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Old 05-01-2014, 11:42 AM   #1
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Post Adventures in Towing (moderately long, probably boring, you may have experienced it)

We're tooling (towing) along on I-45 south and Tina is behind me in the Elantra and we're on the phone. She says.. "Dutch, I smell something burning." To which I replied that I didn't. She repeated this a few more times over the next 15 - 20 minutes. A bit farther and we get into heavy traffic and we get focused on that.

LOTS of stop, go, stop, go and I am motoring 22,000lbs of truck and home on wheels, doing my best to relax and still pay very close attention, while contemplating some of the rather entertaining antics of other drivers. Soon, I start to notice the truck pulling a bit to the right when I apply the brakes. This snaps me out of my stupor and I tell myself, “Self, that seems a bit odd....” Being of a scientific mind, I decide to perform an experiment in traffic, on a highly congested 4 lane freeway. I operate the trailer brakes and the rig proceeds to slow down in a very straight and orderly fashion. While I was pleased with the outcome of my experiment, it did confirm that something was wrong with the truck. As I pondered the possibilities and implications, I note that the symptom gets worse. Much worse.

Soon, we clear of the traffic jam and begin passing through the pedestrian rate of speed and as if to help me not to forget, but rather aid me in my diagnosis, a new symptom begins to manifest itself. I notice the steering wheel starts to shake (vibrate) like a tire with a bulge on it. Ok, weird.... (I thought this, I didn’t actually say it to myself). This new symptom continues and I note that the second symptom of pulling has now advanced to pulling pretty hard to the right when braking. If you’re still reading, you probably already figured that the first symptom was the burning smell, that Tina brought to my attention.

About this time, being of like minds and after a short conversation where she said find a place to pull over and check it out, we pull off and into an empty warehouse parking lot. As I’m turning into the lot, Tina sees faint traces of smoke coming from near the front of the truck. Not much, but she noticed it. I stop and get out and BOY, do I smell burning brakes!!! (worse than one of the dogs breaking wind!) and see some traces of presumably the same smoke Tina saw, coming off the LF wheel.

Remaining calm (as the truck wasn’t on fire), I grab the trusty Harbor Freight Digital IR Thermometer (model 93984, in case you might be curious), and point the laser at the left front disc and.... it read "Hi". Not like as in "Hello" and it wasn’t a question. OK, well, let’s proceed on and check the others. I read the LF and it says 178*. Check the rear discs and they say about 150*. Check the trailer (4 brakes) and they say 100*. (this is an indication that I probably should adjust the brake controller a increment or two, higher). Check the RF again and it says... 478* (the thermometer’s range is -27*F to 482*F). Ahhh! Symptom #4, and a partial diagnosis! An overheated LF brake on truck!!!

Knowing that this condition will, given a sufficient amount of time, rectify itself, we wait an hour for it to cool down. After walking the dogs, having a snack, and a bottle or two of cool water, I check the LF brake again and it is just under 200* At this point, I feel happy, content and I decide to share some of my nice cool water with the LF brake and start tossing water on it. It likes this and feeling generous, I share a few more. NOTE - Do it when it's hotter and you can potential damage “stuff”, while entertaining others with a magnificent display of steam and hissing. After another 20 or so minutes, the temperature is down to about 120* (within about 10* of the RF) and we decide to head out and see how lucky we might be.

The plan is to drive about 5 miles or so, not using brakes (on the freeway) and then ease off onto the shoulder, downshifting, and use the trailer brakes to stop. Put it in park, get out and check the temps again. We execute this plan with skilled precision and a mindset toward safety and observe that the temperature on both front brakes is about 120*. None of the previously described symptoms were noted or observed. Drawing on skills and experiences of my former career as a mechanic, I aptly diagnose the problem as an intermittent condition of a dragging LF brake, due to sticking caliper pins. Fortunately, the problem was no longer present (at the moment) and we only had about 30 more miles to go. We proceeded on, being vigilant to note whether any of the aforementioned symptoms and none were noted before reaching our destination. After arriving at the Jamaica Beach RV Park campground, I check them again and noted they were both uniform and within a normal range.

The prognosis is good and inexpensive. It will take an hour or so and probably cost about $50 - $60. Meaning, I'll be tearing down the front brakes and replacing the pads, as it glazed the LF pretty bad and cleaning and lubricating the caliper pins. Fortunately, there did not appear to be any rotor warpage.


Cheers and travel safe!
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Old 05-01-2014, 01:53 PM   #2
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least you found the problem before you had a brake fire. smart thinking applying the camper brakes separate to rule out those brakes.
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Old 05-01-2014, 02:07 PM   #3
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Wow! I really didn't think anyone would actually read my over caffeinated diatribe!
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2011 F350 Lariat 4x4 DRW SuperCrew 6.7L (B&W setup w/Air Lift 5000 Ultimate)
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Old 05-01-2014, 02:08 PM   #4
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This was a good read. Being non-mechanically inclined, I'm not 100% positive what I would have done in the same situation. I don't carry a thermometer like that.
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Old 05-01-2014, 02:18 PM   #5
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Well that's not what I expected!! I was certain it was a blown trailer express tire .

Not a common problem....but then again didn't have a ton of experience with 1 ton trucks in my days as a tech.

Oh and by the way....loved your post! Great writing style!
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Old 05-01-2014, 02:29 PM   #6
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Same thing happened to me one day bringing my fiver back from the dealer. Luckily only 30 miles away and when I first smelled it I was within 5 miles of being back home. Same symptoms as you, the smells, the wheel shimmy, and hot as hell rotors. Shot mine when I got home and was about 475 as well. After things cooled down I tore into it that night. Cleaned up the brakes real good and lubed slider pins. Towed about 600 miles since and no issue. This seems to be common in the ford superduty trucks especially the ones that have low miles and sit a lot (Which is mine). Glad you got her figured out.
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Old 05-01-2014, 02:56 PM   #7
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Yeah, it is not an uncommon issue for Superduty's, and not limited to them either.

The thermometer is only $20 at Harbor Freight and the reason I have one if so I can:
  • Check trailer tire heat buildup, when towing.
  • Check trailer wheel bearing temps, when towing.
  • Check propane tank levels.
  • Check heat and A/C vent, condenser, evaporator, heat exchanger, water heater, refrigerator temperatures.
  • Check my wife's temp. (don't ask)
  • Check my coffee temp (VERY important)
  • Generally entertain myself checking other temps.

The real value here, was that I suspect that many folks would have driven until they experienced a mechanical failure, with the very real possibility of it causing property damage, an accident, injury or worse. *IF* they did stop and realize there was "something wrong" with the brakes, they would likely have called a tow service, roadside assistance or dealership, which probably would lead to inconvenience, disruption or delay of travel and (highly probably) significant cost.

But by applying a little basic preparation (carry a simple tool), using my senses (OK, my wife's, as mine can be lacking) and a bit of (bet you thought I wouldn't say this) "common sense", we avoided have to use our fire extinguisher(s) to put out a spectacular roadside BBQ of our truck. For our minimal efforts we were even rewarded with eating lunch together, healthier dogs, making it to our destination on time AND... will save SIGNIFICANT money, while performing routine (and very simple) maintenance. I should add that the end result would be that ever intangible, yet often sought....

Peace of mind. (when traveling to our next destination).

Travel safe, y'all! And if your by this way, say hello and have a beer (or soda or glass of wine).
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Old 05-01-2014, 03:00 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DutchF View Post
*IF* they did stop and realize there was "something wrong" with the brakes, they would likely have called a tow service, roadside assistance or dealership, which probably would lead to inconvenience, disruption or delay of travel and (highly probably) significant cost.
That's the boat that I would have fallen into.
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Old 05-01-2014, 03:16 PM   #9
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Funny enough, I can say X2 on this one.

My very first camping trip with our Roo last year was short lived...I locked up the LF caliper in my F150 while on 495N, about 10 miles out from the house. Same symptoms, starting with DW saying "Do you smell something burning?"

I was able to pull into a rest area not even a mile later, and on getting out, it was hard not to notice the smoke coming off the brakes. I grabbed the fire extinguisher just in case, and let it sit for 10-15 minutes until I heard the caliper pop free of its bind.

My luck continued in that I was able to go 4 miles to an AutoZone, pick up a new caliper, and then get back home via back roads. Two hours later I had the new caliper in and we were on our way (root cause was the prior brake job did not clean and grease the slide pins properly, so what was in there was basically sludge)

And one month after that, I was driving a brand new GMC 2500HD, albeit for additional, unrelated reasons
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Old 05-01-2014, 03:35 PM   #10
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I don't know about dioramas but I enjoyed perusing thru your comedic rendering. Lol. Glad you got it under control

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