Warren, the first time I was young, inexperienced on mountain roads, and alone. I didn't know how to use lower gears, even on an automatic (both cars were automatics). In both events, only one of the brake sets went out, which is why I live to tell the tale. The second time I was highly experienced and not alone--fortunately, the guy who was about to be my husband said not a word and let me do my thing--and people had died on that slalom-like section--so we lived. In both cases, there had been no warning signs of any kind, such as brake noise, and the second car was well maintained. I know several people who've had similar experiences, more than once, and Highway 1 has more than one "Deadman's Curve" sections (title of a Beach Boys song way back). Perhaps your mountain roads aren't as steep or as windy as they are in the Coastal Range in California.
A pendulum brake was a mechanism that attached a wieghted lever to a mechanical brake. When you applied the tow vehichle brake, the pendulum swung down and moved the mechanical brakes into position to rub shoe to drum. It seems there was a pendulum on each wheel and since I was just a kid, I do not really know if it was effective. They were on a light weight trail used to haul a 14' aluminum jon boat.
To Tool_maker: Thanks for the kind words. As far as suspecting the master cylinder early on, I actually did suspect it. But when I checked it, everything looked normal as far as I could tell (with what I knew at the time).
And yes, I was trying to avoid concluding the master cylinder was the problem. I didn't really want to disassemble such a major component without knowing what I was looking for, much less whether I could fix it or replace it. Without the benefit of hindsight, I could not think of what type of defect in the master cylinder could cause the symptoms I was experiencing. And as it turned out, it took a quite a bit of research to find a suitable replacement actuator/master cylinder, and it was a pain to install it on the trailer frame. And it was expensive to boot.
By the way, what is a pendulum brake? I haven't heard of that before. Is it an actual brake mechanism, or a brake controller, or something else?
This post put forth more information than I have ever read in one of these columns and I now know more about trailer brakes than I did before. Well done. However, once you decided that all four wheels were locked, why did you not go immediately to the only thing they all had in common? The master cylinder. It was almost as if you were avoiding the actual problem to find other things you could fix.
Just curious; does anyone know if pendulum (sp?) brakes are still used on smaller trailers?
Once upon a time I used DOT5 on my motorcycles. There's no issue with seals, since DOT5 is very inert and benign compared to DOT4. Everything must be thoroughly cleaned before changing between petroleum and Si-based fluid.
All brake systems collect moisture through the master cylinder reservoir. Since DOT5 is not hydro/hygro scopic, water will pool in the low points, usually the brake calipers. I would replace the DOT5 annually and overhaul the calipers, which would often have signs of corrosion at the bottom part of the piston and bores.
In their wisdom, the government came up with DOT5.1, which is petroleum-based and incompatible with DOT5 ! Talk about setting things up for human error....
To Jim_E, regarding the use of DOT5 brake fluid, it gets complicated. I believe you are correct that DOT5 is silicone based and therefore doesn't absorb water. In addition, it has a higher boiling point than DOT3 or DOT4, which is generally good.
But, the big factor is that silicon based fluids (DOT5) cannot be used for brake systems that are not designed for it, else it will damage the seals. Maybe someone with more specific knowledge about brake systems and fluids can chime in.
To bob from maine, those are good thoughts. My short answer is that since my boat is a sailboat, the trailer components have about an hour to cool after towing before they touch the water due to the time required to setup the boat (raising the mast, etc.). This is unusually sufficient time to reduce the temperatures to near ambient.
Also, I should have made it more clear that the extensive corrosion I found in the master cylinder occurred where the cylinder was exposed to air - behind the piston cup, not the front side where the hydraulic fluid is contained. The only protection the back of the cylinder had from moisture was a rubber boot covering the piston shaft and the back of the master cylinder. I haven't seen any problems (yet!) with corrosion in any parts of the system that are in constant contact with brake fluid.
When you haul a boat on a trailer, the wheel bearings get warm, possibly even hot. When you immerse the trailer into the water, the steel cools rapidly creating a partial vacuum in the wheel hub which draws water into the hub, diluting the grease. Expensive trailers have buddy caps which are spring loaded bearing grease caps that keep the grease under constant pressure during the colling period. The heat that is generated from rolling and braking also heats the calipers. When the brakes are not applied, there is no, or very slight movement of the pistons within the calipers, so when the fairly large caliper cools, it also tends to create a partial vacuum which, depending on the condition of the dust (dust, not water) seals will permit water to come in contact with the piston. The caliper on a trailer wheel is almost always steel and that small amount of water which is potentially ingested every time the trailer contacts water will create corrosion. I am not confident a "professional" would have found this problem within the budget of the boat/trailer owner. It was a good fix though, glad it wasn't me.
Fifty-six-year-old Pasquale Russo has been doing metalwork for more than 30 years in a tiny southern Italy village. Many craftsmen like him brought with them fabrication skills when they came from the Old World to America.
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