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Hot rear brake drum - white smoke!

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  • [Corsa C 2000-2006] Hot rear brake drum - white smoke!


    Two weeks ago I had our Corsa C (1ltr) in for a service and MOT and I asked them to tighten the handbrake at the same time. Generally it's always seemed a bit loose since we got the car a year ago, and you really had to pull it hard in order for everything to feel secure and not creak backwards, even on things like the sloped drive in front of our house. Also had an incident on a hill in the lakes earlier this year where we rolled backwards despite pulling the handbrake as far up as it would go, which was a bit worrying.

    We got it back and they had tightened it right up - only pulls up 2 or 3 clicks now compared to last time. It felt solid any time we parked or pulled up on a hill so I was happy.

    They also said they had tightened up the brake pedal as well - generally it seemed a lot more firm so I thought that was probably a good thing too.

    Anyway... this weekend we went out on what I think was the biggest run we've done since the service:

    1h30min drive down the A1: no problems
    Tootling around town: no problems
    2h30min drive up the A1, across to the coast: no problems
    Tootling around the coast: no problems (amazing fish & chips)
    1h20min drive back home: We were most of the way home when I pulled up at a traffic lights in clouds of white smoke

    The smoke was coming from our left rear wheel arch. First thing I checked was that the handbrake wasn't left on slightly - no lights on the dashboard either. I felt the alloys and the one in question was hot to the touch whereas the right hand side was only warm. Took maybe 10mins for it to stop smoking.

    I didn't want to do any more damage - plus I realised nowhere would be open - so I called the RAC in the hope that they might be able to have a look and at least diagnose the issue. But the guy they sent was bloody useless, I always assumed they had the tools etc to have a look at you and only towed you as a last resort. He seemed like a local subcontractor (different company name) - turned up with a tow truck, mumbled and shrugged at me when I asked whether he could have a look at it, and loaded it onto his truck to take us home.

    I'm now stuck with our car outside the house until I limp across town to the garage tomorrow, racking my brain trying to work out what might have happened.

    I was thinking maybe the handbrake was either a) stuck on for a while or b) slightly too tight and causing friction which builds up heat over time? But not sure why that would suddenly become a problem in the hour's drive home when we've been doing much bigger drives this weekend without any issues. Also if it was jammed on for a while wouldn't I have noticed something different in the way it drove?

    As well as this I'm worried about what damage was done to the brake drum when it got hot enough to send out plumes of white smoke.

    Also when the RAC guy unloaded us he had a change of heart, jacked the rear of the car up and said he could spin the wheel freely with no resistance.

    Just wondering if anyone could shed any light on this and help me figure out why this suddenly happened after hours of trouble free driving this weekend? Ideally if this can be traced back to the tightened handbrake then I can get the original garage to sort out any further repairs free of charge.

    One other thing which would be good to clear up: On the way back from the coast the road we went down had a fairly major incline (can't remember which road - I mostly defer to GPS's superior road knowledge for the quickest route and don't ask many questions) at ~45-50 ish which involved a minute or two of extensive braking + low gear, and I'm not sure whether this might have caused something at the rear back drum to get jammed for a while or something. Yet this was still probably half an hour away from home.

    Any advice would be great! Cheers.

  • #2
    I would have though it is almost certainly connected to the hand brake adjustment. It appears just one drum was rubbing slightly, the other is probably ok ,Its not unusual for the correctly adjusted wheel to get slightly warm. But there is an imbalance, so things were not done correctly. You may not of noticed the slight rubbing of just one wheel on a short run but it would get increasingly hot. The hotter it gets the more it expands and the tighter it gets. While you were waiting for the breakdown man the brake cooled down, and released slightly. this is why he was able to spin it.
    When you take it back make sure they check the wheel bearing hasnt melted its grease away.


    • #3
      Thanks, that makes sense to a point - not sure though why it was fine on the first two big runs (2.5hrs and 1.5hrs) and then only became a problem on the trip home (1h20m). Unless this can reasonably be explained by the brakes self-adjusting before the final run home? Or the excessively long braking on the steep incline I mentioned?

      Dropped it off at the garage first thing this morning and explained that I wanted them to look at the rubbing, the imbalance and finally any damage caused by the overheating.


      • #4
        the self adjuster mechanisms can get rusty and clogged with brake dust etc and may not always adjust smoothly or predictably.They either adjust, or they dont, every time you apply the handbrake. The problem brake, already adjusted quite tight, may have' decided' to click round one more notch after you had been using the car a while. I dont know exactly what the garage did to adjust your brakes or what they charged you for. A proper job should have included checking and cleaning the adjusters etc but if they did not charge for this they may try to claim its not their responsibility.


        • #5
          I told them the handbrake was a bit loose when it went in for the service, and when it came out of the service it was all tightened up, so as far as I'm concerned it was done as part of the service. We went for their 'interim service' (whilst it was 12 months since the last service, seeing as it had only done ~4000 miles since the last one they recommended the 'interim service') which still seems to be pretty comprehensive if you look at the Brakes section: Car Service Checklist - Halfords Autocentres

          Especially where it says "Check security of handbrake linkages and travel. Lubricate and adjust if required"

          So if something they have done as part of the service was done incorrectly and has then caused this issue, it's still on them to make it right surely? Surely they won't try to wipe their hands of this?


          • #6
            Right... Halfords just rang me back and some guy (who really seemed to be in a rush to get me off the phone) said it was "all sorted now for you". I asked for a bit more information(!) and he said something like "One of the cables into one of your quadrants had frayed - you can't always see it without taking everything off, so we pulled it out and saw what had happened straight away, we've replaced it for you free of charge"

            I said to him I was concerned about the hot brake drum causing damage e.g. burning out all of your bearing grease (as you suggested) and he said "noooo no it's all fine, don't worry". I'll pop in after work and hopefully be able to speak to someone who has a bit more time to put my mind at rest. When I do that, is there anything specific I should be asking about in terms of what damage could have been caused?

            Any idea what he was referring to when he was on about frayed cables and quadrants? And why that would have caused the brake drum to start chucking out smoke?!


            Edit: and shouldn't this have been something they noticed in the MOT and service?
            Last edited by do_you_realise; 07-04-2015, 12:11 PM.


            • #7
              The quandrant is a guide through which the handbrake cable runs, if the cable corrodes and/or frays it can seize in the quadrant. When that happens the cable won't release properly so the handbrake stays fully or partially engaged. It sounds like this is what had happened on your car.

              Without seeing the part it's impossible to say precisely what state the cable was in or if they should have spotted it. An interim service tends to be pretty rudimentary despite what their website shows. I've know main dealers carry out full services without even removing the wheels and just guessing at the state of the brake pads.

              To be fair cables can fail without warning. I've know clutch cables snap the day after full service and the customer complains that it ought to have been spotted - but you just can't see them and there's no warning until they snap. On the other hand, handbrake cables running through the quadrant are usually visible - but the cable may have been fine when checked and only frayed after the brakes were adjusted. If the position of the cable was altered due to the adjustment then part that was weak but not visibly so may have been moved onto the quadrant where it has then frayed.

              The reason for the smoke is simply due to the handbrake not fully disengaging which causes the shoes to bind - creating friction = heat. Then the bearing grease has started to smoke.

              For peace of mind I'd regrease the bearings, but otherwise no harm should have been done.
              1972 Viva restoration thread -


              • #8
                In other words you can't prove if was like before or after, and you can't say whether they should of shouldn't have notices.

                Main thing is it's fixed

                - - - Updated - - -

                Beaten by Taurus again


                • #9
                  Thanks for your reply.

                  Thinking back, a frayed cable was spotted during the last MOT (before I got the car) and on the certificate it was worded as something like "frayed but not weakened" and the fact that it's been fine for 12 months makes me wonder whether it really had anything to do with this. I just hope that they haven't just seen the frayed cable, thought "that's obviously the cause", and replaced it without looking into it further. Only reason I'm worrying about this is that we have a 300 mile journey to make straight after work on Friday for a wedding down south, so hoping they have figured it out - don't want to end up back at home at 5 o'clock Saturday morning with a thoroughly burnt out drum/bearings and strike 2 on our RAC account... and miss the wedding!

                  Will the white smoke have definitely been bearing grease? Or is it possible it was just a case of hot metal with 10 years of caked-on muck?



                  • #10
                    We can't see the car, so it's limited what we can say for sure.

                    If the frayed cable was causing the problem then a new cable ought to have sorted it out. As said, I'd just repack the bearing with fresh grease to be on the safe side.
                    1972 Viva restoration thread -


                    • #11
                      I take it they made sure the drum hadn't warped???