Automotive repair looks so easy in the manuals. Loosen this, remove that, replace those, tighten here. Done! Then you get under a real car and it’s more like, what’s that? Where are those? This isn’t a nut, it’s just a ball of congealed roadgrime. Where is the nut? This has been loose this whole time? Where’s the new part? Why doesn’t it fit? How is it dark already? Are spiders this big native to this state?
Like many things in life, the Martha Stewart Living photos don’t represent the reality, which is why I’m here to say that sometimes, it’s ok to do things wrong. Here’s an example. HOT ROD Magazine’s Brandan Gillogly was over using my backyard to do a rear brake job on his 2007 Chevy Colorado. Brando and I commute in that truck a lot, and the squeaking had passed the gentle whale song period and moved into rat in a trap in your wall volume. There’s a lot of stop-and-go traffic on our commute. It was annoying.
Brake pad replacements are pretty straightforward, take off the worn ones, replace with new ones, done. Oh, but Brandan didn’t have stock rear brakes on the truck, and even though the aftermarket set-up was supposed to take stock GM pads, guess what? Exactly, the new pads were too thick to fit in the caliper over the aftermarket rotor. When we removed the old ones it became obvious from the wear pattern that they had never fit right in the first place. Now, we could have gone back to the parts store and gone through all the possible brake pads in the hopes of finding some that fit both the caliper and the fat rotor, but it seemed easier to just make our new pads thinner. Have you ever tried to sand a brake pad? Keep in mind they are designed to last thousands of miles while being basically pressed against a hot cheese grater. Brandan felt that the solution was to push the truck in the street and set it on fire, but my boyfriend Tom—who generally hovers around in the background mocking us for being bad mechanics—saw it as a chance to use his new (very old, 1940s-era) Kearney-Trecker mill. So the first job for that venerable machine was the complete shadetree job of cutting down brake pads.
Before you freak out, know that we did wear safety equipment and that modern brake pads are not made of asbestos. Was it a good solution? Not really. The brake pads after we cut them were only a little thicker than the bad ones we removed, but a little thicker is better than nothing, and Brandan was happy the job was complete. Just one thing left to do, put the wheels on and torque them. That’s not hard. Well, it’s not hard until your lug-specific spline socket cracks right before the last lug nut. Once again Brandan decided fire was the answer, and this time Tom agreed, although he suggested welding up the crappy socket rather than burning down the truck. “Worst welding ever!” he said, as he torched a hole through the side of it on the first arc. Eventually it was whole enough to tighten the lug, and we had the moment of truth. Would the brakes still squeak? Brandan got in and turned the key. I stood to the side, better safe than flattened. The truck rolled backwards and came to a halt. “It stops,” Brandan said, and it was true. It stopped, and it did not squeak. We could have done things the right way, but then Brandan and his truck would still be in my driveway. Sometimes you just have to do it wrong, so it gets done.