Thursday, February 14, 2013

Brake Failure - don't ignore the lines!


When’s the last time you inspected your brake lines?  Never, you say?  Maybe it’s time for a quick check . . .

The lines below were photographed on a 2004 Land Rover Discovery that was ten years old in the late winter of 2013.  The vehicle is in good shape, not rusted or damaged.  But it does live in New England, and that means the bare metal underneath is exposed to snow and salt.


We see a lot of "winter vehicles" this time of year at Robison Service.

Modern cars have pretty good corrosion protection for frames and bodies but we often see “other metal” left totally bare and unprotected.  That shows pretty clearly in the steel of the brake line ends.

Do you see the dampness - the darkening on the curved rubber hose - that's brake fluid seeping out.  And look at the deterioration of the top right fitting!

As you can see, the steel crimps at the ends of the rubber hose have rusted and swelled, and the connections have started to seep.  You wouldn’t feel that as a driver, and the level wouldn’t drop fast enough to put the BRAKE fluid warning light until a few months had passed.  This is a dangerous situation.

Why, you ask?

The connection between the rubber hose and the steel crimp has obviously begun to fail.  The steel crimp is clearly weakened.  What do you think might happen in a panic stop, with 2000 pounds of pressure in the brake line.

Bang!  Fluid sprayed everywhere and a line that blew off the clamp.  No brakes and a car rolling free, half a second from crashing.

And that’s the end of the brakes, the car, and maybe the driver too.  Sure, you could pump the pedal and get some brakes back, but with half a second in an emergency . . . that’s how many accidents happen.  At sixty miles an hour you're covering a hundred feet a second.  How much "think, react, pump" time does that give you, on a crowded road?  Mechanical failure has probably caused far more crashes than you’d think.  Many times the area that failed is subsequently crushed in the accident and it’s impossible to figure out what happened afterward.  The driver says “the brakes didn't work” but he gets surcharged anyway unless he can prove it.

And with brakes being brakes, he might not even be around to do that, if they failed at high speed!

For that reason, I urge you to check your car for incipient safety failures like this.  While you’re under there, take a look at the fuel lines.  Modern cars run 40-70 pounds of pressure, and gas spraying at high pressure near a hot exhaust is even more of a hazard than failing brakes.  It’s not too comfortable climbing out of a car when the floor is burning beneath you.

The picture below shows the cure for this car – a set of high performance braided stainless brake hoses from our friends at AtlanticBritish.  This hose kit is half a day to a day’s work to install depending on rust – there are a total of six flex hoses on a Discovery.  If your steel lines are rusty, the job can expand dramatically.  The flex lines are out at the wheels - easily accessible - whereas the steel lines are tied to the frame; carrying fluid from the master cylinder to the four corners of the vehicle.  The steel lines are much more inaccessible, as they were threaded through the frame early in the car's production process.  Replacement of steel lines can easily eat up several days of additional labor.  The photos in this story show a Land Rover but most other cars are similar.  Rolls Royce – with three times as many hoses – is notably more work but they don’t tend to be as rusty either.

On most cars a set of hoses won't set you back much more that $200.  It's pretty cheap considering the risk of letting them fail. 


This is what the new lines look line, installed, for comparison:






In this particular vehicle we had to change three steel lines.  The remaining lines were okay.  Seeing the deterioration makes me wonder how many other ten year old cars are out there, uninspected, on the edge of catastrophic failure.  

It’s something to think about, the next time your car is on a lift

John Robison

J E Robison Service
Springfield, MA 01104
413-785-1665

No comments: