Ser­vic­ing brake pads

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Learn how to re­place brake pads

The brake pads on your car­a­van are just as im­por­tant as those on your car. There­fore, it’s im­por­tant to check them reg­u­larly, and no, it won’t take weeks.

Car­a­van brake pads usu­ally last a very long time, but that doesn’t mean you can just use them in­def­i­nitely and sim­ply be­lieve that they’ll be fine. Your car­a­van’s brakes might not work as of­ten as your car’s, but when you need them, they need to work well.

Con­sider a car­a­van with a GVM of 1 200 kg be­ing towed at 100 km/h. If the tow­ing ve­hi­cle would come to an im­me­di­ate stop, the weight with which the car­a­van presses against your car will be 300 tons, says Prof. Fran­cois Smit from the De­part­ment of Ap­plied Math­e­mat­ics at Stel­len­bosch Uni­ver­sity. The ap­plied math isn’t the only con­sid­er­a­tion; the weight you tow has a huge in­flu­ence on how well your ve­hi­cle can brake.

Let’s say you try to brake evenly with your load and stop in five se­conds. The ef­fec­tive weight press­ing against your car will be about 700 kg more than the weight of your car­a­van. If you have to stop sud­denly at speed, and your car­a­van’s brakes are worn or not prop­erly ad­justed, there’s a lot more pres­sure on your car’s brakes.

And that’s where things can go wrong. In­stead of tak­ing this risk, rather take a few min­utes and check your car­a­van’s brakes.


Ser­vice your brakes at least once a year. If you don’t go camp­ing of­ten, you can do it ev­ery 18 months. It isn’t dif­fi­cult to ser­vice the brakes your­self. Worn brakes don’t make that grind­ing sound the ones on your car make when they’re old, so they don’t give you any warn­ing. And even if you’ve ser­viced your car­a­van re­cently, it still gives you peace of mind to know that you checked your brakes be­fore a trip.

If you check them and re­alise they need to be re­placed, even some­one with 10 thumbs could do it.


Wheel and deal Ser­vice one wheel at a time. Make sure your car­a­van is on a level sur­face. Put a rock or brick in front of and be­hind the other wheels for safety.

Re­mem­ber to re­lease the hand­brake, oth­er­wise you won’t be able to re­move the drum. Take cover! (see the illustration on page 51) Po­si­tion a flat-head screw­driver be­hind the ridge where the dust cap 1 and drum 3 meet.

Tap the back of the screw­driver lightly with a ham­mer above the dust cap. Ro­tate the drum as you tap the screw­driver into the gap to make sure the cover comes off evenly. Off with its head Straighten the two ends of the split pin with a pair of pli­ers and take it out. You should be able to re­move the castel­lated nut 2 now. Use a mon­key wrench to loosen the nut if it’s too tight. Be­hind it, you’ll find a loose washer that comes off with the drum. Knock-knock Tap the drum with a ham­mer while ro­tat­ing it to loosen it up. Pull it to­wards you. Re­mem­ber, one of the wheel bear­ings sits on the out­side of the drum, right next to the washer. Try to keep it in place. Off the hook The two brake pads 5 are se­cured with a spring 8 to the drum 12 . Place your fin­ger on the back of the plate, where the spring hooks onto the washer, 9 and press the spring so that it un­hooks. Un­hook the ex­pander 4 from the Bow­den ca­ble 10.

The brake pads and ex­pander should be loose now – re­move them. Spray a bit of Q20 into the brake ca­ble tube from the drum’s side. Just like a bi­cy­cle’s brake ca­ble some­time’s doesn’t re­lease when you stop brak­ing, an over­run brake sys­tem on your car­a­van can get stuck if the ca­ble isn’t well lu­bri­cated. Look closely If the brake pads have less than 3 mm of pad­ding left, it’s time for new ones. You can buy a new set for around R350, or have the old ones re­treated for about R120 per set. If the pads are worn down com­pletely and you’ve lit­er­ally been brak­ing with steel on steel, the drum is prob­a­bly dam­aged.

You’ll have to have the drum skimmed to get it smooth again. Most brake ser­vice cen­tres can do this.

Re­mem­ber, car­a­van brake drums are thin­ner than those of a car and if the drum is heav­ily dam­aged, skim­ming might not be an op­tion. Skim­ming costs about R230 per drum, and a new drum costs R600 up to R700. Get a grip Sand down the new pads and the in­side of the drum with coarse sand­pa­per (P60 grit) to en­sure the new brakes grip well from the start. The new brake pads might also be too thick for the drum, in which case you’ll have to sand them down un­til they fit in­side. Go nuts Slacken the ad­juster 11 com­pletely. The cor­rect di­rec­tion dif­fers on each side. Look be­hind the back plate, next to the hole through which you make ad­just­ments with a screw­driver. You’ll see an ar­row. Turn the nut in the op­po­site di­rec­tion un­til it’s screwed in com­pletely. This dis­en­gages the brakes and makes it eas­ier to put back the drum later on. Put it back where you found it The brake pads are the same on ei­ther side on car­a­vans built af­ter 1984. Car­a­vans built in that year or ear­lier have a top and bot­tom pad. They will only fit the way you re­moved them. Hook the spring 6 back be­tween the two pads and put them back as a unit into the drum. Now put back the top spring that presses against the brake pad, then the bot­tom one. Al­most done! Hook the ad­juster back into the brake ca­ble and put it back be­tween the brake pads. Put the drum back over the axle as far as you can push it by hand.

Make sure the bear­ing is still in place. Put back the washer and nut, but don’t fas­ten them com­pletely yet. Tap the drum back into place from the front, mak­ing sure it’s se­cured around the axle.

Fas­ten the castel­lated nut more, un­til just be­fore it ‘takes’. If you can now get the split pin through the hole on the side of the nut, so that it fits back into the axle, you put the pin back. If not, loosen the nut slightly un­til it sits well over the hole. Don’t fas­ten the nut com­pletely yet. You’ll dam­age the bear­ing.

Put back the wheel and turn the ad­juster through the hole at the back of the plate un­til the wheel won’t turn any­more. Now turn the ad­juster nut loose, one click at a time, un­til the wheel can turn again. This

way, your brake pads are only just not mak­ing con­tact with the drum.

Dead end When you pull your car­a­van for­ward by hand, and you pull the hand­brake up by three clicks, it should stop im­me­di­ately. You should still be able to move the car­a­van back­warks, though. If you en­gage the brake with six clicks, it shouldn’t be able to move back­wards ei­ther.

If this is not hap­pen­ing, take your car­a­van to a dealer so that they can ad­just the brakes fur­ther. go! Drive & Camp says If you’re re­plac­ing your brakes by your­self for the first time, record ev­ery­thing your re­move so that you can make sure you put ev­ery­thing back where it be­longs later.

1 Dust cap 2 Castel­lated nut

and washer 3 Drum 4 Ex­pander 5 Brake pad 6 Pull-off spring 7 Axle 8 T-spring 9 Washer 10 Bow­den ca­ble 11 Ad­juster 12 Back­ing plate

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