Sunbird hates the snow, but drives in it beautifully

Well, we all know about the storm that ripped through the northeast yesterday, I climbed into my car to start it (a 1992 Pontiac Sunbird) and realized that it was almost like driving with the emergency break on, I got out checked all the tires which seemed to be fine, got back in and kept driving, just up my block and back. My sister came outside and told me my back right wheel isn’t spinning, after some experimentation I came to realize that while it spins fine in reverse the second I put my car into drive the back right wheel locks up completely, I’m pretty much hopelessly lost on this and I don’t want to get hosed by the mechanics… any thoughts?

Did you have the parking brake on when you parked the car before the storm? If so, then it could be you parking brake cables are iced up and not releasing the parking brake.

I did not have the parking break on, I normally put it on but one of my pals was lecturing me that that’s bad for the breaks so I just started forcing myself not to put it on.

do you have ABS in your car ? When was the last time you had the brakes serviced and the fluid replaced ?

I do have ABS and at first the light was going off when it would lock up, now it doesnt seem to, I got the tires, and brakes replaced completely in June, the fluids were replaced a month or two ago.

Many GM cars of the year you speak of have trouble with the brake calipers becomming “frozen” (not from temperature) to their sliding pins and locking up the wheels.

Where does the "drives in it beautifuly"part start?

Sorry, I meant the brake fluid - it absorbs water and freeze the caliper/wheel cylinder. The only things that I believe could be wrong with your car is the ABS acting up, one of the brake return springs is locking the shoe ( I am assuming you have drum brakes on the back ) or you have a faulty wheel bearing (although I do not think it would release in reverse )).

I had this exact same problem on a similar vintage Buick-- except I drove down my snowy driveway, down the snowy side roads and then turned onto a plowed busy street and… screeeeeeech. The car had been able to drag the tire along just fine until it hit pavement.

But yes, the problem was a frozen parking brake actuator (I think that’s what it’s called- the lever thing in the drum that’s attached to the cable). I ended up just taking the tire and the brake drum off (by the side of the road) and just cleaned it off and never had a problem again.

Cool, Considering just trying that out then, If only it weren’t getting dark out…

Then, again, it might be that a chunk of ice/snow is caught between the tire and the wheel well which is keeping the tire from turning forward.

I had this happen on my Nissan pickup after a blast of snow and cold weather on the left rear brake. The brake is frozen from ice from driving the vehicle earlier. The only way I got it to release was to point a torpedo heater at the wheel to melt the ice.


I did not have the parking break on, I normally put it on but one of my pals was lecturing me that that’s bad for the breaks

It would only be bad for the brakes if there is a malfunction, like the pads rusting to the rotor or getting water in the cable and having it freeze.

It would be really bad if you happened to park on a hill or even a minor grade and found your car rolling into traffic.

I believe that while anything is possible you are better off using them as intended.

But it wasn’t affecting your reverse at all? I have no qualms with popping the wheel off to check things out first I just figured I’d check with the vast intelligence of the internet before I did so and before I went to a mechanic and shelled out $200.

Yes! I could back up but going forward the brake locked up. The front shoe of the rear brake system is a self-energizing shoe. When this shoe touches the brake drum is automatically grabs the brake drum. If there’s anything between the shoe such as ice to cause this shoe to self-energize the brake will engage. I sat there scratching my head trying to figure out what was happening until I put the torpedo on the wheel. Like I said, I had just parked the vehicle after driving it before the storm hit.


Sounds good, I’ll give it a try in the morning :slight_smile: I’ll throw another message here when I figure things out one way or another, Thanks for the lesson too, My emergency break on that wheel actually has been getting stuck in the cold now that I think about it, its just never gotten permanently stuck and normally just reversing out of my park pops it.

Is this car really rusty, if so, whatever attaches the rear axle to the car frame may have failed and when you move the car forward you are stretching the emergency brake cable tight which applies the brake.

The right wheel seems to have had the brake sticking, from time to time past? When a wheel brake cylinder leaks brake fluid onto the brakes, it can make the brake stick. You can see evidence of brake leak by the streaks radiating on the inner sidewall of the tire.

I’ll check that out when I take off the wheel.