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Possible caliper problem/"sticking" rear wheel

I drive a '98 VW Beetle, it’s got roughly 100,000 miles on it and it’s front wheel drive. Two days ago there was a tiny snowstorm and I had to go out driving in it; three times while I was driving, it was pointed out to me that my right rear wheel wasn’t turning and I was just dragging it along.

Once home I took a look at things, didn’t see anything unusual about the wheel, had my girlfriend watch the wheel as I “rocked” the car in the driveway and she said that the wheel indeed wasn’t turning. However it improved as I got onto some ground with less snow on it, and although the wheel started to make a nasty hissing sound at one point, the sound stopped, and then the wheel seemed to be working fine.

Everything indicates that therefore I’m okay to drive, but as of this evening, I’m smelling an awful burning rubber odor coming from around that wheel. The tire appears in fine condition. Is this my brake pad? Something wrong with the caliper? I did some research already and read it could have been a stuck caliper in the first place, but I’m really at a loss since I’m not much of a car expert.

Any ideas? Is this a serious problem? I’m hoping that I don’t need to spend more than $40, $50 or so on any repairs.

You had it pointed out to you three times that you were draging a rear wheel then you were able to convince yourself that “Everything indicates that therefore I am okay to drive” what did you think elves came by and fixed your car?

It’s probably going to be a sticking caliper or a hanging park brake cable.
The wheel can be removed and you could try moving the caliper lever by hand to see if the caliper is frozen up or the cable is hanging.
Here’s what the caliper and lever look like (lever on top of the pic).

Tough call since you state you’re not much of a car mechanic but if you cannot do the work yourself then you’re not going to get off for 50 bucks no matter if it’s the caliper or the cable.
If one caliper or cable is bad then both should be replaced.

If the cable is hanging then you can try prying the lever back to see if the brake will release fully. If it does, then you should be fine, BUT do not use the park brake again until the cables are repaired.

Hope some of this helps and keep in mind that a dragging brake can catch fire so my advice is no driving until fixed.

Hmm, I don’t think the link worked but still, this is really helpful information. So in short, my wheel isn’t secretly about to fall off/explode/fail in some other catastrophic way, but whether it’s a caliper problem or a cable problem I should have it looked at and avoid driving if at all possible? Thanks a bunch.

No idea on the link but it pulls up for me. Go to the Advance Auto Parts site and do a search for brake calipers for your car. (listed under brake hydraulics)
This will show you what it looks like anyway.

In theory the wheel won’t fall off or explode but as I mentioned, fire is a very real hazard. This problem can also contribute to rapid tire wear.

Like I said, jack the car up (jackstands or blocks underneath for safety), remove the wheel, and look at the lever where the park brake cable attaches. Take a screwdriver (with the park brake off) and try to pry the lever away from the cable housing where the cable enters.
If you feel it move then the cable is likely the problem.
Reinstall the wheel and rotate it by hand. If it rotates freely then you know the cable was the problem; and don’t use the park brake until it’s fixed.

I’ll bet the ice has jammed the parking brake cable. Kinda common in the ‘snow belt’. Your burning up your brakes, and damaging the tire. If this continues, you’ll never fix it for $50. You could wait for it to thaw, park it in a garage overnight, or try to free it up by removing the tire and trying to free up the cable yourself.

When it originally started dragging you probably could have gotten it repaired affordably. Now that you’ve convinced yourself that it was okay to drive that way and you’ve cooked a few parts from the heat generated (anybody want some purple bearings, or perhaps a nice rainbow colored axle?) the cost has probably lated.

What exactly will it take to convince you that you need to have the car repaired? Perhaps when the wheel falls off?