Offcuts: Them’s the Brakes By: Don Heisz

I must say that I have pretty bad luck with cars. If you venture back in time through these Offcuts, you will likely find references to how my car was falling apart, how it got totally destroyed in a collision, how I immediately smashed a tail light and wrecked the rear fender of its replacement, of how that one got written off when I got into another accident, and now I have a minivan.

I think the minivan is great. All my junk fits in it. And I have a lot of stuff that I need to carry around when I go to do a job. But there is one failing of the van. It seems to need its front brakes done every 17000 km.

That’s 10563.31 miles for those of you who don’t know what a km is. I must admit, I don’t really “know” what either of them are. I mean, if someone told me, “Go walk a mile,” I would probably not walk a mile. Then, if someone said, “Go walk a km,” I’d probably walk the same distance I did when told to walk a mile. It would be handy, since I’d just be walking back to where I started.

Anyway, brakes get expensive when you get them done by a professional. The professional insists on doing everything properly. “Properly” seems to mean “Replace everything.”

I’m a little familiar with disk brakes. You have a caliper, which squeezes the brake pads to pinch against the rotor. Calipers can seize. I understand that. But should I pay to have them replaced in case they will at some point in the future seize? But let’s skip that for now.

I recognize that brakes, like everything else in the world, work best when everything is perfect. And when the pads are shot, they tend to start to grind some Deep Purple into the rotors (sometimes, Motorhead). Since the van is not equipped with a needle to play that record, the professional insists on replacing it with a new, shiny, blank cd-r.

It’s a cd-r because it will eventually get a bunch of grooves.

Anyway, I got fed up with paying for all that so decided to go get myself some new brake pads and screw the rotor. If you can’t get two sets of brake pads out of one set of rotors, then something is wrong with the whole design. Seriously, you don’t need to buy new rims for your ten-speed when the rubber wears off the brakes, do you?

I am not equipped to work on a car or van. I don’t have any of the things you should have to do such things. And, apart from knowing how to do a handful of things, there are a lot of things I just don’t know. Such lack of knowledge will become evident presently.

I removed my jack and “tire iron” from the back of the van. I did the regular: loosen the lugs, jack up the van, remove the lugs, take off the tire.

While jacking up the van, I thought, “Maybe I should have raised this jack up on some blocks of wood or something. It looks very high.” Bah, who cares?

So, I worked a bit more and got the old brake pads off. Nothing left on them. I slipped the new ones in to see if they fit, since the guy who sold them to me wasn’t sure what kind of caliper was on the van. He’d asked me, “Is it single piston or dual?” I responded, “How should I know?”

Anyway, the pads fit.

Then the jack bent sideways and the front end of the van collapsed to the pavement of my driveway.

Those grooves aren’t as deep as they look. The gouge in the driveway is deeper than it looks.

You may or may not be surprised to learn I grew quite angry.

After storming around the house for a few minutes, yelling at the walls and everything else that I suddenly found offensive, I went back out and took the smaller jack out of the back of my wife’s car (This should be where some of you are thinking, “I didn’t know John was married.” This is where I say, “I’m not John.”).

I drove (using a hammer) some cut off pieces of 2×6 under the rear wheels to keep the van from rolling – which would have been a good thing to do about twenty minutes earlier. Then I started jacking up the van. I used both jacks, even though the van’s jack is now askew (high quality – can’t even withstand being crushed by a van). I also put blocks under the jacks. I also put a concrete block beside the jacks, so the rotor would not reach the pavement if everything went bad again.

Luckily, nothing went wrong. I got that first side done and then did the other side. I buttoned everything up, pulled out the jacks and the blocks under the jacks and the blocks under the rear wheels, started the van and pumped the brakes and then put the van in reverse, backed up a bit, went forward a bit, went back a bit, went forward a bit, went back a bit more and actually drove right over the concrete block.

But at least it cost less than getting someone else to do it…..