Yes, there are days when I have to enjoy some humble pie just like everybody else and today was just such. By nature I am not one to point the finger about all high and mighty boasting about text book car maintenance though that said I certainly am a proponent of a basic preventative maintenance regime. Why so? Well experience really. Actually experiences plural just like this one so read on if you would like to learn from one of my lessons.
No compromise on quality with genuine Ate Brake Spares
As an example of what not to do here is a story of a simple brake service which went horribly wrong. As with all things that go wrong the timing couldn’t have been worse but that is the way the world works I guess. Changing brake pads on a modern car is almost easier than jacking the car up or removing the wheels truth be told so with a busy Saturday schedule of family chores, errands and a coffee appointment with my brother I figured an 8:00am start would be ample allowance; how wrong!
For several years working in OTTO Car Parts I was the go-to-person for tools and equipment and one of the gadgets I promoted very strongly to garages was the brake bleeding system. Most mechanics and practically all motorists who know what brake bleeding is consider this a necessary evil whenever a brake hydraulic part is replaced and even then consider it close to witch-craft! A decent brake bleeding system however is even easier to use than brake pads are to change and it’s real benefit is not really in repair but preventative maintenance. Don’t sign off, this is absolutely true! Check the service schedule for your car and you will find that a brake fluid flush is prescribed as frequently as every two years after a car reaches three years of age (BMW, Mercedes-Benz and VW Schedules). As such a fan of brake bleeding machines and promoting fluid changes as fervently as I do my own lack of vigilance came back to haunt me this day! If you haven’t read my article on brake fluid changes already then click HERE to see why I am such a fan!
So simple, so cheap and it really a consumable… change your brake fluid regularly!
So back to the disaster on my own car. A very common Mercedes-Benz E Class I was changing the front brake disks in addition to the brake pads as these were worn to the low limit on thickness but otherwise functioning just fine. The brake disk rotors and pads I was replacing were all of Ate brand so even though the disks were worn and the pad wear sensor had activated there was no symptom beyond the dashboard warning. As I said above, modern brake systems are designed with absolute reliability and ease of service in mind so the pad change was going to be fairly routine. The process of changing the disks was also very simple and in fact a how-to guide may appear here very soon with handy hints and tips. Having assessed many problem disks on OTTO’s micrometer/comparator system there are a few simple do’s and dont’s which I have had to dispense many hundreds of times over the years which I must put on line. Keep an eye out for a handy guide in the coming weeks.
The offending item, seized solid. And who’s fault is this?
So what went so wrong? Put simply I suspect a little corrosion in one of my front brake calipers. I had intended to flush the brake fluid before the winter but as is often the case with invisible maintenance tasks, this just got deferred and then completely forgotten. The price was high as what felt like a perfectly normal caliper as I started to retract the hydraulic piston all of a sudden tightened up, actually seizing completely solid. Having been inside many crusty and sludged up brake parts over the years I have a mental image of a little rusty sediment pushed back into the caliper’s hydraulic cylinder until it was too late. I really should have known better! The first fact to consider is that any sediment that was inside the brake caliper would have been flushed out with the spoiled fluid had I done the job in time. However had I removed the heat-cycled and probably moist fluid in good time there would have been no sediment in there at all!
And the collateral cost? Well a full weekend without a car to start with. By the time the problem had surfaced and the fault was diagnosed (this was the second side of the car to be serviced) then there was no other car available in the family to go and source a replacement brake caliper. The chores were put on hold and the day trundled along sans coffee which was no pleasure at all. The moral of the story is that a stitch in time really does save nine and makes life a whole lot less stressful into the bargain. Take note of the tools I had on hand for this DIY task by the way. They are not just Hazet which is a guarantee of quality but they are the right tools for the job. A brake union spanner to release the brake hose, that critically important 7mm hex key to release the caliper and a good quality Torx driver to release the brake wear sensor boss. I will have a piece on here very soon about obscure tools you will have to go and find but which will make your life so easy. Check back soon!