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VW Beetle Repair: Brakes

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When I bought the car, I though the brakes were adaquate, but pretty spongy. I tried to adjust the brakes to fix that, but I discovered that some of the brake adjust stars were frozen. I drove it that way for a year and a half, assuming that I'd fix it sometime.

Well, sometime came near the end of October, 2007. While I'd owned the car, the rear brake circuit needed to be topped up with brake fluid from time to time. One time at the parts store, I noticed that the fluid was low. I topped it up and returned home. I went to go driving the next day, and just out of paranoia, I checked the brake fluid reservoir. The rear circuit was DRY. So I filled it back up: and then I checked again a couple of hours later: Oh boy. (There was no brake fluid leaking out anywhere under the car.) I really can't drive the car that way, so for the second time in two years, I put the car up on jack stands...oddly enough, when I jacked the rear of the car up, brake fluid ran out the drain hole in the frame head:

The acute reason for de-comissioning the car was the leaking brake fluid...apparently inside the frame. However, taking the brakes off also gives easier access to the wheel bearings, and in the spirit of bringing the car up to current maintainence, I decided to re-pack (or replace) the wheel bearings as well.

To get at the rear wheel bearing assemblies, you remove the stub axles (the car is post-1967, so it has independent rear suspension and CV-joint axles (not swing axles)). So the first thing is to take off the outer CV joint; here starting with the right rear. The bolts that hold the CV joints on are unusual, the heads of the bolts are 8mm inner triple-square splines. There are two problems with this one. One is that they tend to fill with crud because they're under the car and get a lot of dust and dirt, not to mention periphrial oil from the engine. The crud makes it tough to get the tool to bite completely, and the 12-point head won't take a lot of torque I managed to get five of the bolts off, and stripped the sixth one. Argh.

[The intent of this page is to talk about wheel bearings and brakes, so I won't belabor the point. You CAN get a stripped bolt out by cutting a slot in the head and turning it with a screwdriver, but it helps to use the lock plate to rotate the screw a little to break it loose. In any case, it's worth the time to try really hard to clean out the heads of the bolts before you go torquing on them. ]

Re-doing the brakes during the winter of 2007/2008 ended up being a pretty major project. When I had all four drums off, I realized that all four of them had been machined too far (one was more than 1/8 of a inch over spec), so I replaced them all. I didn't replace any of the bearings; once I got all the goop and old grease off of them, they seemed to be pretty tight.

I pretty much replaced the whole brake system though. I knew the acute leak was somewhere in the rear circuit, and since I couldn't see the fluid leaking out anywhere, I assumed that the leak was in the main front-to-back brake line that runs through the passenger compartment. So in the process of taking the brake system apart, I CUT that line, assuming it was broken anyway. OOPS. That wasn't the source of the leak, but I ended up replacing it anyway. I replaced the master cylinder, all the wheel cylinders, the soft lines at the wheels, everything in the main brake system except the short hard lines. As mentioned above, I put in all new brake drums, and new shoes, and in fact I replaced most of the brake adjusting stars. I didn't replace the reservoir or the lines running from it down to the master cylinder.

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