Brake Hell

I have a long sordid tale of nightmares with the brakes on my 1996 Chevrolet C1500 pickup (184K miles). This tale starts December 2006 but in reality goes further back.

This problem started with the rear brake shoes locking/not immediately letting go when stepping off the pedal. The shop checked and said not only were the shoes cracked, but the drums as well.

They replaced the drums and shoes. I then proceeded to have problems with pulling and pedal softness issues. They replaced the booster.

Still having braking problems, they replace the master cylinder.

Started having problems with front-end shaking while braking. They checked and said the front disk rotors were warped. Replaced the rotors and pads.

Problems still continued. They replaced the calipers.

Braking felt better for a while but after 2-months, the problems started re-occurring. Rear shoes were cracked, again and the rotors were showing signs of warpage. Shaking while braking was returning.

They replaced the rotors and calipers again, this time with GM dealer parts. One caliper lasted one day and locked/smoked. Replace it again.

They used a TECH-2 tester (one of their worked had worked at GM and had bought his own tester) which said the ABS sensors were reporting inconsistent speed readings. They replaced the ABS sensor rings.

Still having brake shaking problems, they passed me on to their other shop/location.

New store said lower idler/pitman arm needed replacing. They replaced these as well as the rubber brake lines.

Braking was better for a while but the pedal was spongy and fluid was disappearing. They replaced the booster-master again, as a matched set.

Now the brakes become “suicide” sensitive. Lightest touch on pedal engages the brakes but they feel a lot better.

After a week of driving, I noticed the pedal has a tendency to fade when doing quick, hard braking. Then the pedal died and I saw fluid dripping. Took back to original store (within walking distance from my house). They said one of the metal hoses broke.

2 weeks later, the shaking is returning and I am noticing a lot of heat/burn/smell from the calipers. They temp gauge the front and there is a temperature issue after only driving for 5-10 miles. We completely disconnected the ABS system, which seems to make a difference. Their testing said the ABS system was still getting inconsistent speed readings from what the speedometer said.

Another week and the shaking is getting worse.

They replace the calipers and rotors, again. They also replace the pads with ceramic versions.

Feels better for a while. The brake fading is still there and I am noticing a pulling to the right. Note, the pulling starts occurs after driving 3-5 miles and gets worse as the brakes heat up.

Their temp gauge does not show any heat issues. They rebleed the whole system. Also replace the metering/portioning valve.

I noticed the brake pedal sensitivity has changed/gotten much stiffer.

The fade is still there and so is the pulling. They rebleed everything and reconnect the ABS system. Still no joy.

Currently, the brakes are still fading under firm/quick braking, there is a noticable pulling to the right, once the brakes warm up. The rotors are warping, again (shaking constantly varies from mild to “remove your fillings”.

I and the shops are at wits-end trying to figure out what is causing this. Everything short of the ABS pump/computer has been replaced 2-4 times, only to need re-replacing within 2-months.

I drive around 30-miles a day. Half on normal street type traffic, the other half on interstate.

Wow! You don’t need a mechanic, you need an exorcist.

If I were you (after giving some serious consideration to getting rid of this truck), I’d seriously consider finding a totally different mechanic (check for one on this web site).

The only explanation that I can think of for this many failures is a combination of low quality parts and/or parts for the wrong vehicle and/or really sloppy assembly. You can’t keep going to the same people for the same work and expect different results at this point.

Or, are you driving through water with hot brakes (that might cause some of the cracked drums, rotors, etc.)?

I feel like we should take up a collection for you. Question: do you own a boat, or jet ski that you are ramp-launching especially in salt or brackish water? That could explain about half the problems.
I agree with one of the other comments about taking it to a differnt mechanic and perhaps even telling them that you are thinking of buying the truck. It might be worth the 100 bucks or so to get a fresh set on eyes and hands on the problem.

This is about a mind-numbing a tale as can be found and I don’t have the answer.

I do have a question and a comment or two.
Have you actually SEEN these cracked brake shoes and drums with your own eyes, or are you relying on what they tell you?

Since the vehicle is 12 years old with 180k miles + it’s quite possible that your truck needed all or most of those items.
However, a worn suspension part like a ball joint can cause a brake pull.
Has anyone checked the suspension?

Since the post is faded, like my mind :-), were the front brake hoses replaced? Sometimes they can collapse internally and maintain pressure on the brakes.

I usually take exception if someone is repeatedly replacing parts and blaming it on parts defects. A defective part can randomly pop up now and then, but it’s very, very rare.
Just a few random thoughts anyway.

No, not going through any rain. In fact, until yesterday, we haven’t had any substantial rain for 2-months.

I would go to a different mechanic/shop/store if I hadn’t already spent so much money (over $4K since last year) and all the re-re-replacement parts/repairs are covered by their warranty (12-months). I am not spending another dollar on these repairs. It is up to them to figure it out. They are as frustrated as I am. They say they have talked to the local GM shops and other experts and haven’t come up with a good idea. The current though it to replace the rotors with performance-type (extra cooling holes) rotors, eventhough they agree it shouldn’t be needed.

Sorry about the convoluted story.

Yes, the rubber brake hoses/lines have been replaced (I think more than once) and at least one metal line has been replaced.

Pads replace at least once with spec versions (metallic) and now running with ceramic pads.

Recently replaced idler and pitman arms. They are considering replacing the bearings on my next visit, next week.

At least 4-different mechanics from 2-stores have had their hands on it.

As I mentioned in my other reply, if I hadn’t already sunk so much money into it and these re-repairs weren’t being covered under their warranty, I would go shopping around.

On your question about my actually seeing the cracked parts…

No I haven’t. Never asked to. Can’t see why they would be lying since they have spent a considerable amount of their own money in this adventure, since all re-repairs are warranty issues.

They haven’t made much if any money off me…not with all the return trips.

Well, I’ll “jump in”.

Going back to time zero, I would have suspected that the rear cylinders were sticking, possibly intermittantly. That’d cause the shoes to drag, which in turn would cause the cracking of the drums. I didn’t see where the rear cylinders were replaced. I’d suspect they may be still bad and probably replace the cylinders, shoes, and drums (since they’re probably heat damaged again).

Since the original root cause with the rear brakes was probably not fixed, the front brakes are probably taking up the entire job of stopping the vehicle and generating too much heat. That’s probably causing warpage of the discs, which now have a whole lot of work to do. And that work consists of converting inertial energy (in the case of that truck, LOTS of inertial energy) into heat energy (LOTS of heat energy). OEM brake components aren’t typically over-designed to begin with, so that may be why you started having problems with the front discs warping.

You may have also had some brake fluid boiling, which could have contibuted to your problems.

At this point I’ll defer to someone with better knowledge of ABS…could excess heat damage ABS systems? Wheel speed sensors???

In short, I think everything began with sticky rear cylinders. The rest is all being caused, repeatedly, by resulting heat damage.

Perhaps even if my theory is wacko it will kick off a thread of possible answers for you.

  • mountainbike

I am not 100% sure if they replaced the rear cylinders or not. I think they did (so much has gone on that I have lost track).

IIRC, I had the rear shoes/drums replaced earlier in the year(2006) which brought out the issues of why are they going bad so fast (they said that after 2-months of wear they looked like 2-years of wear).

No signs of fluid boiling that I am aware of.

The ABS is still a wild-card due to the inconsistent readings their equipment are showing, even after replacing the rings/sensors. Since the ABS system was never serviced until then, we were hoping that was the main cause. Obviously not.

Where is click-and-clack when you need them? Do they ever troll/respond to these posts?

I dunno. My gut is still telling me you have a problem with the rear cylinders and the rest is heat damage. Heat is really the only thing that will cause drums to fracture. You may have experienced boiling via the loss of braking ability and not realized it. Loss could even have happened at one wheel, causing the pulling to the side. Along with new cylinders, a system flush might be a good idea at this point.

I’m inclined to discount the ABS system at this point, except perhaps as a victim of heat rather than a root cause of the problems.

  • mountainbike

Has anyone checked the adjustment and operation of the parking brake? That could cause rear brake drag and cause things to overheat.

The only other thing I can think of, is maybe the master cylinder pushrod is out of adjustment. That could cause the brakes to not release all the way.

They thought of the M/B pushrod issue and replaced both with a matched/bolted-together, installed as one piece, set.

The rear shoes are not the current problem. The front pulling while braking (after getting warm) and now the rotors warping after 2-months of driving, are the main issues.

Parking brake should not be an issue since it doesn’t effect the front. IIRC, they also adjusted the parking brake cable when they rebled the system 2-3 times.

Do the rears show normal wear?
Not to be redundant, but if the rear brakes aren’t working that would cause the front brake symptoms you’re describing.

  • mountainbike

Well, I just got the truck back from the shop, again.

They replaced the rotors (now warped after 2-months of wear) and ceramic pads, again. They also said they got a new-fangled power bleeder system and rebled everything.

The brakes feel 100% better (ok…they have felt this good in the past, but it has never lasted). The pulling seems to be gone (only driven it around 50-miles so I am not holding my breath). Any shaking seems to be minimal, probably due to the newness of the rotor/pads.

By the end of this week, I will put over 200 miles on it. This should give me some kind if this is a major improvement.