Did I mention how much I hate drum brakes?

Posted: May 23, 2009 in Automotive, Jeep

I’ve been on a “get my Jeep running right” kick lately. My wife hasn’t been too thrilled as I come home from work, change clothes and work on the Jeep for a few hours. I’m dreadfully behind schedule though, things never seem to go to plan (and always seem to take twice as long as they should).

One of the first things I did was to replace the aftermarket steering setup that I installed a few years ago. My original thought was, rather than replace the $15 part that was worn on the stock steering, upgrade the whole thing for a lot more! Solid logic right? The problem is that although the “upgrade” was many times stronger, it drove like crap (although a very worn steering stabilizer probably didn’t help either). A few weekends ago, I replaced my steering once more (and went back to something closer to the stock set up). Now, the Cherokee drives so much better (and I can even keep it in my lane)!

I have this habit of buying stuff that I want to install, but never getting around to installing it (for whatever reason). Case and point: I’ve had an exhaust including catalytic converter for the Jeep sitting in the garage for at least a year. I have a new radiator sitting in the garage for just less than a year. I have a box of Jeep bits that I’ve bought over the years (stuff like white face gauges, badges, even a whole audio system including amps and speakers).

So it’s a red letter day when I actually reduce the backlog. That was the goal with the exhaust (which was practically falling off the Jeep). It took an evening to get the old exhaust off (nothing that a cutoff disk on the grinder couldn’t make short work of). Then it took several days to get the exhaust squared away (did I mention what it’s like to try to get 12 year old O2 sensor out of an exhaust manifold)?

Pluming an exhaust seems like a pretty easy task… it’s not. Even if the things fit together properly (which isn’t always the case), getting everything lined up is not easy. Beyond that, I finally figured out something that I didn’t realize: When tightening exhaust clamps, even when you’ve over-tightened exhaust clamps, they’re too loose. In other words, you need to tighten the snot out of these things to prevent exhaust leaks. I stuck my jack handle on the end of a wrench to get enough torque on the nuts.

Today’s task was to get the brakes situated. They’ve been soft and a little scary so I decided that I needed to replace the pads and shoes, and bleed the whole system (and pray that there isn’t a bigger issue than that). After a quick examination I saw that the front pads had plenty of meat left on them, so I opted to just spend the time replacing the shoes on the rear drums.

Holy shit, drum brakes are amazingly complex pieces of antiquated technology. They are like jigsaw puzzles made of springs and other random annoying bits that you have to somehow coerce into a complete package. Thankfully there are two brakes, because I constantly had to run around to the other side of the vehicle to check my work.

It’s a good thing that I decided to dive into the brakes though. Part of the system for drum brakes is this automated tensioner. Which in reality is this ratcheting wheel that turns as the shoes wear. It’s a complicated system that seems like it would be very prone to failure… which it did… on both sides. The wheel on both sides had ceased up so as the shoes wore, they tensioner wasn’t making up the difference (which means that my rear brakes probably weren’t doing much braking). One of the tensioning springs was also broken (so even if it wasn’t ceased, it still wouldn’t have worked).

After a few runs to NAPA (I’m so happy to have a NAPA store attached to a NAPA warehouse only 10 minutes away). I was able to replace all of the springs and 12 year old rusted bits. I got the drums back together and after a quick test things seemed to be operating so much better. I think there’s still something wrong, and hopefully bleeding the system will help a bit more (although for all I know, the 34″ tires could be the issue).

So there are only a few more things on my list, and my agreement (more with myself than the wife), is that I can work on the Jeep through the end of May, then I need to try to finish up the living room and dining room (finally). Then, maybe, perhaps, hopefully, I can get the Lotus back together.

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