Brake problems: Hot wheels, poor service

I have a 2000 Outback, 80K, and I’ve been having brake issues. The first thing I noticed was a burning brake smell. I pulled over and found that my two front wheels were very hot. I pumped the brakes a few times and let them cool down and drove on. Pulled over in a bit to check them and they were fine. Took the car to the dealer who said, “We can’t really find anything wrong with the fronts, but the backs are sticking a bit and we fixed that.” So, off I went. Of course, it happened again. Left front seemed the hottest, but this time I noticed that the rear wheels were warm as well. Took it in again. Again, “We don’t know.” “Could it be the calipers or the lines or the ABS chip,” I asked? “Well, yeah, maybe the front calipers.” So they replaced the front calipers. Picked it up and noticed two things of interest on the print out: “Rear brakes hanging up,” and the front pads are a 8mm and the rear at 3mm! Hm… Seemed fishy to me. I had all the pads replaced a year and half ago. The last set lasted 75K, so this is odd, as is the discrepancy between back and front. I had the dealer pull the service record. In May the rear were at 5mm. Two weeks ago they were at 3.5mm. Yesterday they were a 3mm. I asked, “What would cause that?” They said, “Well, probably whoever did your brake job didn’t clean the brakes up well so they are getting stuck and wearing down.” I took the car and drove 60 miles, mostly on the highway. Fronts wheels were cool. Rear wheels were warm to hot. Please advise. What is going on?

This is the kind of question that is difficult to answer over the internet. It takes experienced hands and eyes on the actual brakes. There are a number of possibilities, but they will all be guesses. I think you need to start looking around for a good independent mechanic, especially one who specializes in brakes and suspension systems, but there are many good general mechanics that are perfectly competent with brakes.

Check with friends, coworkers etc for a mechanic with a good reputation. You can also try the link at the top of this page in the grey bar called Mechanics Files. Use the BBB to vet any of them if you want.

BTW, my best guess is that if you had new pads installed on the rear only 5k miles ago, the parking brake linkage wasn’t reset or adjusted properly, but that is just a SWAG.

This is 4 wheel disc brakes right? Not drum rear?

When you notice the wheels dragging and have a hot smell, see if it’s actually your left front and your right rear wheel that are dragging. If it’s just these two, and your car is a stick shift with a hill-holder, then the hill-holder is sticking.

This same thing happened to me this year. I’ve always replaced my own disk pads/rotors/shoes. I burned through a new set of pads in a few hundred miles before re-lubricating the slide pins on the calipers. For me, the wear was only on one side of the front wheels. Voila! No more burning through disc pads and the replacement pad have run 10k miles without showing much wear.

Thanks all for the suggestions. I did check the Mechanic Files and maybe I should go with one of them – but I hadn’t heard of any of them. Parking brake is a thought. You’d think that the dealer would have checked that by now, but who knows? I think the dealer might have been suggesting the side pins could be dirty. Nope, don’t have a hill-holder. Keep the suggestions coming! Thanks, all.

Who did the brake replacement, the dealer?