Monday, May 9, 2011

Rotors and Brake Pads. My Journey.

I had a recent conversation with 66 Batmobile builder Nate, who told me the following: Car repairs always take twice as long as you expected, and cost twice as much. Or something like that. I’m sort of paraphrasing, but you get the idea. Well, in this post, I explain to you just how right he is!

Part of my ramp-up strategy on the MattMobile is getting familiar with (and comfortable with) working on cars. Also getting to know my tools, and how I might need to build it in preparation for the work I will be doing on the MattMobile.
I figured I would dip my big toe in the proverbial pool of automotive repair by doing something to my Chrysler that has been on the to-do list ever since I got to California, replacing my rotors and brake pads. By my estimation, when evaluating overall complexity, this is about one notch above topping off the wiper fluid. It’s quite a simple procedure, one which I have done many times before on other cars I have owned. Overall, it’s pretty straightforward, and very well documented on the internets. I figured it would be a snap.

I drove down to my local Kragen Auto Parts, which isn’t really all that far away. It happens to be right next to my gym, so it all worked out. I went in, and asked for pads and rotors for my car. I wasn’t too worried about cost, as this HAD to be done. I also figured it would be a few hundred dollars cheaper doing it myself vs. taking it to the shop to have it done. They had the pads on hand, but the rotors had to be ordered from a distributor in Santa Ana. They would arrive tomorrow. Tomorrow came… no call. Turned out to take four days for the rotors to arrive. Not really a huge deal, as this is not a super pressing need. But still. Four days longer than expected.
I finally get my disks and rotors all set up in the garage, and realized I still had a couple of needs before I got started. I try to be really religious about wearing latex gloves when I do car work. I just hate dirty hands, especially dirt under your fingernails. Nasty. I also needed some C clamps to push in the pistons on the calipers. I headed to Home Depot, and picked up the gloves. And forgot the C Clamps. I was pretty frustrated at this point, so I didn’t bother going back that day. Went the next day.

Finally the weekend arrives, and it’s time to take a shot at replacing the parts. I get the car aligned in the garage so that there’s enough room on the passenger side for me to work on the car. I go into the trunk and get out the jack. Only to find that there’s a puddle of water in the spare wheel well! I recently had a gallon of water capsize in the trunk, but I thought it had all evaporated. Guess not. Took, about 10 minutes to scoop the water out with a plastic cup, and then dry the whole thing up with paper towels.

So I have the jack, and I’m ready to start. The way the process works is that you first loosen the lug nuts, THEN jack the car up, then take the lug nuts off.
But tragedy struck. It looks like I have aftermarket rims on my car, and the lug nuts are not a standard size. They are too big for the wrench that is included with my jack. Ugh. I grabbed the lug wrench from my Honda, but it was too small. Back to Kragen. I pick up an lug nut wrench in the right size, and while I’m there get a set of wedges to keep the car from rolling while it’s jacked up. Another forty bucks. Not a bid deal, as these are things I need.

I get back home, loosen the lug nuts and jack the car up. I even took this opportunity to use one of my fancy new jack stands. Pro style!!! I get all the lug nuts off. But nothing happens. The wheel spins, but it will not lift off. I’m confused. My first thought is that the rim is some kind of locking rim. I head upstairs and get on the internet to research my rim style, to try to figure out if there’s some trick. Along the way, after reading some forums, I come to the conclusion that my rim is actually rust fused onto the rotor. Rats. I read about some techniques to loosen it up, but am unsure.

Just to double check, I put the lug nuts back on, and try the same thing on the back tire. I figured if the back tire just slid right off, that would mean that it was indeed rust fused. Or stuck some other way. But it would eliminate the possibility that it was a locking rim. Sadly, the back wheel suffered from the same malady. Bummer.
I went back to the front wheel. Jacked it up, took off the lug nuts. Then I started whacking it with a rubber mallet… which I just went to Home Depot to purchase. Nothing was happening. It was not loosening up at all. However, the clear coat on the aluminum WAS chipping off. Not the results I expected, or wanted. However, this made obvious to me something that was not clear before. Since I purchased the car, there have been all kinds of weird markings on my rims. I just figured it was the aluminum oxidizing or something. Nope. Sure looks a whole lot like someone whacked it with a mallet or a sledge. So the rust on the rims has been a problem for this car for a while. Thanks, Ohio. I beat the rim for about a half hour, and nothing happens. I give up.

A new day, and I have a new idea. I want to try the wheels on the other side. I figured maybe there’s the off chance that they were not fused, or something was different. So I drove the car into the garage and gave it a try. Good news is both wheels on the passenger side came right off, no problems. And yes, they are pretty rusted. Not SUPER rusted, but there’s a bit of rust on the rotors, and the inside of the rims. Bummer. Looks like I was on the right track after all. I put the wheels back on, and decide to re-attack the rear driver’s side wheel. I’ve got to break that rust seal somehow.

I go through the process of pounding the rim with my mallet for like ten minutes, and still nothing. I next try something I read about on the web. I loosened the lug nuts up, and then went for a drive. Just around my complex parking lot. I hit the brakes really hard. Took corners really tight, did all kinds of unusual acceleration, etc. When I got back to my garage, it LOOKS as if that did the trick, as the lug nuts were now tight. But alas, my time for my lunch break was up and I had to get back for a meeting.

So that’s where it stands right now. About a week longer than I expected, and about 50 extra bucks in tools and accessories.

Update: thanks to some help from an online blog about rust fused rims, I now have freed up ALL of my wheels. Today, I did just as the blog suggested. Loosened up the lug nuts, and then went driving. So I’m all set to go. Now I just need to find a few spare hours to take a shot at getting things fixed. Quite a journey so far!


Matt Petersen said...

Love the ambition of this project! If you are already having problems with rust-fused parts you will definitely need to buy some PB. PB is a penetrating catalyst that loosens rusted parts. I usually try a breaker bar first and if the bolt is still stuck just spray the hell out of it with PB and the problem is usually solved.

MattMunson said...

Thanks for the tip, Matt. I will pick some up just in case.