Reader Question: Caravan Brake Pad Issue Follow up

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Jody asks: Thanks very much for the reply and information (see the original question here).

I have been using a mechanic who otherwise seems reliable and fair. He states that rotors are cheaply made, and that even more expensive ones are not reliable, warping and wearing quickly, not justifying the extra cost. He states the calipers often freeze and this further diminishes the life of the brakes and requires a full replacement, pads rotors, calipers, about $600 for 2 wheels. A previous mechanic I had seen also mentioned the stuck caliper, sometimes only on one side but necessitating both sides be done as both calipers should be replaced at the same time. So, about every 10k miles I’ve done either the front or the back, alternating. This equals total brake replacement about every 20k miles. The boat and trailer is definitely under 2000 lbs. even fully loaded. I also take pains to try to wash the wheels and brakes after driving on salted roads. Most of the miles I put on the van are highway miles, although there is some driving on hills and in city traffic. I guess if I got a newer model I will likely have the same problem.

My reply: It is common for the rotors used in modern cars to be thin (to save weight) and this more easily damaged by heat (and air guns). The caliper freezing may have to do with the brine spraying; I wrote about this a few weeks ago. See here. In my opinion, this is causing real damage, including accelerated and more severe corrosion. But hey, it might snow tomorrow.

That said, others seem to be having similar issues (see here) and it is possible that the brakes (rotors and calipers) are undersized for the vehicle and the loads – which is not your fault or the van’s but Dodge’s.

Still, I’d give thought to a set of aftermarket performance rotors and maybe even calipers – which will be much better-made than the factory parts and give you much better braking performance. The cost will also likely be less over time as you won’t be spending $1,200 every 20,000 miles for new brakes!

. . .

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  1. Check out IT’S a little pricey, but you pay upfront and get better components, disc, calipers, and drums and pads, etc, and can spend your time driving not sitting at shops and your $ at gas pumps and not mechanics. Good luck

  2. 1) If the rear brakes are not working properly then the front brakes would wear out faster.

    2) I made the mistake several years ago of buying cheapest pads because I thought they would wear out faster and save the rotors. Turns out they get hot faster instead which warps the rotors. Live and learn: buy better pads.

    3) You can change the rotors and pads yourself in about 30 minutes per side. Parts are usually under $200. Half the work is jacking up and taking wheel/tire off. Calipers you have to bleed system so more complicated.

    4) I’ve only ever had one caliper ever fail (stuck!) and that was in Alaska 40+ yrs ago. I had all sorts of mechanical problems there that I never had in the semi-arid mountain West. I only replaced caliper on one side.

    • Anon, after about 280,000 miles on the wife’s Cutlass, I had a caliper that wouldn’t work properly. Well, I could have traded in the old ones and got new ones and paid a lot of money. I bought kits and haven’t had to kit a caliper before although I’ve used the same size O ring, cleaned everything well, wire wheeled the part that goes inside and they worked like new. I mean really, how much work is it to remove the O ring and seal, brush it all down on a wire wheel, put it back together and it works fine? It’s good for mechanics who can make the change quickly, charge book price and be done. It makes little difference in the time to change calipers.

      One factor that keeps me buying one ton pickups(single wheel), is there is little difference in fuel mileage on 4WD models. I won’t speak of what a lightweight POS F 150 gets on mileage although I’ve never know one that got as good as a GM. But the one ton is just so much better made and even the old ones with rear shoes last one hell of a lot longer than disc models. In fact, GM went to disc rears in ’08 or ’09, ran them for a couple years and then went back to shoes and drums. They finally went back to rear discs but my neighbor who works a 3/4 T 4WD Chevy(or did till a couple weeks ago when it was traded for a new one ton. His company wised up too.

      He would sometimes ruin the rear pads in 2 weeks of running through deep mud all day(oil pumper). Meanwhile the OLD one ton with drums just kept on going with no problems. Chevy had, maybe still has a factory steel wheel that’s sorta finned for obvious reasons. But the backing plate and the fins that are supposedly moving air into the brakes are moving vast amount of mud in there. That’s a killer for anything. To be honest, I don’t care what brand you buy, replacing the wheels with some rock crawler style aluminum wheels(they’re thick enough in the center that the lug capnut barely protrudes beyond the wheel and the edges are so thick the really short valve stems(SS shorties)barely protrude beyond the rim so there is nothing for anything to catch. They have holes in them that ventilate well but are not drilled at an angle to funnel crap into the brakes.

      You don’t have to convince people who work a truck hard to get the best they can and a one ton is by far the best truck to have and don’t spend your money on the fancy corporate aluminum wheels, get some aftermarket made for protecting everything they cover.

      • Shit! I lost my whole fokking response! Try again ….

        Anyway, my failed caliper froze up partway engaged. Pulled right when driving and left when braking. I just threw on a new one. I have rebuilt hydraulic cylinders; used to buy a ~$200 cylinder from junkyard for $5 and make it like new for $2 parts.

      • I’m terrified of rear disc brakes and any AWD vehicle with IRS and CV axles. Enough trouble with that stuff on the front but at least you can usually hear it before ruining the brakes or wheels. I’ve found that often you can just back up and stuff will fall out.

      • I’ve been told that single wheel 2500HD and 3500HD are the same except for rear springs. I found a 2016 “work truck” online with 75K miles, 2500HD with 6.0 gas. I want an older pickup but not one with 200K++ miles 🙁

  3. Wow. I haven’t noticed the use of the brine where I live. They definitely love the granules. It’s possible I’ve been driving on brined roads and didn’t realize it.

    It sounds like it may be a combination of issues. First the brakes are probably under built for the vehicle and can’t handle the loads the vehicle is rated for. If the van is only used for the driver, a couple of passengers and some groceries, the brakes may be barely adequate. But it seems towing even 1500 lbs must degrade them rapidly. Combine that extra weight with the caliper problems and road salt and I guess that’s the formula for brakes used up in 20k miles.

    I do always use the parking brake and the mechanic did mention that linkage was related to the stuck caliper at least once.

    The only thing that doesn’t make sense to me is why this isn’t more widely known and discussed. If in fact the brakes are under built for this vehicle, one would think it would be a familiar complaint since this is a very common vehicle.

    As I say, I do like the features of the van. Although a gas pig it is my understanding this is slightly less of a gas pig than some of the other similarly powered minivans. I probably will get another. If I have the same problems, I’ll try replacing with upgraded components and see if it is cost effective.

    Thanks very much for all the feedback and information.



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