Make your car’s brakes as good as new – and keep them that way
Overhaul your braking system this weekend.
Many excuses are made for classics with terrible brakes. ‘It’s like that – it’s old’ and ‘they were all like that back in the day’ are favourites. In fact, the problem is one of decades of neglect and piecemeal repairs. Virtually every part of a braking system is subject to deterioration, whether the car’s in regular use or not. Periodically, the system requires an overhaul from stem to stern.
As well as the safety considerations, good brakes are a joy to use – you’ll have a much better driving experience as a result. A complete brake overhaul can be accomplished in a couple of weekends and the parts required are often surprisingly cheap. It’s the perfect winter project, in fact.
Components such as discs, drums and handbrake linkages can be reused if they’re in good order, but every hydraulic part that isn’t perfect should be replaced. It’s possible – but not that likely – that master cylinders and calipers will be in good enough condition to rebuild yourself with new seals and pistons. Beware of new old stock parts – they may be older than the ones you’ve removed. If new parts aren’t available, there are firms that can put stainless sleeves into cylinders and source or remake caliper pistons at modest cost. Brake shoes can be relined; discs and drums skimmed if they’re worn within tolerance. Reusing hydraulic parts in marginal condition is a bad idea – it’ll quickly cause the system to become faulty or leaky again.
We recommend filling the rebuilt system with DOT5 silicone fluid rather than DOT4. DOT4 absorbs moisture, leading to corroded and seized cylinders. Silicone fluid actively repels moisture, which extends cylinder life considerably, particularly if the car’s laid up in winter. Blow out pipes with compressed air at every stage of the process. Use this guide alongside your workshop manual, which will be useful to check details and identify the bodges of previous repairers.