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Oh. . .THAT’S Why It Didn’t Work

May 21, 2018

Good judgement comes from experience
Experience comes from poor judgement

I broke my car.

It wasn’t my fault. Well, it wasn’t anyone else fault, but it totally wasn’t my fault.

I recently took a road trip from Pleasant Grove, Utah to Moscow, Idaho, over to Pasco, Washington, back to Moscow and then on to Pleasant Grove. It was about 2000 miles. And my brakes started squealing at about the 500 mile mark.

Squealing brakes are actually a designed feature. Your brakes have asbestos pads that press against a rotor to stop the car. A rotor is a big metal plate about the side of an oversized dinner plate.

When your brake pads get low, there’s a piece of metal that will come in contact with the rotor. It doesn’t hurt anything, but that metal on metal squealing reminds you to take your car in and have its brakes replaced.

I was too smart for that. (I was too smart for my good, but I’m getting to that.) During the road trip the brakes started to get really bad. The went past the squealing to the grinding. Grinding is when the brake pad is totally gone and you have metal on metal, the metal brake pad on the rotor.

Today, I decided to fix my brakes. I had the pads already. I bought some brake grease, and I was ready to go. It can cost as much as $200 to have brake job done. I can do my own for less than a quarter of that.

The front ones went fine. To replace your brakes, you jack up the car. Then, you remove the tire. It’s a good idea to put jack stands under your car. And by “good idea” I mean, the same as “it’s a good idea to wear a helmet and use your seatbelt. Next, you remove the calipers. There are two very tight bolts on the back of the calipers. You will bruise your knuckles breaking those bolts loose. . .every time.

After you take off the calipers, you then remove the old brake pads and mounting hardware. You put some brake grease on the contact points of the new pads. You put them and the new hardware back on the car.

If you attempt to put the caliper back on at this point, it will not fit. The cylinder has been depressing as your brake pads wear down. You’ve now put new (wider) pads on and the cylinder is too far out. You place one of the old pads on the inside of the cylinder and use a C-clamp to push the cylinder back into the caliper housing.

It’s not hard. Well, the cylinder is pretty stiff, but the process is pretty easy. And if you’ve done one set of brakes you’ve pretty much done them all. Except for the rear disk brakes on a 2006 Pontiac Grand Prix.

Front braks are always disk brakes. Rears can be drum brakes or disk brakes. Mine happen to be disk brakes. So, I did what book says. (I didn’t actually read a book.) I took off the wheel. I took off the caliper. I replaced the pads. And that’s where it all went wrong.

I couldn’t get the cylinder to compress. Noting I tried worked. I put the c-clamp. I tried bracing it with wood. I tried prying on it.

Finally, I called my neighbor. He’s my “car guy.” He brought over even bigger pliars and tools. We actually broke one of the tools trying to push that stupid cylinder down. . .and THEN we got smart.

We went to youtube.

The guy on the video took us through the process for changing rear disk brakes on a 2006 Pontiac Grand Prix:

Remove the tire
Remove the caliper
Replace the pads
Be sure to not try to compress the cylinder, or you will break it. These cylinders screw back in.

And there it was. We quickly switched to the side we hadn’t touched yet. It screwed in nicely and we put the brakes back together. The side we had pushed on? Nope. Broken.

And now my car is broken for another day. A new caliper will be about $75. And I’ll have to work from home tomorrow.

I, along with my neighbor and his mechanic son, all now have the experience to show good judgement when changing the rear disk brakes on a 2006 Pontiac Grand Prix.

It was an expensive lesson.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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