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Over the last few weeks I noticed my parking brake had been losing "feel" when I applied it (only one click, and that way way down low), and that the brakes had seemed somewhat "mushier".

So I remembered way back when I owned my previous car with rear drum brakes, there was a recommended procedure that you go out to a side road, put the car in reverse, build up a little bit speed (not a ton) and apply the brakes. You were supposed to do that a few times. This would "adjust" the brakes and make them feel normal.

This text is specifically for a Civic, but it applies to any car with rear drum brakes.

Most modern drum brakes are designed to self-adjust during application when the vehicle is moving in reverse. This motion causes both shoes to rotate very slightly with the drum, rocking an adjusting lever. The self-adjusters are only intended to compensate for normal wear. Although the adjustment is "automatic," there is a definite method to actuate the self-adjuster, which is done during
normal driving. Driving the vehicle in reverse and applying the brakes usually activates the automatic adjusters. If the brake pedal was low, you should be able to feel an increase in the height of the brake pedal.
-- from Chilton's and Autozone's site for circa 1991 Civics, "Brake Operating System: General Description"


I did it this morning, and the difference was amazing.

As to why the US Prius has rear drum brakes, that's another story.
 
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