Hot Rod Bomb – No Brakes!

Tips For How To Avoid Brake Failure

brake failure, brakes, drum brakes, drum brake failure

As  GreaseGirl, I’m always attempting to share with you all the things I’m learning within the hot rod world. Owning my own classic car, I’ve experienced a pretty steep learning curve to say the least… and brake importance is just one more thing I needed to learn! So read on to hear about my own misadventure and hopefully avoid your own!!!

“Collision closely avoided. But my brakes are gone! I have NO brakes…what’s a girl to do!?”

I’d had friends see my brake line situation and tell me I should do some work on it. I’ve considered changing my master cylinder. But when your classic car is your only car… sometimes your time and money get spent on what’s needed to keep it running. Lately that list has been pretty involved with “Studie” My 1955 Studebaker pictured above. From a new exhaust system to changing my transmission and rebuilding my front suspension – at each turn of the road I’ve learned a lot and improved Stude’s performance greatly.

What was next on my list of things to do to my 1955 Studebaker??? You guessed it, brakes. What I had in mind was replacing my old-style Studebaker master cylinder with a new dual-reservoir one that I could add a booster to. Then either re-run the brake lines or at least change out the rubber tube segments to steel-braided line. But… I hadn’t done it yet.

Sit down, grab a beverage, and let me tell ya the whole story…

As it happens, I was driving across town to Santa Monica to go swimming and then to work. It was warm and sunny So Cal afternoon. So warm in fact, that I’d taken off my outer layers while driving and was in my swimsuit and flip flops. Even though it was pre-rush hour, traffic was like molassas. I floored it past the long line of cars at my regular exit to get off on the next one. From the main street I took a right into a residential neighborhood to head for a public swimming pool.

Every block in this Santa Monica neighborhood has a stop sign. Stop and go. Stop and go. Stop and… wait, I’m not stopping!!! Oh *@&#*!!! When I stepped on the brakes I got a couple seconds of “stop” out of ‘em… and then NOTHING!!!

Another car was just beginning to make a left-hand turn in front of me when it saw me run the stop sign. It honked and swerved. I cranked Studie’s steering and made a right-hand turn. Collision closely avoided. But my brakes are gone! I have NO brakes…what’s a girl to do!? The only thing I could think to do was pump my brake pedal… and that wasn’t doing any good.

My car was barreling ahead like a bomb for its target. I was on a residential street, lined with parked cars, with a stop sign at every corner. Worse is my horn doesn’t work, so I couldn’t alert others of my distress – although maybe they got a clue when they heard me yelling “F**K” out the window and saw the look on my face! Oh, and an E-brake? I don’t have one of those either, who knew it would be so needed?!?

I roll through the next stop sign, luckily nobody was there. The next block Studie still isn’t slowing down. The only thing I could think to do was try to pop my car into Park. I grimaced at the thought of botching up those new shiny gears inside of my just-put-in 700R4 transmission. But if it means hurting the transmission vs. crashing my entire car, I’m choosing to hurt the transmission. Shifting it up into Park gives me a grinding sound but it wouldn’t shift out of Drive.

Seeing a small patch of curbside vacant finally, I try rubbing up against it to help slowing down but it’s not a long enough length of curbside to make any difference. After rolling through stop sign #3, I’m looking ahead to see what’s coming… the next intersection is a main street! Although Stude has slowed down some she continues at a healthy roll. I can not go into that intersection! The thought of having to crash my car into something almost makes me cry.

Rolling by a lady exiting her car at the side of the street, I yell to get her attention. What could she do? I don’t know! I was thinking If only someone could slow down my car a little from the front, maybe it would stop. The lady gives me a strange look and turns away. If not her, then maybe I should try stopping my car from the outside. I open my door and look at the ground. It looks like I could jump out of my car and do okay.

Slinging my flip flops off so I don’t trip over them, I open my car door and hop out… bare feet, swimsuit and all…  I run to the front edge of my car and start pushing push back with all of my weight. You guessed it, this does absolutely nothing. What was I thinking??? My insignificant weight is going to stop the entire inertia of the Studebaker?!?!

I know… you’re reading this and shaking your head. You have a very funny picture of me, in a bathing suit and no shoes looking at Studie with an empty driver’s seat rolling down the street. Laugh if you must! But I was a girl in distress with no one there to tell me what to do. I took one look at my driver-less car and the complete stupidity of me jumping out hits me. I run around and jump back inside. The intersection is quickly approaching about 100 feet away. I’m beginning to look for what I could possibly run into that would cause the least damage. When all of the sudden…

Studie Stops. She stops!

I don’t know if I had finally turned off the engine (something I should’ve done first.) Or maybe I down-shifted it into First gear (something I should’ve done second.) Or I might have tried popping it into Park again. But she stopped! Stude stopped!!! I let out a string of expletives and took a deep breath.

Within moments a few guys who saw this catastrophe at its start came over to help me. I really just wanted a hug. Together we pushed Stude to a safe spot… and the rest is history.

What was the problem? A rubber segment of the brake line sprung a leak. The rubber segment of line that goes into my rear tire was very close to my hot exhaust pipe which ate at the rubber until it finally gave way and broke when I stepped on the brakes at the stop sign. I’m guessing it probably had a leak for awhile (perhaps that’s why I’ve needed to add more brake fluid about once every month or two!)

Brake Line Failure, rubber brake hose, brakes, drum brake failure

The moral of this story is – make sure your brakes are safe! Here are some things you can do.

  • If you’re running drums like mine with a single-reservoir master cylinder replace it with a dual-reservoir master cylinder. A dual reservoir master cylinder is like having a back-up! If you have a leaking wheel cylinder or your line fails, then only ½ of the brake system (front or back) fails since you’ve got separated reservoirs creating pressure for your front and back brakes. I’ll be doing this very soon on my Studebaker – thanks to parts from ABS Brakes!
  • Another safety measure is simply checking your system to ensure proper lines, fittings, and no leaks. Replace any lines that look worn down.
  • Older cars have some rubber segments of brake line. These can be replaced with ones that are covered in braided metal. Some complain this affects the feel of your brakes, but it really is safer.
  • Make sure your brake fluid level is full. If you’re losing brake fluid, figure out why.
  • Make sure you have an Emergency Brake that works! E-brakes are connected to your rear-tire brake shoes – so by pulling your E-brake handle you’re manually engaging your rear brakes.

brake failure, brakes, drum brakes, drum brake failure

These are all fairly simple things that will make your old drum brake system work more safely. The last thing you want is to lose your brakes!

If you ever do find yourself in a situation similar to mine however – keep these things in mind.

  • Pump your brake pedal. Everyone’s heard to pump the brakes. This may work because it will help to build up pressure. But, like in my case, it might not work.
  • Turn off your engine. You don’t need anything extra idling you forward. I suppose if it was a manual, this would kind of happen anyhow – but mine is an automatic.
  • Down-shift… let your transmission help slow you down. My transmission wouldn’t allow me to shift it into Park, but I could’ve down-shifted into Second or First gear.
  • Roll your tires up against a curb. By positioning yourself just parallel to a curbside you’re safely creating a force to slow you down – without running into something.
  • Roll up an incline. If there are any hillsides around… go that way.
  • Think safety! Do everything you need to keep yourself and others safe. If an impact is going to happen, do what you can to make it minimal.
  • Think more safety! Focus on your brake system before it fails!

I hope my story, amusing as it may have been, has let you learn through my misadventure. That’s what I’m trying to do here as GreaseGirl… we’ve all got to learn sometime and that will include some mistakes. Keep learning along with me and hopefully I can save you a few of the mistakes!

Safe and Happy Trails!

-Grease Girl