I have read that the early W-body gm cars
(1988 - 1994) had problems with rear disc
brakes. I read that the only way for the rear
disc brakes to be properly adjusted, was to
constantly use the parking brake.
I own a 1996 grand prix, and I wonder what
adjusts the ratcheting device on the rear calipers ?
Is it still the parking brake ?
I live in the Midwest, so using the parking brake
is not a good idea, because the road salt quickly
rusts the parking brake cables. Once you press
down on the parking brake, it will most likely
stay applied, no matter what you do.So most
people never use the damn thing.
I am hoping that the 1996 uses a different way
to keep the rear calipers adjusted. I cant find
anything in my manual about it (or the internet).
Please help me to understand how it works.
Your regular service brakes self-adjust themselves as the pads wear
by piston movement in the caliper bores, just like the front calipers.
The ratcheting device is used only by the parking brake.
Where the problem comes in with the parking brake is that if the
parking brake is not used for a long period of time and the pads have
worn, the piston will have traveled too far outward for the parking
brake assembly to properly apply the parking brakes until it is
applied and released a number of times (the ratchet mechanism has to
"catch up" with the piston).
If you never use your parking brake your regular brakes will work
fine, but your parking brake may get to the point where it will not
hold the car..
Actually, no...this isn't what is happening. The ratchet mechanism
(if working properly) does not have to "catch up" with the piston,
it happens automatically. I've replaced numerous pistons on these
rear calipers, have seen how they operate, and the big problem is
that they simply stopped working. In fact, what usually ends up
happening is that not only does the park brake not work properly,
but the piston is unable to "stay out" against the rotor as the pads
wear, and you begin to have a low brake pedal. In these cases,
I've successfully "adjusted" the caliper so that everything works,
but it doesn't last. The caliper then has to be manually adjusted
every so often. But since the rear calipers on those cars were
about 3-400 dollars each (GM), most people were happy to
simply adjust them.
The second generation of W-body rear brake calipers had none
of these problems. I believe they started in 1996.
All I can say is that is how the action of the older claipers was
described to be. So far (knock on wood) I've have zero problems with
the rear calipers on my '94 Regal, but I do know of folks that have
had problems (and all of them have lived in snow areas where various
chemicals are used on the roads for snow control).
BTW, can the newer type calipers be retrofitted onto the older model
"W" body cars without having to change the rear knuckle?
We had a lot of problems with those older style calipers up here
in Canada. Actually, that's an understatement. I'd be surprised if
there was one car from those years that didn't eventually experience
problems with the rear calipers. Along with what was essentially
a one way clutch inside the piston that refused to adjust properly, we
had a lot more issues with the caliper slide pins seizing up. The inability
of the piston to adjust properly was largely ignored as folks were not
going to be replacing calipers on that scale.
No, totally different design. Wonderful calipers tho, even with
tons of miles on the cars, you can screw the piston back into
the bore with a pair of needle nose pliers. The older style, even
when relatively new, were a real pain to retract.
In all respect, the older rear calipers didnt work that way either, Bill.
The parking brake on most four wheel GM disc brake systems was manually
applied via a cable to the rear caliper piston assembly
( There WERE variations where there was a separate parking brake minidrum
to hold the vehicle. Corvettes among others might have had such systems.)
Since there was a solid connection involved through piston to the pad,
automatic adjustment was a necessity. The piston did not travel freely
as it would in a front caliper.
The ratcheting mechanism provided, on those occasions when it worked,
the adjustment to take the slack out.
If you didn't use the parking brake, the automatic adjustment didn't work.
Even if you DID use it, they often froze up and had to be manually freed up.
When the rear brakes dont apply properly, all the braking energy goes to
the front rotors and you are soon out of pads and have burned up rotors.
I have worked on a ton of these, starting in about 1989.
Just some clarification here. Your first sentence above says the
ratcheting mechanism provides the adjustment, the second
paragraph says the parking brake is what was necessary to
make the automatic adjustment work. Am I reading this
right? The two statements seem to contradict each other.
I get your point, Ian. Those old systems were conditionally** automatic;>)
Dusting off my brain, here is the way I remember it...
The ratcheting system on the rear calipers was actuated by the parking brake
When you set the parking brake, it put some clicks on the adjusters inside
caliper assembly in order to remove the slack. Of course, if they were
no adjustment was possible or even needed.
If you didnt activate the parking brake, the rears did not adjust properly
models, IIRC. You could quickly get outside the range at which the rear
It was functionally and conditionally automatic -if you used the parking
And if it weren't frozen..
The newer 4 wheel disc systems dont seem to cause the problems these old
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