0csl)
E3 – Bavaria Sedans (2500, 2800, Bavaria, 3.0l, 3.0s, 3.0si, 3.3l, 3.3li)
E21 – 3 series through 83 (318, 318i, 320i, 323i, 320/6)
E30 – 3 series 84-91 (318i, 318is, 318ic, 325e, 325es, 325i, 325is, 325ic, 325ix, M3)
E36 – 3 series 92-98 (318i, 318is, 318ic, 318ti, 323is, 323ic, 325i, 325is, 325ic, 328i, 328is, 328ic, M3)
E46 – 3 series 99-05 (323i, 323ci, 325i, 325ci, 325xi, 328i, 328ci, 330i, 330ci, 330xi, M3, wagons)
E12 – 5 series through 81 (528i, 530i)
E28 – 5 series 82-88 (528e, 533i, 535i, 535is, M5)
E34 – 5 series 89-96 (525i, 525it, 530i, 530it, 535i, 540i, M5)
E39 – 5 series 97-03 (525i, 525it, 528i, 528it, 530i, 530it, 540i, 540it, M5)
E24 – 6 series through 89 (630cs, 630csi, 633csi, 635csi, L6, M6)
E23 – 7 series through 87 (728, 728i, 730, 732i, 733i, 735i, 745i, L7)
E32 7 series 88-94 (735i, 735il, 740i, 740il, 750il)
E31 – 8 series (840i, 840ci, 850i, 850ci, 850csi)
E53 – X5 through 06 (X5 3.0i, X5 4.4i, X5 4.6is, X5 4.8is)
E36/7 & E36/8 – Z3 ( Z3 1.9, Z3 2.3, Z3 2.5, Z3 2.5i, Z3 2.8, Z3 3.0i, M-Roadster, M-coupe)

As the parking brake shoes wear, the automatic adjuster at each brake assembly should adjust to accommodate the pad wear.  If the adjuster is not working properly, the brake handle will begin to apply the brakes at a higher point (need to pull the lever higher for brake application).  Additionally, as the connection cables stretch, the brakes will apply at a higher point.  Adjustments to the handle application point (how high the handle pulls to apply the brakes) can be made at the cable ends, under the brake handle boot.

*  Pull the park brake handle boot frame out of the console.  Different models will have different boot frame attachments, but typically the boot frame will have some type of snap or tension clips securing the frame into the console (most commonly, you would release the boot at the rear and pull it up).  Once the boot is released from the console, pull it up and over the handle.  This will expose the cable ends and the adjustment nuts at the base of the handle assembly.

*  With the handle fully released (in the down position), note the play (or slack) in the cables.  There should be a similar amount of slack at both cables.  If the two cables have a notable difference in the slack, we will work with this in the adjustment steps.

*  Adjustments will be made by turning the cable end adjustment nuts clockwise (tightening) or counter-clockwise (loosening).  Depending on the model, the adjuster nuts may be single nylock nuts or there may be double standard nuts that lock together.  If there are two nuts on each cable end, use two wrenches (or a wrench and a deep socket) and hold the lower nut while loosening the outer nut.  Thread the outer nut away from the lower nut.  The lower nut is used for the adjustments.  Once finished with the adjusting, tighten the outer nut against the lower nut … locking it in place.  If you have a single nut, it will be a nylock self-locking nut and this does not require any special procedures to unlock or lock.

*  Gently pull the handle up, while pushing in the release button (so the ratchet assembly does not click), until you just feel a bit of tension.  Release the button at this point so the handle will stay in this position.  Check the two cables. Do they both appear to have a similar amount of tension?  If one is tensioned, but the other is loose, tighten the loose one (by turning the adjustment nut clockwise) until both have a similar tension.  Often, it can help to release the handle by one or two clicks so that you can check for similar slack in the cables, as you adjust.

*  Once the cables are adjusted to similar tensions, you can begin adjusting the handle application point.  Release the handle and tighten the cable adjuster nuts (clockwise) evenly until the brake begins to apply with the handle pulled up by about 3-clicks.  Adjust the cable tension so that full application is achieved at about 7 (ish) clicks.  Be sure that there is NO brake actuation when the handle is in the released position.  Double check the full actuation position by applying the brake and verifying that it will properly hold the vehicle with slight forward or rearward acceleration.

*  When finished, tighten the lock nuts (if you have the “two-nut” adjuster nuts, as noted above) and re-install the boot.

Note that if you cannot get a good adjustment and full actuation of the park brake, you may be in need of new park brake shoes (and/or hardware) or new cables, due to stretching.

The applicable Bentley repair manual will cover adjustments as well as parts replacements for your given model, in detail … with photos.

Click below for Bentley repair manuals:

Click below for Parking brake shoes, cables and hardware:


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