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Citroën CX handbrake system – function and adjustment

Although the number of CX cars in service and, indeed, of owners is decreasing, there are many cars “still around”.
Sadly and realistically, the number of people available to repair and service these cars is rapidly decreasing! The
corporate knowledge bank is in decline.

The cars are pretty straightforward, despite their perceived complexity. Most elements are either really “standard
French competent” – wet sleeve pushrod engines, alloy heads, conventional Ducellier distributors etc – or simple once
the owner takes the trouble to consult the reasonably good Haynes manual or the better factory manual (two volumes).
One of the keys is to take the trouble to dismantle enough to get to the part that needs attention, at which time the
access will be found to be fairly good in many cases.

The hydraulics are reliable and robust but need attention from time to time.

The engineering is in places just massive – the wheel hubs/bearings/brakes are amazing!

The handbrake system is another matter. No-one has ever done anything like the CX handbrake! Like other models, it
operates on the front wheels. That is enough to frighten most people (although you never hear such fear and criticism
about Subarus with their front wheel handbrakes).

This article aims to explain how the CX handbrake system works and, building on the manuals and the work of others, to
explain not just how to adjust the handbrake but why it is done that way. In turn, this is partly for my benefit, as I will
forget the details, and for others who may have forgotten or who may be confronting the system with horror.

Appendix 2 includes the diagram of the system from the factory manual, Volume 1.


What is the CX handbrake system?

The CX front hub is a complex alloy casting in two parts, bolted together with 4 bolts with 13 mm heads. A smaller,
outer casting accommodates the outer part of the disc calliper system. A larger, inner casting accommodates the
substantial wheel bearing and splined fitting (held against the alloy casting with another six 13 mm bolts) that slides over
the drive shaft and carries the disc rotor. This casting includes the hydraulic fittings for the front brakes. The suspension
ball joints are bolted to this inner casting.

The hub nut is almost incredibly tight! A ¾” breaker bar and at least 1-1.5 mm of pipe is needed undo and do up this
nut. If over-tightened, even a rattle gun may not move the hub nut without a careful bit of heat applied to the nut.

To add to the complexity, the handbrake is part of this alloy casting, a separate cable on each sie operating a lever
system against two buttons of friction material that are squeezed together from both sides against the disc rotor. The
handbrake is quite separate from the main brake pads.

The handbrake works adequately as a parking brake. The pads are small at 40 mm diameter and any use other than to
hold a stationary car will result in rapid wear and a need for more frequent adjustment than any owner would wish for!

The handbrake mechanism is complex yet simple. There are two cast levers that press against the little brake pads when
one side is pulled by the cable. The two levers are linked by a small bar and both pivot on eccentrics that are the key part
of the adjustment system. The eccentrics, when turned by miniscule amounts, accommodate wear in the pads.
Each of the nuts that connect the 17 mm locking bolts to the eccentrics have internally eccentric holes within which
there is a bush with an internal thread (to accommodate the locking bolt). The nuts are castellated in a square, that is
two big slots at right angles. By turning those nuts, the eccentric position is changes, moving the pivot point of the
handbrake lever (one on each side, remember) so that wear on the tiny handbrake pad is accommodated.

There is another adjustment! On one side of the system there is a set screw and lock nut that allows an adjustment of
the whole pivot system from one side to the other, that is to help keep it centralised in the “handbrake off” position.

17 mm bolts to lock Stop screw/set screw and gap


Inside lever

Outside stop

Cable and spring

attachment points

Outside lever

Inside stop

CX handbrake mechanism

Eccentric nut screwed onto 17 mm bolt shown on previous photo


40 mm brake pad

Handbrake mechanism: detail viewed from inside

Adjustment of the CX handbrake

The process is not simple, but at least it is logical.

1. Where to begin?

That is best by initially explaining what NOT to do.

The cables are adjusted at the wheel end with nuts on each side but they are nothing to do with adjusting the
handbrake mechanism!

2. Preparing to adjust the handbrake

Ideally, get the car on a hoist! Otherwise get it up on axle stands/wooden blocks and make sure it is super secure.
Remember that cars falling on you are very bad for your health. Personally, I get the car on “high”, put axle stands in
the right place and then drop the suspension. I then add a large wooden block under the front subframe just in front of
the axle line. If you support it too far back and the fuel tank is empty, there is supposedly a risk of the car tipping
forwards and I can well believe it!

The adjustment process begins with removing both handbrake cables from the mechanism and measuring the free
lengths of cable on both sides, so that when you reconnect after the REAL adjustment process you get the relative
lengths correct. This is Item 6 in Appendix 1.
There are two separate cables operated at the handbrake lever end. It is important to get equal force to both cables,
requiring that they are adjusted to the correct relative lengths at the wheels after the adjustment.

Peter’s process (Appendix 1) includes removing the return springs from the cable attachment: this makes life a lot easier
and finger pressure is enough to get them back into place afterwards.

3. Adjustment process (Appendix 1 for step by step instructions, Appendices 2 and 3 for manuals’ descriptions)

This is complicated but logical. The important thing is not to take short cuts.

The adjustment is to reduce clearances between the actuating levers and the brake pads and as a consequence to take
up the handbrake travel. The adjustment is of the handbrake mechanism, and it is independent of the cables.

Basically you unlock the eccentrics by releasing the 17 mm bolts (see photo) and turn those eccentrics in their correct
ways to adjust their positions, in two stages if you follow Appendix 1 carefully. For each calliper there is a left hand side
and a right hand side eccentric, the side being relative to facing forward in the car. The two sides of each calliper have
different directions of eccentric rotation to adjust up the handbrake.



There is also a tiny setscrew that must be screwed in by several turns before adjusting the handbrakes to allow full
movement of the inside eccentrics when adjusting them. As a final step it is wound back out to almost contact its stop.

4. Reconnection of handbrake cables

This is easy but remember not to wind them up further than necessary to take up the slack from pulling them hard down
and perhaps apply a small amount of compression to the return spring. Remember the need to maintain the difference
between the measured cable protrusion lengths. The cable protrusion will be less on both sides after adjustment of the
handbrake mechanism.

Comments on the process

Do not despair! It seems to work if you are systematic and careful.
Appendix 1 – Excellent adjustment description from Aussiefrogs in 2005
(my comments and changes in red)
This description came from “PeterJ” on Aussiefrogs in 2005. It is horrifying to the new owner but really good once you
read it and look carefully at the mechanism and the workshop manuals.


Shane is spot on, the handbrake mechanism really is a strange arrangement. I have found this step by step procedure which
mirrors Shane's explanation. It worked for me. Hope that this helps.

These pads require adjustment at 6,000 mile intervals. (or when necessary!)

1. Put front of car on stands (Make sure fuel tank is full to ensure car doesn’t tip forward. I add an extra wooden block under
the front rubber bumper buffers.)

2. Remove front road wheels, ensure that the disc rotor is firm. Bolt if necessary. (i.e. make sure the screws that hold the disc
rotor to the hub bearing are tight and add a bolt to the road wheel bolt hole if in doubt.)

3. Release the handbrake lever inside the car

4. Clean the cable passages and spring mechanism. Spray the cable assembly with WD-40. Make things move freely.

5. Remove the nuts on each cable end using a 11mm spanner. Don't twist the cable too much, use locking pliers if necessary
on the squared-off cable ends. These cables tend to need cleaning to allow the nuts to go on and off easily, this is important so
do that once the nuts are off.

6. Pull each cable, one at a time, as far down through the assembly as possible and measure the length of cable sticking out
from the bottom of the assembly on each side. Record the measurements.

7. Note the length for each side and calculate the difference between the two. This difference must be maintained when the
cables are reassembled.

8. Remove the cable and cable return springs

9. Slacken the lock-nut (8mm??) on the top stop bolt of the inner arm, and screw the bolt inwards several turns.

10. Using a 17mm socket wrench, loosen (don't remove) the bolts holding the brake pad lever/eccentrics in place. (See note at

11. Using a common screw driver inserted in the eccentric adjust the OUTER eccentric so that there is 0.5mm gap (20 thou if
you don’t have metric feeler guages) between the arm and the pad (turn the eccentric upwards so that it turns up to tighten
against the pad). If the disks are in good condition or the pads are new this may be reduced to 0.3mm??? It soon opens out to
its natural value.)

Be sure to use a clockwise rotation on the left side cam and anti-clockwise on the right side cam (each calliper has a right
side and left side cam. That is, adjust the cam nuts upwards or downwards depending upon whether they are on the left or on
the right, as the factory manual states. Right and left are determined as if sitting in the car). The aim here seems to be to set
the cam positions such that the actuating tabs on the eccentrically-pivotted levers are evenly adjusted from side to side where
they bear on the brake pads so that the pads wear evenly.

Next, adjust the INNER eccentric so that there is 0.5mm gap between arm and pad when the OUTER arm is held against the
stop - use a rubber band to hold it out.
12. Adjust the eccentrics one by one and carefully (a little bit) until the pad is touching the rotor but you can still move the
rotor using only moderate force. It helps to do this before driving the car in the morning, so that the assembly is cool to the
touch so that hand rotating the disc rotor is not so difficult. There will be drag from the main brake pads and transmission.

13. Holding the eccentrics in place, tighten each bolt.

14. Test the freedom of movement of the rotor again, repeat steps 10 - 13 if necessary until the gap is correct. Each side of the
calliper (each pad) is adjusted independently. Some drag is expected.

15. Next add the return coil springs (not the cables) and adjust the nut-and-bolt on the inner arm so that it just contacts. The
absolute key is to ensure those backstops are touching or within 10 thou of an inch of touching. This stops the mechanism
rattling and moving and thus wearing the pads with the hand-brake off.

16. When both sides are adjusted reassemble the cables. Tighten the first nut until it just bottoms out on the brake assembly.
Do not lock the nuts yet, you must pull the cable through on each side to ensure the difference between sides is the same as
when you started.

Note also that the handbrakes are NOT adjusted by screwing the cable nuts further up on the cable. This is important. The
cable ends can become so long that they scrap the inside of the wheel.

Now pull the hand-brake lever on and off several times and adjust the cables again.

17. When the cables are adjusted lock the nuts in place using the second nut.

18. Apply the handbrake lever, you should hear 4-5 clicks. If more clicks are heard then the adjustment is a bit loose, if less
then you must re-adjust the brakes to avoid glazing the pads.

19. Remove jack stands and lower the car.

20. Done!

Notes: If the parking brake is becoming less effective you need to examine it for 'premature' wear. Remove the pad and inspect
it (you'll need to remove the bolt holding the adjustment cam and shims/washers). If there is a shiny surface then you likely
have a glazed pad. Use fine sandpaper to remove the glaze (and treat the pads as if they were new for a while).
Appendix 2 – Factory workshop manual handbrake adjustment pages

Diagram of handbrake system

Appendix 3 – Haynes workshop manual handbrake adjustment pages