Saturday, February 11, 2012

Replacing My Own Van Brakes

For the last month or so one of my brakes has been squealing like mad. This usually means that the pads are getting worn down and need to be replaced. I had a choice. I could take it into the mechanic and pay him to fix it, losing at least a day in the process. I could also buy new pads and shoes and trust my friend who says that we can do it ourselves. "Oh, what the heck!", I decided, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained. At least I'll get to see how hard this is."

The front disc brakes were simple. I could do them myself in about 15 minutes each. There's really nothing that can could go anyplace other than where it belongs. The back brakes, drums, were a real nightmare.

Here's Wispr, with the Haynes repair manual, trying to remember the order in which pieces are removed to get the drum shoes off.

First of all, drum brakes require a special set of tools for removing springs and such. Thankfully, Wispr has a set of those tools. These are something I'll have to buy if I expect to do this again. It took us so long to get the shoes off and back on again that night came before we were done. We had to do it twice before we got all the parts in the right place. In the end, I made a terrible mistake by wanting to see the mechanism work before we put the drum on. I asked Wispr to pump the brakes and watched one of the hydraulic pistons overextend itself and squirt brake fluid out. This unseated the piston, and made me take the whole thing apart again. It took an hour on the web to figure out that I could clean and reseat that piston myself. By the time I finished it was pitch black and we had to put the tools away in case it rained overnight, which it did.

We got up this morning and it was still drizzling. I needed to have the van either fixed or not by tomorrow when I have an appointment to get a bid on some sewing work. I brought out the patio umbrella so we could get the work done even if it really rained.

After messing up and fixing the piston on one brake and removing and replacing the whole assembly three times, I was pretty confident that I could do the second brake fairly easily. I asked Wispr to run the camera so I could share the experience.

Here goes! Once the wheel is removed, the brake drum just slides right off.

See all those springs, cables and levers? They all to be removed, carefully remembering where they came from and in what order. The drums aren't solidly connected to anything. All these little parts let them move in the ways that they need to while basically floating around in there.

Those springs are under a LOT of tension, so I'm glad there's a tool to help get them safely off and back on.

Eventually, the shoes just pop off with only a couple more parts attaching them to each other.

And here's the cause of my troubles: at some point a small piece of metal got into the brake assembly and embedded itself in the shoe. Thankfully, the squealing alerted me and we caught it before it had worn into the drum. If I'd taken the upcoming California trip without replacing this shoe, I would almost certainly have needed to replace the whole drum when I returned. This is easy, but expensive.

Here are the new shoes and all of the little parts that will need to to go back to the right locations in the right order.

Yay! Thanks to Wispr's coaching, I did it! In this picture I look exactly like my dad, not just because I do look like him, but because of what I'm doing. For my whole childhood he tried to get me under cars, trucks and tractors with him. And now, 25 years later, I wish I had done it.

In the end, I have to say that with all the trouble I had with it, my time might have been better spent weaving a garment to sell and earn the money for a mechanic. This was great experience, but I'm still undecided whether I'll do it myself next time or hire it done. Thankfully, these new shoes should get me through a year or two before they need to be replaced again.


Laura said...

Decided a long time ago that I could always earn more money but I could never make more time. I hire out such jobs.... :) Still, nice to know you can do it in a pinch! :D

Blossom Merz said...

There's an added difficulty where I live that the nearest mechanic is a 30-minute drive. It takes at least a whole day, if not two to get anything done professionally. The more things I can do myself, the less time I spend schlepping to the mechanic and waiting around in town.