Get Rid of Steering Wheel Shake When Braking.

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Introduction: Get Rid of Steering Wheel Shake When Braking.

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There are common problems that cause your steering wheel to shake when you apply the brakes. In order from least expensive to most, they are: dry guide pins, worn brake pads, and worn rotors.

It’s generally recommended if you replace the rotors, you replace the brakes, and grease the guide pins. Or if you’re just replacing the brakes, you also grease the guide pins. Now, if your brakes are still good, you could just grease the guide pins. Most of this can be done with a basic set of tools. Replacing rotors, however, is a little more involved. In either case, this if what it takes to get the job done.

Step 1: Collapse the Caliper

Start by engaging the emergency brake, jacking up the vehicle, and placing it safely on jack stands. Open the hood and remove the lid to the master cylinder reservoir. If you don’t do this you may rupture the reservoir when you collapse the calipers. Remove the tire. Place a pry bar in between the rotor and brake pad. With firm constant pressure the caliper pistons will press back into the caliper. If you are not replacing the break pads be careful not to damage them. You could also just use a C-clamp once its off.

Note: Only do one wheel at a time. You could completely expel a piston out of the caliper. Then you’d have to bleed the breaks after putting it back.

Step 2: Remove the Caliper

Remove the upper and lower mounting bolts for the caliper. To avoid damage, hang the caliper up so it’s not dangling by the brake line. I used a Fish Bone Gear Tie for the job.

Step 3: Remove the Caliper Bracket

The caliper bracket will have larger bolts then those that came off the caliper. They will also be set in place with thread locker. Thread locker is basically a glue that keeps bolts in place. If you don’t have an impact gun you’ll need a torch to release the bolts.

Now is a good time to spray the rotor, where it contacts the hub, with penetrating oil. 

Step 4: Remove the Rotor

Often times the rotor will have a bolt securing it to the hub. If there is one there, remove it. If the rotor doesn't come right off you can press it off using the bolts that mounted the caliper. Simply tighten them into the rotor's threaded holes and wrench away.

Step 5: Install New Rotors and Breaks

In a nut shell, a refitting is a reversal of the removal. Make sure the bolts are clean from any old thread locker. Apply new thread locker and re-install the caliper bracket with the manufacture’s torque specifications.

When placing the brakes, pay attention you’re using a left and a right brake. One will have a low pad indicator. That pad installs on the piston side on the caliper.

Step 6: Grease the Guide Pins

In my experience, dry guide pins are the most common culprit to braking shake. Remove the guide pins, clean them off, apply wheel bearing grease, and replace them. That simple. 

Step 7: Replace the Caliper

Place paper towels around the master cylinder. This will catch any break fluid that over flows from the reservoir. Use a C-clamp to completely retract the pistons into the caliper. Clean off the caliper where it will contact the adhesive backing on the brake pads (if they even have it).

Tighten the caliper bolts to the manufacture’s torque specifications.

Step 8: Finish Up

Ensure the master brake reservoir is filled to the proper level. Replace the cap. Use a pry bar to position and lift the tire back onto the lugs. Mount the tire back on.

Step 9: Pump the Brakes!

This step is extremely important! Before you start the vehicle, pump the breaks until they are firm. If you skip this, nothing will happen the first time you step on the brakes.

Included in this step are photos from doing the rear wheels. Because of the lack of room, I had to use a torch to remove the caliper bracket bolts. Use caution. You don’t want to burn up your anti-lock brake sensors.

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51 Comments

It's been over a decade since I worked on cars professionally, but the trainers always were very clear that we should NOT push fluid out of the calipers back up into the master cylinder. Instead, it should be pushed out of the bleeders.

The idea was that the ABS system is pretty sensitive, and it might not like fluid being pushed that direction or the bits of gunk and grit that tend to accumulate in the caliper being pushed back into it and gumming up the little valves.

We usually just let the fluid go on the floor then thew down some oil dry (aka cat litter) but you can also use a tube and collect it up.

In this case, I have to respectfully ask where does the fluid go when in normal driving the brakes are applied and then released? Unless I am wrong that fluid goes through all the ABS valves into the caliper to push the pistons out thus squeezing the brake pads against the brake disk. Then, upon release, that very same fluid has to travel backwards. I have always been taught that it is perfectly normal practise to push those pistons back when replacing brake pads. Unless I and millions of others have being doing wrong all these years? :) Oh, if your brake hydraulic fluid does have all those contaminants in it then I would suggest it be completely drained before even thinking about driving the car again.

Somebody else said about hydraulic fluid being hydrophillic or hydrofillic? The word I know is hygroscopic in that it is a fluid which absorbs water (moisture) from the atmosphere. If you use silicon hydraulic fluid this does not absorb water. You do need to replace all the seals in the system though if normal hydraulic fluid has been used.

You may think this to be "normal practice" but I can tell you now it isn't. The previous reply is almost 100% correct (aside from the abs bit)

You may think it ok to push the fluid back to the master from the caliper pots but just wait until the day comes when you fire a bit of rust back up into the master and cut up the seals. Especially on say a twin turbo v8 land cruiser with a $11,000 ish master/ABS/TCS/stability module (that's right mate, trade price $9785.00 plus GST (ad on my 30% mark up for good measure) and 6 weeks from japan to AUS)

I'm a Brake specialist, people like you handing out info like this make me smile. Keeps me busy ;)

Jimmeh30. It is pretty obvious that there is a different set of standards and practise in the US as there is in in the UK. I can't argue with what you are saying I just disagree in respect to what we do here.

I do have to ask again though. What happens when that brake pedal is pushed down? Fluid moves through the system. It pushes the brake cylinder out. As in, it pushes against the piston (whether it's drum or disk brakes). Now I admit I am more familiar with drum brakes so forgive me if I am missing something. But those pistons push against the shoes. They come part way out of the brake cylinder. Once the braking effort is no longer needed those same pistons go back inside the cylinder. In the meantime, what has happened to the brake fluid? What I will add is that if your brake system is so bad that it has bits of rust in it then what the hell is anybody doing driving that vehicle? It doesn't matter what country the vehicle is in a brake system that is so bad it has bits of rust in it is plain dangerous. Anyway, I take it then you do not have/use these tools http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/SNAP-ON-BLUE-POINT-BRAKE-PISTON-WIND-BACK-AIR-TOOL-ADAPTORS-SET-/111166481753?pt=UK_Hand_Tools_Equipment&hash=item19e209e559 in the US? Let me tell you, they are found in every single commercial garage here in the UK. Guess what they do? Push those pistons back into the cylinder :)

Existence of a brake caliper expander does not preclude the wisdom of bleeding the fluid through the bleed port over pushing it back into the system. The high temperatures near the wheel caused by braking friction can break down the fluid over time. Futhermore. it is likely that during the course of the pad life that fluid has been "topped off" at the master cylinder reservoir. This could cause it to to overflow during caliper expansion. I admit I am guilty of doing this many times over. I now bleed the calipers after pad installation with fresh fluid. Which is very simple and will add to the life of your braking system. Many vehicles still use hydrophilic fluid which means it absorbs water so periodic fluid replacement is recommended. Do not under any circumstances try to use a fluid that is not recommended for your vehicle because brake seals can swell or degrade if the wrong fluid is used. This could lead to brake system failure with catastrophic results.

It's standard practise here i the UK to do a complete brake fluid change every 2 years. That is if the vehicle is serviced properly. The exception to this would be if silicon brake fluid is used. Silicon is not hygroscopic so therefore does not absorb moisture from the atmosphere. It may not be a lot but a small amount of water does get absorbed over time into standard old fashioned(?) brake fluid. Most vehicle manufacturers deem 2 years to be the time when the fluid needs changing before the percentage of moisture (water) is at such a level to be dangerous. It boils from the heat caused by braking thus turning to steam in the lines and of course lessening the braking effect.

While seeming counterintuitive at first, some limited degree of water absorption is desirable. DOT
3/4/5.1 glycol-based fluids will readily absorb water. The helpful part of this is that every brake
system will contain some moisture, which cannot be avoided. Absorbing this moisture, while
reducing the fluid’s boiling point and increasing its compressibility, allows the corrosion inhibitors in
the better brake fluids to do their job and keep system components fresh. And, just like with
antifreeze, these inhibitors are gradually depleted in use, which is the primary reason brake fluid
needs to be changed periodically.
The one exception to this is the silicone-based DOT 5 specification fluid, which is not water miscible.
This fluid keeps water molecules together, sinking to the lowest point in the system as water is
heavier. It is at these water concentration sites where corrosion is first to attack.

DOT 5:
WARNING: DOT 5 has a silicone base and is purple in color. It is NOT hygroscopic, so it will not
absorb moisture. It has a minimum dry boiling point of 500°F (260°C) and a minimum wet boiling
point of 356° (180°C). It is compatible with the same rubber seal formulations as DOT 3/4/5.1 fluids.
Also, it will not damage paint. While this initially sounds like a winning combination, it is unsuitable
for racing or any type of hard use for three primary reasons:
1) When hot, air bubbles easily form, which are nearly impossible to remove and cause poor pedal
feel.
2) Since it does not absorb moisture, water in the fluid settles out, causing severe localized
corrosion, freezing or vapor lock.
3) It DOES NOT MIX with DOT 3, DOT 4, or DOT 5.1, so cross-contamination may occur if crew

under normal driving conditions, the piston/pads move on the order of thousands of an inch. You're moving a lot more fluid when replacing the pads and pushing pistons back in.

I agree that the risk is minimal, however, as your fluid should be relatively clean in the first place.

Most manufactures now require a brake fluid flush at some interval. This helps remove the particles in question. I have always backed up the fluid when changing pads and always will. Follow the manufacturers interval for brake fluid flushing, or if it makes you feel better, be a little more conservative and shorten the intervals.

Agreed. Most manufacturers specify 2 years with 3 years the absolute maximum for standard brake fluid. This is because at the end of 3 years there is a significant amount of water absorbed into the fluid. The exception is where silicon brake fluid has been used. That can be left for the life of the vehicle. Decades if that is the life of the car. Silicon brake fluid does not absorb atmospheric water/moisture. So, it doesn't create brake fluid boil and it also does not promote any corrosion in the brake mechanism. The only thing you must do if converting to silicon fluid from ordinary brake fluid is to remove and replace all the seals. They will be contaminated with the old brake fluid and it's a good time to change them anyway :)