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Author Topic: For the second time in my life, I burned out my brakes in a passenger car  (Read 7614 times)

404inthe404

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The car in question was a rental - a Chrysler something-or-other with about 27,000 miles on it. The car actually had a lot of minor problems considering how young it was, though I don't think it had anything to do with the brake issue I caused.

Over Christmas vacation I went with my girlfriend to LA. She had never been. She's an ocean lover and I promised a PCH trip on one of our days out. We went from downtown LA north on the 101 to the Sunset strip. We drove that to the 405 north back to the 101 which we took to Santa Barbara where we had lunch.

On the way back, we were to take the Pacific Coast Highway. All was good through Ventura, but then disaster struck - some mudslides had occurred just south of Oxford and the entire road was close! The detour took us back to the 101.

Well, that's not a problem. I consulted my phone and decided it was mostly salvageable if we took CA 23 from the 101 to Malibu. CA 23 looked like a windy mountain road and I was definitely up for that.

We got back to the 101 and drove it to CA 23. As advertised, it was a windy mountain road. A lot of hills and a lot of curves. The road was mostly empty and I was driving what I felt to be safely but yet still pretty fast for the road. The road goes up, and down, and up, and down, and so it occurred to me as a passing thought that I should downshift. Since this isn't my normal car, I look at the transmission, and below drive is 3 and below that is 1.

I've seen this in cars before though I've never had to use a transmission like this. And it wasn't really safe to pull over and figure it out. I was probably in 2nd and 3rd gear, so switching to 3rd wouldn't accomplish much, and switching to 1st would probably be way too many revs. Incidentally I still don't know how to get to 2nd on a car like this (someone enlighten me please?)

All was going well until the home stretch. The beautiful pacific ocean is a backdrop to a massive, curving grade. And I mean massive. I don't know the elevation decrease but it is substantial. Here's the final drag - CA 23 is Encinal Canyon Rd:

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Oxnard,+CA/@34.0429021,-118.8825685,1318m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x80e84de61325679f:0x598049c0fa5eb645

A street view:

https://www.google.com/maps/@34.042397,-118.891858,3a,75y,150.77h,81.43t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sokFA3NDGElOWXGPV3pJDyA!2e0

The whole downshifting debacle was completely out of my mind at this point - it was like 30 minutes ago when I was trying to figure out how to downshift to 2nd. As I get to the end of CA 23 at the PCH intersection, my brakes are noticeably weaker. There's a car in front of me waiting to turn onto the PCH. I do manage to stop in time. The car inches up and I inch up a little bit too and ... nothing. The brakes are so weak now it takes forever to stop. At this point I see smoke billowing out of the passenger side. I turn onto the PCH and jump out to make sure I'm not actually on fire. I'm not, so we sit there for about 10 minutes to wait for everything to cool down.

The rest of the drive back to downtown LA was beautiful and uneventful.
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Pete from Boston

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Happened to me for the very first time this fall coming down Mont Mégantic in Québec.  Despite the warnings, I just didn't feel like I was riding the brakes enough to be concerned. 

Then, almost back at the park entrance, I braked a little extra to take in the view, and the brakes began to slip.  Very scary.  I shifted way down and was able to get by without braking for a couple of miles and cool them down.  Lesson learned, no permanent damage seems done. 
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kkt

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I love manual transmissions.
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Stratuscaster

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Going to guess that it was a last-gen Chrysler 200 base model with a 4-cylinder and a 4-speed automatic. It's an electronically shifted transaxle, so dropping it into 1 wouldn't have done anything until the revs were low enough to go down into 2nd gear and then 1st without damaging anything (in theory).

(If you drop it into 1 and start off at WOT, it will shift into 2nd and 3rd and 4th on its own despite the selector placement. It doesn't sound good when doing it, but it will do it.)

Being the bottom-end of the line-up, those brakes were nothing to write home about in the first place.

Glad to hear you are OK.
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hm insulators

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That stretch of California 23 is actually called Decker Canyon Road, and that is one little tiny winding thing! I used it about two or three years ago as I was kind of driving around the Malibu area and I went the opposite direction. And incidentally, it's Oxnard rather than Oxford. :cool: And seemingly, every time it rains, there's at least one landslide that completely goofs up PCH, sometimes for days. And if southern California gets one of those really soaking El Nino winters where houses are rolling off bluffs and roads are flooded, all bets are off in the Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains area.
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The High Plains Traveler

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I consistently rage at flatlander drivers who don't know how to downshift and ride their brakes down mountain grades. So, I guess karma was taking notes and decided I needed a comeuppance.

We were on the northern California coast, staying near Eureka in our travel trailer. We took a day trip in our pickup - not towing, obviously - and decided to drive the Mattole Road from Ferndale south to Petrolia. The road climbs up a grade southwest of Ferndale, then drops precipitously toward the ocean over a several mile grade. I downshifted my truck to second, thinking that was sufficient, although I was frequently applying the brakes. Then, I smelled them.

When we got home, I noticed a vibration when stepping on the brakes. Yes folks, I warped the rotors on the front brakes by overheating them. Fortunately, there was sufficient metal there to grind down, but it cost me over $100. Judge not...
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leroys73

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I love manual trans too but autos seem to be the standard. I never "burned out" brakes in over 50 years of driving (drum and disc brakes) in 21 countries including a lot of traffic and mountain driving in the Alps and Rockies. I tend to be an aggressive driver, always have been and plan not to change so don't assume as an old fart I poke along.

As above down shifting is OK. The new autos will not let you go too low.  I fully understand being confused by the selector. The car companies are not helping us any. 

One must not "ride" the brakes.  Let them cool even if you must pull off the road (if you can).  A person must be alert to the first smell of brakes getting hot. 

I am not being negative to those of you who have experienced this but take it as a learning experience.  Not to pick on anyone or make fun of you but today so many drivers are just not "in tune" with how a car performs.  This is not necessarily do to their attitude or abilities.  They usually just don't have to know much about a car to drive one since automobiles are so much more reliable and do things automatically. I wish more of this was covered in a driving class.

Yes the rotors on most of these vehicles today are not very thick and warp easily when hot. They don't have to get very hot to do that.  When a person stops, especially a hard stop, let the foot off the brake enough to roll forward a little.  This will help cool the rotor and pads. You usually can't turn (resurface) the rotors.  It has happened to me more than once. The vibrating usually doesn't bother me.  I keep driving it, unless very bad, until the next brake job and then replace the rotors with better after market ones. Since I do my own work the cost is not much.   

I recommend as does some manufactures (maybe most now) to change the brake fluid every two years.  The common DOT brake fluid will absorb moisture through the hoses over time. 
« Last Edit: January 17, 2015, 07:06:32 PM by leroys73 »
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mrsman

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That stretch of California 23 is actually called Decker Canyon Road, and that is one little tiny winding thing! I used it about two or three years ago as I was kind of driving around the Malibu area and I went the opposite direction. And incidentally, it's Oxnard rather than Oxford. :cool: And seemingly, every time it rains, there's at least one landslide that completely goofs up PCH, sometimes for days. And if southern California gets one of those really soaking El Nino winters where houses are rolling off bluffs and roads are flooded, all bets are off in the Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains area.

IMO, Decker Canyon shouldn't be a continuation of CA-23 but some signed county N-# route.  The state highway designation would make the uninitiated feel as though this was a preferred routing between the 101 and PCH.  But it's not.  N9 (Kanan-Dume Rd) is a much straighter routing and for those who can afford the detour to the east, it is much better.
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J N Winkler

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I have never burned brakes going downhill, but I know others who have done it, including one person who learned on manuals and had little experience with automatics when he attempted to take a Dodge Caravan down US 14 Alternate near Burgess Junction, Wyoming.

In general I have found it can be very tricky to descend hills in a way that does not inflict excessive wear on the brakes or transmission.

A few observations about automatics and hill descents:

*  The less torque that is carried through a change in gear, the better.  This is why most modern electronically controlled automatic transmissions are operated by a powertrain control module that retards engine spark while the car is accelerating under power and an upshift is in progress.  If the transmission has to be downshifted to handle a downgrade, it is preferable for the shift to occur before the car bites into the slope.  If the transmission is already in the correct gear and only needs to be prohibited from shifting up out of it, this is even better.

*  Not all automatics allow the driver to prohibit upshifts out of all available gears.  As an example, the lowest driving range on my Saturn (four-speed automatic) allows upshifts to 2nd gear, so it has to be treated with caution on steep slopes, though it has successfully negotiated Ebbetts Pass.

*  Some newer automatics have downslope detection logic.  The PCM in a car so equipped compares vehicle speed with various measures of engine effort and driver power request such as throttle position, accelerator pedal position, etc. and when it concludes that the car is gathering speed on a closed throttle, it infers this is because the car is on a downslope, and downshifts automatically.  Toyota in particular has been rolling this out on various models, including the Camry.  My experience has been that this does not work well enough by itself to maintain a secure, controlled speed even on moderate straight downgrades.

*  Rev limitation, which prohibits some downshifts when the vehicle speed is too high, has been a common feature on cars since the mid-1980's.  It is nearly always electronic and won't necessarily be present on older transmissions that are entirely mechanically and hydraulically operated.
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Pete from Boston

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I have never burned brakes going downhill, but I know others who have done it, including one person who learned on manuals and had little experience with automatics when he attempted to take a Dodge Caravan down US 14 Alternate near Burgess Junction, Wyoming.

In general I have found it can be very tricky to descend hills in a way that does not inflict excessive wear on the brakes or transmission.

A few observations about automatics and hill descents:

*  The less torque that is carried through a change in gear, the better.  This is why most modern electronically controlled automatic transmissions are operated by a powertrain control module that retards engine spark while the car is accelerating under power and an upshift is in progress.  If the transmission has to be downshifted to handle a downgrade, it is preferable for the shift to occur before the car bites into the slope.  If the transmission is already in the correct gear and only needs to be prohibited from shifting up out of it, this is even better.

How would you translate this theory to a manual while already on the downgrade?  Sometimes the need to downshift is not evident before one is in the moment, so to speak.
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kkt

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I have never burned brakes going downhill, but I know others who have done it, including one person who learned on manuals and had little experience with automatics when he attempted to take a Dodge Caravan down US 14 Alternate near Burgess Junction, Wyoming.

In general I have found it can be very tricky to descend hills in a way that does not inflict excessive wear on the brakes or transmission.

A few observations about automatics and hill descents:

*  The less torque that is carried through a change in gear, the better.  This is why most modern electronically controlled automatic transmissions are operated by a powertrain control module that retards engine spark while the car is accelerating under power and an upshift is in progress.  If the transmission has to be downshifted to handle a downgrade, it is preferable for the shift to occur before the car bites into the slope.  If the transmission is already in the correct gear and only needs to be prohibited from shifting up out of it, this is even better.

How would you translate this theory to a manual while already on the downgrade?  Sometimes the need to downshift is not evident before one is in the moment, so to speak.

In a manual, you can downshift when you need to.  If it revs the engine up to 5000 rpm and causes a bit of excess wear on the clutch, maybe that looks better than burning out the brakes.
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corco

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I have never burned brakes going downhill, but I know others who have done it, including one person who learned on manuals and had little experience with automatics when he attempted to take a Dodge Caravan down US 14 Alternate near Burgess Junction, Wyoming.

In general I have found it can be very tricky to descend hills in a way that does not inflict excessive wear on the brakes or transmission.

A few observations about automatics and hill descents:

*  The less torque that is carried through a change in gear, the better.  This is why most modern electronically controlled automatic transmissions are operated by a powertrain control module that retards engine spark while the car is accelerating under power and an upshift is in progress.  If the transmission has to be downshifted to handle a downgrade, it is preferable for the shift to occur before the car bites into the slope.  If the transmission is already in the correct gear and only needs to be prohibited from shifting up out of it, this is even better.

How would you translate this theory to a manual while already on the downgrade?  Sometimes the need to downshift is not evident before one is in the moment, so to speak.

In a manual, you can downshift when you need to.  If it revs the engine up to 5000 rpm and causes a bit of excess wear on the clutch, maybe that looks better than burning out the brakes.


If you rev-match properly you should place only minimal extra wear on the clutch or the drivetrain and avoid the lurch that can make downshifting on icy grades (in manuals or automatics) terrifying.
« Last Edit: April 03, 2015, 10:25:41 AM by corco »
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mrfoxboy

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In my 6.5 years of driving, I've never fully burned the brakes out, however I have had a pretty close call.
Last May I decided to take a trip in the Gaspésie Peninsula of Québec, and since my father would be joining me we decided to take the automatic '98 Corolla (mind you, with new brake pads all-round) over my manual-transmission Matrix. We went along route 132 along most of it's length from Edmunston to Saint-Anne-Des-Monts. Of course I haven't driven automatic in 6 months or so, and I'm used to having discs in back, not drums, and I forget to lock out the OD, so naturally I rode the brakes a fair bit, going at quite a quick clip. As I get down into Gros-Morne from the east, I realise that I've only got some, not all my braking power. We pull out at a lookout spot (where I took the picture), and the smell of hot brakes was pungent! Probably not my best driving, but a good thing I noticed the brake fade early.

That is our car in that picture
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formulanone

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That stretch of California 23 is actually called Decker Canyon Road, and that is one little tiny winding thing! I used it about two or three years ago as I was kind of driving around the Malibu area and I went the opposite direction. And incidentally, it's Oxnard rather than Oxford. :cool: And seemingly, every time it rains, there's at least one landslide that completely goofs up PCH, sometimes for days. And if southern California gets one of those really soaking El Nino winters where houses are rolling off bluffs and roads are flooded, all bets are off in the Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains area.

IMO, Decker Canyon shouldn't be a continuation of CA-23 but some signed county N-# route.  The state highway designation would make the uninitiated feel as though this was a preferred routing between the 101 and PCH.  But it's not.  N9 (Kanan-Dume Rd) is a much straighter routing and for those who can afford the detour to the east, it is much better.

But it's not as scenic nor challenging...though it seems odd that one is SR and the other (which avoids more residences, and has four lanes in some sections) CR.
« Last Edit: April 10, 2015, 07:57:33 AM by formulanone »
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mrsman

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That stretch of California 23 is actually called Decker Canyon Road, and that is one little tiny winding thing! I used it about two or three years ago as I was kind of driving around the Malibu area and I went the opposite direction. And incidentally, it's Oxnard rather than Oxford. :cool: And seemingly, every time it rains, there's at least one landslide that completely goofs up PCH, sometimes for days. And if southern California gets one of those really soaking El Nino winters where houses are rolling off bluffs and roads are flooded, all bets are off in the Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains area.

IMO, Decker Canyon shouldn't be a continuation of CA-23 but some signed county N-# route.  The state highway designation would make the uninitiated feel as though this was a preferred routing between the 101 and PCH.  But it's not.  N9 (Kanan-Dume Rd) is a much straighter routing and for those who can afford the detour to the east, it is much better.

But it's not as scenic nor challenging...though it seems odd that one is SR and the other (which avoids more residences, and has four lanes in some sections) CR.

Yes, Decker is  challenging and we're not advocating closing the road, just shifiting more thru traffic onto Kanan-Dume by redesignating the road.
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Pete from Boston

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In my 6.5 years of driving, I've never fully burned the brakes out, however I have had a pretty close call.
Last May I decided to take a trip in the Gaspésie Peninsula of Québec, and since my father would be joining me we decided to take the automatic '98 Corolla (mind you, with new brake pads all-round) over my manual-transmission Matrix. We went along route 132 along most of it's length from Edmunston to Saint-Anne-Des-Monts. Of course I haven't driven automatic in 6 months or so, and I'm used to having discs in back, not drums, and I forget to lock out the OD, so naturally I rode the brakes a fair bit, going at quite a quick clip. As I get down into Gros-Morne from the east, I realise that I've only got some, not all my braking power. We pull out at a lookout spot (where I took the picture), and the smell of hot brakes was pungent! Probably not my best driving, but a good thing I noticed the brake fade early.

That is our car in that picture

That's beautiful.  Any recommended scenic routes in that area?
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Dr Frankenstein

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I've burnt out brakes by accident, once. Back in 2008, my 1992 Civic had quite a weak handbrake. While it would keep the car from coasting while parked on a decently low grade, it certainly couldn't keep the engine from moving the car. One morning, I forgot to release it and drove about 30 km on freeways. Exiting the freeway went smoothly due to turning off the ramp via another ramp to the right and a yield in which I didn't have to stop. A couple of kilometres later, however, while approaching the first red light, my brakes were all but gone (I suspect the fluid had mostly turned to gas at that point) and, after realizing I couldn't pull the handbrake because it was already up, I had to swerve to the shoulder to avoid other cars and make a hard right turn into a parking lot. After about 15 minutes of cooling down, the braking power was mostly restored and I went on my way; this time, with the handbrake off.
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mrfoxboy

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Re: For the second time in my life, I burned out my brakes in a passenger car
« Reply #17 on: December 03, 2015, 11:58:09 PM »

In my 6.5 years of driving, I've never fully burned the brakes out, however I have had a pretty close call.
Last May I decided to take a trip in the Gaspésie Peninsula of Québec, and since my father would be joining me we decided to take the automatic '98 Corolla (mind you, with new brake pads all-round) over my manual-transmission Matrix. We went along route 132 along most of it's length from Edmunston to Saint-Anne-Des-Monts. Of course I haven't driven automatic in 6 months or so, and I'm used to having discs in back, not drums, and I forget to lock out the OD, so naturally I rode the brakes a fair bit, going at quite a quick clip. As I get down into Gros-Morne from the east, I realise that I've only got some, not all my braking power. We pull out at a lookout spot (where I took the picture), and the smell of hot brakes was pungent! Probably not my best driving, but a good thing I noticed the brake fade early.

That is our car in that picture

That's beautiful.  Any recommended scenic routes in that area?
I would strongly suggest going from St-Flavie on Qc-132 all the way around to... St-Flavie...on Qc-132 :p as a way to cut through, Qc-299 runs through a provincial park (Parc National de la Gaspésie).
I also would suggest a vehicle with some amount of power and preferably a manual gearbox. The roads there do go through some impressive grades (IIRC some gp up to 16-17%).
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