Seized Brake
July 6, 2007 8:30 AM   Subscribe

Roughly how much will it cost to fix a seized rear brake on a 1990 Dodge Colt?

On my way to work yesterday, my right rear brake started smoking. I probably drove five kilometers before I realized what was happening. I can still move the car, but I can definitely feel the engine straining against the brake.

The car is a beater nearing the end of its life. Should I fix it or scrap it? (This is in the Vancouver, BC area.)
posted by timeistight to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
Does it have drums or discs out back? Either way, shouldn't be that expensive to do yourself. Rebuilt rear calipers, new pads and turned down discs will likely cost no more than $100 total (always need to do brake jobs in pairs), and I can't imagine new drums, shoes and wheel cylinders costing any more than that. If you're paying a mechanic to do it, though, all bets are off.
posted by saladin at 9:20 AM on July 6, 2007

It's drums in the back and I'd be paying a pro to do it.
posted by timeistight at 9:37 AM on July 6, 2007

To get both drums redone will cost about $300. Skip the rip-off brake chains and dealerships and take it to a local mechanic.

Before you do that, though, take off the wheel and try tapping, then whacking the stuck drum with a BFH to see if you can get the cylinder unstuck. I bet it's the parking brake.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 9:56 AM on July 6, 2007

Old cars tend to get sticky emergency brakes, I would try cranking the E-brake to full and back a few times just to see if it comes unstuck before you do anything else. Failing that, you may need to perform surgery.
Three weeks ago I did rear drum brakes (both sides) on a 1994 Dodge Shadow. The cost depends on how much stuff needs to be replaced, and whether or not you want to do the work yourself.
I replaced everything (inner and outer wheel bearings, drums, linings, hardware kits, an adjuster on one side, wheel cylinders, and a master cylinder) and the parts cost me about $200 (all prices USD, so add six percent). You probably won't need a new master cylinder, and you may not need new wheel bearings, so subtract out about $60 there. Additional supplies (grease for the bearings, brake fluid, brake cleaner, shop rags, etc) cost about $40 more. Plus I found a Haynes manual at the local used bookstore for $5 (new $17).
At a minimum, you will probably need to replace the linings ($30 for both sides). In order to do that, you'll need to pull the drums, and when you do that you'll want to at least repack the bearings with fresh grease ($3 for a tube, $5 for a tub) or possibly replace them (I'm thinking it was about $10/side). When you replace the linings you will very likely want to replace the hardware kit ($15), which is the assortment of various springs that hold the whole assembly together. You may need to replace the drums ($25/side), and the wheel cylinders ($30/side). It is almost never worth your time to rebuild a wheel cylinder; just bite the bullet and buy a new one if you need it. Carefully pull the seals back; if you see any brake fluid leaking at all, you will want to replace it.

It took me all day Saturday to do both sides, mostly because I'd never done it before. I could probably do it in an afternoon now. Some caveats:
  • Don't disconnect the emergency brake lever from the emergency brake cable. It is an enormous pain to get it back on again. Just remove the spring clip on the lining and leave it to hang while you put the rest of it back together.
  • Repack your bearings. Just trust me.
  • Wear latex/nitrile gloves. Brake fluid is nasty.
  • Seriously, don't get any brake fluid on the paint. It will eat away the paint on your car.
  • If you have to replace a wheel cylinder, you can expect that you will break at least one brake line at the fitting. Those little things are very difficult; use a penetrating solvent, a real line wrench (not an open-end wrench) and be gentle.
  • You will need someone else to help you bleed the system if you replace wheel cylinders.
If you have rear disc brakes, consider yourself very fortunate, as disc brakes are much more affordable and user-serviceable than drums.
If you opt to take it to a mechanic, expect to come out at least $400 poorer, probably more.
As to the question of whether or not it is worth repairing, the math I did was simple; would it cost me more than this repair to replace the functionality this car serves. This particular vehicle is wholly deprecated, so the only value it provides is the fact that it is a drivable, functional car. If it costs more on an ongoing basis to repair it than it would cost to replace it with another drivable, functional car, then it is no longer worth saving. As it is, the money I spent replacing it was less than one new car payment (to say nothing of the savings in insurance and registration fees), so as long as I'm doing that less than once a month, I'm still coming out ahead.
posted by leapfrog at 10:07 AM on July 6, 2007

Let show you how to do it yourself.
posted by acro at 10:46 AM on July 6, 2007

Thanks for all the encouragement but I'm not going to do this myself. I don't even change my own oil.

So it sounds like I'm looking at between $300 to $500 for a shop to do it?
posted by timeistight at 11:09 AM on July 6, 2007

Just for reference: acro's Cockeyed link covers replacing disc brake pads, which is a much simpler job than replacing calipers, pads, and rotors (or the equivalent job for drum brakes) which is most likely required with seized brakes that dragged 5km.
posted by ssg at 11:12 AM on July 6, 2007

Seconding the parking brake being stuck. When you bring the car into a mechanic, don't say "I need new rear brakes", say "I think the parking brake's stuck, but I don't want to deal with it. How much to open it up, blow out the dust, and lube the brake to unstick it?" Should barely cost anything.

If then do that and it's still busted, then ask for an estimate.

I had a buddy with an Aerostar minivan, we were in a parking lot and the car was fine, then when we tried to leave (after he released the brake) we couldn't move; the parking brake was stuck fast.

A lot of engaging/releasing of the brake and rocking the car gently broke it free; a suboptimal solution without question, but it's more common than you'd think.

Oh, and driving 5km on a partially engaged rear brake will burn up some brake pad without a doubt, but since these are rear drums (which are easy to replace pads on) you probably won't need to have the drum turned or the piston rebuilt (unless the pads wore down to the studs); you can even likely leave the existing pads in.
posted by davejay at 2:43 PM on July 6, 2007

I took leapfrog's suggestion and yarded on the parking brake a couple of times. That seems to have worked: I don't feel the grabbing, the car coasts okay and the brakes (maybe just the other three) still seem to work. I won't get a chance to try it on the road until next week, though. I'll report back.
posted by timeistight at 3:11 PM on July 6, 2007

Well, so far so good. I just drove ten miles through town and everything seems kopacetic. Thanks, leapfrog; you saved me a pile of money!
posted by timeistight at 12:22 PM on July 7, 2007

I will offer you the most important piece of advice I have ever heard on the subject of brake repair. A car that won't go is a problem. A car that won't stop is a big problem. Your immediate problem was a stuck parking brake cable, which came unstuck when you yanked on it, but the fact that you drove a good way with it on may have caused damage to the shoes and linings. Since most of your stopping power comes from the fronts anyway, it's not as big of a deal, but if you plan to drive this car for a while I recommend planning to have the brakes looked over by a professional for the sake of Murphy repellent. They'll want to replace everything; insist on only the minimum safe repair and you can probably keep it under $200. This is far less expensive than rebuilding the front end when you go off the road into a tree, fixing someone else's passenger door when you sail into an intersection, or other much worse things that can happen.
Pay special attention for any other grinding or rumbling noises when you're driving, as overheated braking surfaces tend to crack and lose pieces, which then get stuck inside the drum and cause more problems.
I say again: A car that won't go is a problem. A car that won't stop is a big problem.
posted by leapfrog at 4:31 PM on July 9, 2007

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