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Parking brake adjustment -> overheated brakes -> whose fault?

Hi Folks,

Never posted before and don’t know much about car repair beyond the basics, though I love to learn! I recently had some work done on my 97 Honda Civic (manual), and asked them to adjust the parking brake while they were at it. They tightened it up as they usually do when they work on the car (the other work was not brake-related, although they DID replace my master cylinder just back in February). Two days later, my brakes began to fail (much like they had when I needed the master cylinder replaced). Turns out, something happened with the parking brake such that the cables seized or something and caused the regular brakes to overheat. Once they cooled down, the regular brakes were fine again, so they disconnected one of the cables for the parking brake and ordered replacement cables to be installed next week, for a not inconsequential sum. My question is: did they screw up when they adjusted the parking brake, such that I shouldn’t really have to pay the full amount for this subsequent repair? Or was this likely inevitable?

Thanks for any insight you can provide! (And for those of you in Irene’s path right now, be safe!)

If you could pull up on the handle and it had at least 8 clicks, then it wasn’t adjusted too tight. If it tightened up with only 4 clicks, then someone misread the specs or thought you had disc brakes on the rear. The parking brake is self adjusting so you should not need to have someone adjust it.

Wow, I am so surprised to hear that it is supposed to be self-adjusting! In the past, they had always just done something to it that made it a lot “tighter” (at least that’s what it feels like to me–can’t pull it up nearly as high), and then over time it “loosens up” a bit. This time I specifically mentioned it when I brought the car in for something else because it seemed like I was hearing some creaking sounds when I parked on an incline, and it was making me a wee bit nervous. They tightened it for sure, and I’m not sure that it even had 8 clicks, but it felt about the same as when they had done it in the past. But it apparently caused the problem with the regular brakes within 48 hours of the adjustment and now they are going to charge me $300+ to replace the cables. It just doesn’t feel right to me, and even less so based on your comments, Keith! Thanks for the response!

Actually, while the rear brakes are typically self-adjusting, this does not mean the parking brake is as well. What I think has happened is that the cable was weakening… Perhaps snapping threads over the last several years causing stretching. Also, the truth is for a 97 Civic, you should have between 6 and 9 clicks. Honda recommends 7 clicks. What they say to do is to apply the parking brake to 1 click, with the rear wheels in the air via a set of Jack stands. Then remove the center console and tighten the adjusting nut until the brake barely (BARELY) creates a drag. Then release the brake and it should be adjusted perfectly.

Also they say that before you pull the handle the 1 click, start the engine and press the brake pedals several times with the engine runngin so as to ensure the brake caliper is properly adjusted. Yes, the brake caliper is indeed self adjusting, but the cable is not. Sorry Keith. Also, this vehicle had the option of disk or drum brakes in the rear.

A-ha. Yes, I can definitely believe that the cable was weakening. With my limited mechanical understanding, that was kind of what I feared when I was starting to hear the creaking. At 14 years old and 160,000+ miles, this car is no spring chicken! So it sounds like this may indeed be just a relatively inevitable repair. I plan to get at least 200,000 miles out of her, so I know that repairs like this are part of the price to pay. But my mechanic and I are not exactly best buds, where he would take the time to have a sit down heart to heart talk to explain these things to me. Thanks for taking the time to spell it out for me!

Well, first we don’t know whether it had disc or drums in the rear. The parking brake is a one time adjustment. After that, it self adjusts at the same time the rear brakes adjust, disc or drum, unless like you pointed out that the cable is failing.

No keith, you are wrong, it is meant to be a one time adjustment, but occasionally with age you have to adjust the cable. Also, the parking brake is NOT self adjusting on most vehicles. That’s why the car companies make them relatively easy to adjust. You should check on that. I’ve been doing brakes for over 16 years, and have never run into a self adjusting parking brake.

What, in fact, did they adjust? The cable? The rear shoes? The rear caliper? And why did you want the parking brake adjusted?

I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t know the details–I just know that, in the past, when I would have work done, I would discover that the parking brake was tighter, and they explained to me that they had adjusted it. I came to assume that was normal, and when I started hearing creaks (like the brake was kinda groaning at me), I wanted them to check it out while they were doing other work anyway. I might be a giant sucker, but that’s just how I thought things were done!

benebeyta, I’ve been doing brakes for over 40 years. Technically, there is not a self adjuster on the parking brake, the parking brake is an offset of the regular brakes. Any adjustment of the regular brakes has an equal effect on the parking brake. When the rear brake self adjusts, it also tightens up the parking brake.

Periodic adjustment of the parking brake has not been required for a long time. Modern cables just don’t stretch like they used to. If you have to adjust them, something is wrong. If you attempt to tighten up the parking brake on a periodic basis, you actually do more damage than good. You cause excessive wear on the rest of the rear brakes.

My son had to learn this the hard way. His ricer buddies that meet in the local AutoZone parking lot on Saturday night to show off their cars had him convinced that he needed to keep this cable tight. Some of these guys work as mechanic apprentices. After he ruined the rear brakes on one car twice and his next car once, he finally got the point.

Laur42475, you are an example of what I am talking about. Not you personally, but what has happened to your brakes. Excessive tightening of the parking brake causes the rear brakes to overheat.

I seriously doubt that any damage occurred to your cables as a result of this. If the cables have seized, they probably would have anyway. If the damage to the rest of the brakes was a result of the cables seizing, then it would have happened anyway. But if they overtightened the parking brake cable, it would overheat the friction components of the rear brakes, but the cable itself would be OK.

If I were you, I would find another shop and get a second opinion. You may not need as much work as you think. You may only need to have the cable hooked back up and properly adjusted. BTW what model Civic do you have. If it’s a Civic EX, then you probably have disc brakes on the rear. If it is any other model, like LX or DX or HX, it will have drum brakes on the rear.

Sorry, but you are wrong, the modern cables do indeed stretch the way the older ones do since they are still made of the same materials. It is not periodic, it is occasional and usually due to a worn cable. I have researched this. You are wrong… Sorry. You should know that 40 years experience does not mean complete knowledge… I have seen it too many times. I work on the newer vehicles… And I know that sometimes they DO need to be adjusted. Regardless of the materials, they are not all perfect and sometimes they do need to be adjusted. That’s what is sounds like. I think that you should probably do some research to learn more about new brake systems. I was recently back in college to update my knowledge on brakes including the newest forms of ABS and the newest computer systems. I recommend you do the same so that you will better know what you are talking about.

I disagree with you. They do not use the same materials and more importantly, they are in shielded systems now, not open like they used to be. I have been to college too.

It’s a DX. The mechanic already ordered the cables and is expecting me to bring in the car Monday AM, but I will try calling another mechanic in town first thing in the morning to at least run it by him. Thanks again for taking the time to explain this all so thoroughly!