Traveling at Warping Speed
I escaped from my local Ford dealer the day the other day, but sans shirt. The brakes had been acting up for months, a little at first and then a lot. Now, at 90K miles, they were grabbing at one or more spots as the wheels rotated, with too much stopping power alternating with too little. Pretty jerky, though they could still do a firm stop when necessary. But, it was to the point where the rapid vibrations needed to go away. There was no pulsing at the brake pedal, and no wobbling of the steering wheel, but the Mighty Furd is pretty dead in this regard. Feedback is not its strong suit. I’d recently had the wheel lugs reset to spec, using a torque wrench, since I couldn’t break them loose with a star wrench in order to be able to change a tire. Many repair places simply jam them on hard with a pneumatic driver which, at least with drum brakes, can warp the drum and cause the same behavior. It was worth a try. No soap, though. It was just as bad afterward.
I was hoping that the rotors (disks in the above illustration) were warped and could be machined back to a nice, flat shape. No soap on that, either. The dealership vowed that there wasn’t enough rotor thickness left to avoid going below spec on the minimum thickness allowed. As measured, the runout (disk wobbling) was bad, preventing any meaningful correction. I needed four new ones, which cost a pretty penny indeed, and I had them change out the brake fluid as well, which looked unhealthily dark. The pads, still the originals, were fine, which surprised me. Brakes have not been a trouble-free area for M. Furd. I’d had to have the rear calipers replaced quite some time ago due to freezing up and staying engaged, the result of letting the thing sit for weeks at a time over one winter. That promotes corrosion, which jams parts up and the brakes/wheels get pretty hot. Today, I was hoping that the cashier would not notice the tear stains on my cheeks as I swiped my overheated credit card.
What had happened? I wanted to figure that out in order to avoid a repeat at 180K miles. I was stumped, because my sporty car driving days are long gone, and I now drive like an old man in order to keep the bucket rolling. Overheating should not be an issue in this case. I did some research, and found that disk brakes don’t warp, so my old school thinking was out. Hopefully, the runout on the new rotors is better than the originals. Turns out that for the Super Duty, letting it sit for weeks, as I did in its early life over winter as well as when boondocking with the Defiant TT, doesn’t just rust the brake pads into the calipers. It promotes corrosion on the rotor surfaces except where the pads are sitting. Then it more recently sat in Indy over the humid summer months, which may have finished them off. What you eventually get is a rotor with uneven friction surfaces, which comes out as what I had. It’s possible to catch it way early by swapping in semi-metallic pads at the first hint of grabbing, but really, not letting it sit idle for more than a week, and braking a little more aggressively may help me avoid this kind of Service Dept trauma quite so soon. I’d rather be replacing pads than rotors.
At this particular dealership, the sales people are required to chase down and chaperone anyone outside on the property. Doesn’t matter if you are “just looking” or are waiting hours and hours for your car in Service. They cannot leave your side, just in case you have a question or get a sudden, impulsive urge to buy a car right then and there. Their manager beats them soundly if they don’t. For Service customers facing trauma, maybe it’s also to keep you from wandering across the lot to the Chevy dealer next door, to the west. The Toyota dealer to the east is owned by the same guy as where I was at, so they probably don’t care so much when you go out that door. It’s kind of a forced intimacy, and the youngish salesman who followed me out sized me up and asked tentatively, “I…don’t suppose you’re thinking about replacing your truck.” That was a good guess on his part. I wasn’t. I don’t particularly look like an impulse buyer, nor do I look like an elderly version of a player. I don’t look like I have much dough either, truth be told. Short of a major engine failure or the impending signs of doom, the Mighty Furd shall retain the high honor of serving me until the day that it’s better off being dragged out and unceremoniously shot. But its memory shall live on, both in fact and in legend. Oh yes. So, we talked about how great it is to retire and tour the country most of the year, then winter in an RV park in Yuma. Tour here and there. Everywhere. He left after awhile. I couldn’t tell if he was more bored or depressed.
Before our just commenced trip East to West and back I brought my front brakes up to code to the tune of $700. My sig other was surprised at how much I tossed out in parts doing the work myself. OEM rotors and pads, rebuilt calipers, new NAPA brake lines. I, in an unguarded moment, let the GPS pick our route from small mountain town to to the next small mountain town in North Georgia. It was a route most wizened folks leave to the packs of motorcycles screaming about. Certainly there were no other RVers on the road. I chalked up my transmission getting roasting hot, in spite of pulling half the load it used to do effortlessly, to age. I was wrong, we were in the steepest of steep mountain roads I’d ever blundered into. Towards the bottom when I finally pulled off into a pullout to give my nerves a rest, we were enveloped in a cloud of smoke from the white hot brakes. My exhaust brake had decided to quit working at the most inopportune time and in spite of my best efforts the trucks brakes took a beating. At that point the $700 seemed like chump change I was indeed happy I’d squandered. I spent a weekend along the Natchez Trace reworking the exhaust brake workings and something I did, but I’m not sure what, got the darned thing functioning again. The rest of the trip, 6,000 or so miles, went along just fine, brake wise anyway. Brakes are certainly way up on the important list. Good luck with yours.
PS. We had one more hair raising brake experience on the trip following the Rio Grande on 170 going from Presidio to Big Bend National Park. Along the route, many miles into the run and many miles from anywhere, was a sign that warned of a 15% grade up ahead (like 1o or so miles up). I’m like WTF? I was contemplating turning around and making the long run back to Marfa when a van coming the other way stopped. The old dude said I should be able to make it since I had a good truck and it was only a couple of hundred yards long, so I took him at his word and kept heading east, with much trepidation. It was a beautiful roller coaster run. The hills we were running over were so steep it looked like the road would drop down out of sight just before each peak. And I keep waiting for the big one. It didn’t fail to impress. We barely made it to the peak and the descent was a seeming free fall. If I’m ever out there again I’d do it in a heart beat but at the time the unknown was a bit unnerving. The remoteness and the scenery made it all worthwhile though. Doesn’t surprise me we didn’t run into anyone else pulling an RV on that route. Thank be for good brakes.
Adventure! Sometimes, a little too much adventure. The loss of your exhaust brake was certainly ill-timed! I’m just thankful you had rebuilt your brakes prior, and I know you are, too. There’s nothing quite like watching your trans temp gauge or engine temp gauge swing over to the right. Kind of adds an element of suspense. At its technical 10 years of age, I too am thankful that the Mighty Furd is as healthy as it is, that the cooling system and brakes are oversized for its day, and that the weight of the truck camper is all I have to worry about. A 15% grade can be “of concern”, especially when towing anything. My TT’s electric brakes were never that good, so the Furd wound up doing most of the work. I looked up your latter route on Google Maps, and at 2 hours to go 70 miles, there’s an untold message there that the estimated travel time is probably optimistic, likely wildly so on some section or other. Your story reminded me of taking a clapped out ’60 Bel Air with a 6 and 2-speed Powerglide through the Appalachians, with a loaded utility trailer. Those brakes got alarmingly soggy near the bottom of one descent, but I was able to pull over and let them cool. Thanks very much for taking the time to tell the tales, James! Entertaining reading!
Pads were still good but the rotors were toast? Pads are consumable too. Just a thought…
I had expected pads too, Rob, at that odo reading, but I’ve always babied the brakes, and know that the dealership would be just giggling-happy to tell me I needed more wear parts replaced. I’d hoped for the usual 70K miles out of these pads, and have lucked out so far, maybe since they are of a more robust size than the ones I had on Gruenhilda, my ’94 Dodge 1500 Work Special. At any rate, if the rotor does not run true (runout) from the get-go, there isn’t much to be done for it as time goes on. It doesn’t take much rotor wear to make it un-machinable when the time comes. So they weren’t really worn thin, so much as too tilted to safely machine true in place when they were never true to start with. I’ve found that, unfortunately, this is a common issue with Super Dutys of that era. I only hope that the replacements don’t share the same trait, and that is a possibility since time has passed and the original questionable rotors have long since passed out of everyone’s parts bins. This of course assumes that Ford cared enough to notice and fix the issue somewhere along the line since January 2007… At any rate, runout should not normally affect pad wear, though I’ll be sure to whine and whimper in print when their replacement time finally rolls around.
Owww eeee! Doug – glad you made it through it with only pain in the wallet. You’ve been through worse this past year on the ol’ bod. My sympathy.
Yup, Pam, agonizingly cheap as I am, I prefer wallet pain any time, any day! My only concern at the time was that seeing the repair invoice would trigger the remote heart monitor I’m temporarily wearing, and it would send a message to hit me with the paddles. It’s only too bad that my Medicare and Supplemental don’t cover the Ford, too. The medical invoices equate to maybe 5-6 years of my income, and I have yet to pay a single penny, which is one sweet deal! Can’t say the same for the Ford’s upkeep expenses, but I’ve certainly owned worse! 😉
Hope to see you at Bloggerfest tomorrow. La Posa South, out of Quartzsite. At the pavilion I think, or follow signs. There will be signs, they are in the trunk of my car at the moment.
Whoa, Bloggerfest? I had to Google that one. Thanks for letting me know such a thing exists, Shadowmoss. Sounds interesting, though meet and greets are not exactly my strong suit. Regardless, it’s a moot point for tomorrow, as the Intrepid’s roof is up for resetting scrambled contents, filth reduction, and replacing a solar controller. Getting it back down is a Very Big Deal in my current state of health, so I only want to do that once at this early stage. I don’t know whether there will be another next year, but I put it on my calendar to check out then. I’d like to think, “I don’t write about things – I do them!” but of course, that’s hooey, the evidence of which is right here on this blog. Thank you!
The brake fluid on my 1999 Chrysler Town & Country van, with 298,000 miles on it, caused the brake lines to swell shut after applying the brakes. Thus not allowing the brake to back off and keeping the brake on constantly until it would finally release after a bit. Only to do the same thing next time the brake was applied. Replacing the brake lines fixed the problem.