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Stubborn brake problem '04 Dodge Stratus R/T Coup

My front brakes have never been right in this car. Rotors go bad within a few thousand miles of being replaced. I don’t drive fast or anything like that. After years of paying for new rotors at every brake job with Firestone I decided to do it myself. I put new rotors and pads on a year ago and they went bad in a few months - they feel warped again. I took the rotors off and took them to O’Reilly to get them turned but a micrometer revealed they’re not warped, just showing uneven pad wear. The tech said maybe I have a bad caliper. When I did the brake job nothing seemed wrong; both pistons went back into the calipers without issue. Now I’m thinking about replacing both front calipers and pads, but I don’t want to waste more money. How do I tell if the calipers are bad and if they are can I fix or replace? Everything on the car is OE.

forgot to mention - the brakes wobble badly between about 35mph and 60mph. This is especially noticeable when slowing down from highway speeds. Also I read online someone said you have to “bed” in the brakes, which I never did. Is this true?

If the rotors are fine, it has to be something else - what else is there? The pads just ride the caliper, so…

Bedding in the brakes is probably not an issue.

There are lots of different reasons that you can get brake vibration, some of which have to do with warped rotors and some don’t.

  • you have to make sure that the rotor - hub mating surface is perfectly smooth and clean. I always smear a light coating of brake grease there to avoid rust & sticking.

  • you have to put your wheels back on with a torque wrench and evenly torque the lugs down to whatever the specs are for the car.

  • you should clean and lube anything having to do with the caliper slides to make sure that they freely float. You can tell right now, though if sticking rotors are your problem just by finding out how well the car coasts, especially on almost no grade in neutral at very slow speeds. If it will roll freely anytime you have it in neutral with no brakes on then they’re probably fine. Alternatively, keep checking each of your wheels for heat when you get out. A hand on each wheel should tell you whether or not to worry, or better yet an IR thermometer on the rotors.

  • you should have a good front end/alignment shop check out your wheel bearings, tie rods & ball joints. Sometimes what feels like brake vibration isn’t from the brakes.

  • don’t buy the cheap/bottom rack brake stuff. Cheap rotors won’t hold up to heat well and cheap pads will do all sorts of things including being more likely to leave pad residue behind which then builds up, starts the chatter, turns into hot spots, and it all just gets worse and worse.

I’m sure I’ll think of the rest of it at some point. Or someone else will add.

Take the pads out, reinstall the caliper and see if it slides freely on the pins.

thanks for the advice, all. I will work this weekend to figure out if the brakes are to blame. I’ll check wheel bearings and take the pads out to see if calipers appear to not slide freely.

what you failed to mention is your rear brakes.keep in mind your front brakes do approximatley 80 percent of your breaking while the rear brakes take on 20 percent…now if your rear brakes are doing nothing your front brakes have to do 100 percent of the work.

take a look at your rear sure calipers are guess would be your rear brakes are not doing there fair share of the stopping.

I agree with georgerosey. I have seen rear brake issues on these cars cause problems for the front brakes. If the rear brakes are not working properly, the fronts will warp in a hurry. Do you have disc or drum brakes in the rear? Stratus rear drums are sort of notorious for slacking off and leaving the fronts to do all the work. The self adjuster tends to stick, so as they wear, they don’t really do much to help stop the car, resulting in warped front rotors. You might try actuating the parking brake a few times. If your brake pedal suddenly feels better and the car stops better, you probably just solved your problem. If not, you need to either free up or replace your self adjusters.

It does not seem to be part of the problem, but I would like to add that modern brake design includes disposable rotors. It is seldom worthwhile to machine a rotor. By the time they warp, it is time to replace them and it is only a few dollars more to replace them.

Who is doing the brake work? I would suggest finding a local independent brake shop where the owner also works on the brakes. I would avoid any chain shops when possible.

good thought. I’ll take a look at that also.
Someone awhile ago recommended using the parking brake while rolling to check the rears. I tried it and they seemed OK, but I’ll pull the wheels off just to be sure.

Make sure your sliders are cleaned and greased… Other than that you are describing textbook caliper binding issues… If you drive the car for say 20minutes…stop get out and put your finger on the lug nuts of each front wheel…DO NOT TOUCH THE ROTOR unless you want to leave skin on it…

The hotter the lug nuts…the more it points to caliper binding…this is the easiest way to figure it out without using an infra red thermometer to check rotor temp… Do this test and report.

The Stratus has disc brakes on all four wheels, so rear drums are not a possible issue.

Back when I used to have Firestone do brakes they would consistently tell me the rears were fine, but then again, that’s Firestone.

I’ll look to caliper binding first, and see if I can pinpoint that as a cause.

Well, I’m not overly familiar with how it’s designed on your car, but on some cars, the parking brake actually engages a small drum brake rather than the rear service disc brakes. So you might not have actually tested the rear brakes when you hit the parking brake.

A good way to verify whether it’s the front or the rear brakes that are shaking is to notice exactly where you feel the shaking. If you feel it in the pedal but not the wheel, it’s the rears. If it’s in the wheel too, then it’s the fronts.

One possibility, btw, is that it’s not your brakes at all, but your hub(s). If the hubs are uneven and not properly vertical, they’ll cause a wobble as you brake.

Both front wheel lug nuts are slightly warm after driving but certainly not hot. I took front wheels off last weekend and there is nothing obviously wrong up there. The calipers slide freely on the mounting bolts, the discs and pads look fine with no obvious signs of uneven wear. The braking shudder has gotten really bad now, so I’m thinking it’s suspension. I found a torn boot on the driver’s side outer tie rod end, but I’m changing that even though I don’t think it’s the cause. I’ll probably end up taking the car in for this issue since I don’t know what else it could be.

WHat I dont see in your description is what symptom you actually have…does your wheel vibrate in your hands? Does it shake only with the brakes on? What is your issue…beside thinking the rotors are to blame?

very pronounced vibration - almost a shudder - when braking above about 35mph. This is particularly bad if I am slowing down from highway speed - 65 or 70, and I press gently on the brakes. The whole car shakes pretty badly all the way down to about 30 or so, and then it goes away. If I pay very close attention I can sort of feel the brakes not grabbing evenly even at slow speeds. It almost feels like a flat spot on the tires or something - thub thub thub thub thub. I have also noticed when I go around a right turn at street speed (35mph) there is a rubbing or grinding sound coming out of the front left wheel I think. I’m wondering if a bearing is bad but the car only has 62K miles on it.

“Hear me now and believe later!”- as they say on TV/movies:

The Stratus Coupe is a Mitsubishi- made to look like a Dodge.

I have owed a '04 Stratus Coupe SXT 4 cyl. 'til 99,000 mi. with front disks and rear drums (which IS the only way the SXT comes) AND NOW own a '04 Stratus Coupe R/T 3.0 6 cyl. with 4 wheel disks (which is the only way the R/T comes).

First!— Yes the front disks on the SXT warped at 50,000. So I got ProStop front rotors and brake pads (middle priced parts) from Pep Boys. Problem solved, but— in about 20,000 the front pads went out and my mechanic said that the rears just were not doing their job, so he lubed the rear system, replaced the front pads and the whole cars brake system problem was solved! I never had to replace the rear shoes on that car (99,000 mi.), so he was right.
Sound familiar???

Also- stay away from factory brake parts on THIS type of vehicle (actually Mitsubishi parts)!

Second!— Guess what? I am doing the fronts on my R/T today, with 60,000 mi. on the car. They warped too!
I’m installing ProStop rotors and pads as before.
Next weekend the rears.

I never had so much brake problems when I owned a real Dodge; (I owned a Daytona, Challenger, Charger, Dart, Lancer).

Hope this helps!!!

Sounds like you’re probably right. I just had a guy at the local shop tell me that my car will warp front rotors very fast because they can’t handle the heat from stopping the car. Sounds like the brake system is underdesigned for the weight of the car. I’m looking at buying aftermarket rotors and pads for all four wheels to try and put this issue behind me.

Why would you use ProStop parts again if they went bad the first time?

In response to your question, “Why would you use ProStop parts again if they went bad the first time?”—

My Stratus Coupe 4 cyl. front pads wore out soon because the rear Mitsubishi shoes were not working properly.
The rear brake hardware was not lubed, the mechanic said.
Since then, the brakes were fine until I sold the car at 99,000 mi.

Specifically, I was and am using ProStop Platimum grade rotors and pads.

Hope this helps!!!

OK, I took the plunge: all new rotors and pads (front and rear). The job was easy except the rear caliper mounting bracket bolts fought me tooth and nail. Once I got them off it was smooth sailing. the new hardware is fantastic - silky smooth stops and way better braking performance than I ever remember having. I got brembo OE match rotors and AC/Delco pads in front, O’Reilly house-brand rotors and EBC (British) ceramic pads for the rear. I bought the better stuff for the back because I figured it would last the life of the car. So I guess in the end it turned out warped rotors in the front were the problem, but the cause of the warping is as yet unknown. I suspect the rear brakes hadn’t really been pulling their weight for some time, causing excessive heat on the fronts. Hopefully this setup will last a long time.
Total cost $185 (vs. $450 at a local shop).