A customer recently brought his Ford in for service. At the time he was informed he needed new bakes front and rear. The customer declined the repair, citing “I can do that myself”. No problem at all, give us a call if there is a repair we can help you with.
A couple weeks later the customer returned, asking that the brakes be bled. He had replaced the brake pads, and had the rotors turned, but ever since the brake service he had a spongy brake pedal. Not knowing exactly what when wrong, we complied with the request and found that no matter how much the brake system was bled, the pedal was not quite right. The first time the pedal was depressed, it was soft, nearly going to the floor. If the pedal was pumped, the brakes would operate normally after the second or third pump. It seemed to be the classic air bubble, or a bad master cylinder. The question remained, why can’t we bleed the bubble out, and how could a brake service cause a bad master cylinder?
Further inspection found the cause of this wacky pedal pressure problem. The right rear caliper was damaged. If you pumped the brake pedal, the caliper would extend out to the pad, eventually building hydraulic pressure, and thus the brakes would work. The problem occurred when the brake pedal was released. The caliper would retract back in (as seen in the video below). Not exactly proper.
It is important to note, on many rear brake calipers, the cylinder must be rotated while compressing the caliper. It is also important to note that on certain vehicles, one of the calipers is Left Hand thread, the other is Right Hand thread. This caliper was damaged because the customer compressed the caliper while turning it the wrong way. When the customer was shown the issue, he told us he “had a lot of trouble” with that caliper, and that he had to “open the bleeder valve to get the caliper to compress”. The customer then paid to have the caliper replaced, have the system bled (twice), and for the diagnostics.
I am not knocking the customer for trying to perform the brake service himself. By all means, we simply are here to help maintain and repair vehicles. If the customer wants to repair the vehicle, we are always fine with that. There are two important lessons to be learned though.
Firstly, we often see customers spend more money in the long run by trying to repair a vehicle themselves. Modern vehicles are more complicated than ever. Even the simplest services, such as oil changes, now require specialty tools. Between making mistakes, not having the proper tools, or not being sure about what, or how to repair something, you can unwittingly cost yourself hundreds of dollars.
Secondly, the advice I give to anyone attempting a repair, “If it seems wrong, it is”. To quote one of the best technicians I’ve ever know, “No job is hard, you either don’t have the proper tools, or you don’t know what you are doing”. If something does not want to go together, come apart, or do anything you want it to, something is not right. It is best to stop and ask for help. Had the customer stopped and called for a little help, we would have told him he was turning the piston the wrong way, and saved him hundreds.