1997 Pontiac Sunfire RIGHT rear brake lockup/ drag when app

Tiny
KURT VONSTERNBERG
  • 1997 PONTIAC SUNFIRE

Brakes problem
1997 Pontiac Sunfire 4 cyl Front Wheel Drive Automatic 150000 miles

I have done many brake jobs (disc & drum) over the last 40 years, but NEVER encountered this type of "recurring" weird problem before! I own a 97 Pontiac Sunfire. This is NOT a hydraulic/ bleeding or ABS problem and is "only" associated with the RIGHT REAR drum brake (standard bendix brake) This has been an ongoing/recurring problem for the last several years. After replacing the rear brake shoes on this vehicle (several times) the brakes are fine for several months and/or several thousand miles. Slowly but surely, the RIGHT REAR brake will gradually start to become increasingly sensitive and start to "grab" actually causing the right rear of the vehicle to "dip" when applying the brakes at "slow" speeds. It will do this whether applied with hydraulics or the manual parking brake! I have replaced ALL the hardware including the backing plates, drums, wheel cylinders and all the typical brake hardware. I have replaced these rear shoes at least 4 times with both new and rebuilt, replaced the drums and have even resurfaced the drums twice. The problem goes away completely (for a while) but keeps recurring only after several thousand miles and "only" on the RIGHT REAR. Any help or suggestions--short of junking this thing?PLEASE HELP! ("Baffled")

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Thursday, January 21st, 2010 AT 6:57 AM

11 Replies

Tiny
JACOBANDNICKOLAS
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I can tell you this is a common problem. The problem seems to be with design. Over the years I have found this. Moisture seems to have an adverse effect on them and once the shoes get glaze on them as well as the drums, they start locking up. The only way I have found to repair the problem is clean and sand the shoes and lightly cut the drums to clean the glaze off them. And yes, it is a temporary fix until they glaze again. There is never a leak from a wheel cylender. THey glaze and they grab.

I remember a TSB from years ago regarding this issue. GM recommended driving with your foot on the brake for short periods of time to burn the glaze off. I never understood it because I think it would make it worse. Regardless, it never worked for me. Only what I have described above seems to fix it.

Let me know if you have other questions.

Joe

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Thursday, January 21st, 2010 AT 7:40 PM
Tiny
KURT VONSTERNBERG
  • MEMBER

Hi Joe,

I suppose I can agree (to some extent) with the "glazing" of the shoes and the drum idea, but why does this seem to manifest only with the RIGHT rear brake? The left side "seems" to be ok and both sides use the exact same design in "mirror image". Why would one side glaze and create a problem more than the other side? I can't make ANY sense of this problem whatsoever! I would expect ANY brake shoes/pads to glaze after use and burnishing in, but I've NEVER heard of such a thing creating a grabbing situation. I would think the more glazed the drum and shoes become (excluding contamination) the LESS the friction coefficient would be and the less the tendency to grab. I've owned cars (including HI performance) which had very similar drum brakes on all four wheels and NEVER experienced this problem--EVER. I'm NOT arguing with you by any means, but how could GM (or any other manufacturer) have a "chronic" BRAKE problem like this from day one and have no fix? **I've tried the applying and/or dragging the brakes routine myself and found it does indeed make the situation even worse. I still don't see how this can be a defective "design"--makes no sense! These drum brakes are still based on the old tried and proven "basic" Bendix design used from when hydraulic drum brakes were first implemented on motor vehicles back in the 30's. Do you know/ can you tell me, WHAT the design flaw is in these particular brake assemblies? Also, as I already stated, I've replaced the wheel cylinders merely upon the suspicion and/or hunch that it may have been "weeping" on the shoes (but wasn't) and obviously didn't fix the problem. I've also checked to be sure--short/primary shoe is forward. I've never heard of this being a common or inherent problem in ANY vehicle. Why does this problem seem to only manifest in the RIGHT rear wheel? Being a well seasoned 58 yr. Old engineer, this still makes NO sense to me whatsoever. Thanks for any further info on this subject. This IS CRAZY!

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Thursday, January 21st, 2010 AT 10:35 PM
Tiny
JACOBANDNICKOLAS
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I agree and wish I had a better answer. As far as the you only having trouble with the right rear, I can't justify it. The entire subject doesn't make sense, but it seems to happen in more often than not.

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Friday, January 22nd, 2010 AT 7:16 AM
Tiny
KURT VONSTERNBERG
  • MEMBER

Hi Joe,

Thanks for the response. Is there an emergency/parking brake cable slack adjustment on this piece of crap? I have a Haynes manual on this thing, but I don't see any definitive adjustment proceedure for the parking brake slack. It seems I have to pull the park brake handle up probably a good 5 or 6 clicks (or more) before it even starts to apply the rear brakes. It seems to me that there should be some sort of "real" adjustment for it? Can you help with this question? THANX!

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Friday, January 22nd, 2010 AT 8:55 AM
Tiny
JACOBANDNICKOLAS
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Hi:
I'm sorry I don't have a better answer for you on the problem. I tried to research it again today at work, and there is nothing.

Now for the real slap in the face. I looked up parking brake adjustment in the manual so I had the exact info for you. Here is what it says:

"Rear brakes are self adjusting. Parking brake is cable operated and should not need adjusted."

Basically, if the brakes are properly adjusted (like the self adjusters ever work right) the park brake is adjusted. What a joke.

Can you see a cable adjuster where the cable attaches to the handle?

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Friday, January 22nd, 2010 AT 9:50 PM
Tiny
KURT VONSTERNBERG
  • MEMBER

Hi (again)

Again, thanks for responding. The saga goes on. In reference to 'your' question---NO, I do not see any parking brake adjusting mechanism and/or threaded rod, etc. As you would typically expect in a "normally" designed automobile! Nothing at the handle or anywhere in the cable assembly leading to the rear wheels anywhere, thus the initial reason for my question about the adjustment procedure (don't particularly trust Haynes' manuals!) The entire braking system in this car is a sick joke--ABS a further nightmare! If the "engineers"? That designed this rolling piece of crap (and sick excuse for an automobile) made any more than $8/hr. They were seriously "overpaid" by at least $6/hr! Yes--you are correct, the self adjusters never work properly, never have and never will. I also replaced the star adjusters, levers, springs and all the other hardware and YES, they are indeed installed properly and on the correct sides of the vehicle. Even with the adjusters manually cranked up to the point of the shoes mildly scuffing the drums, the parking brake handle still needs 6 or 7 "clicks" before the brakes actually apply. I've never encountered such weird brake problems in ANY vehicle I've ever owned and/or worked on (and I've had "plenty"!) I guess we've exhausted all possible answers to these problems with this fine specimen of "engineering excellence"! **Thanks for your help. I've been a GM man for over 40 yrs. (Corvettes, Chevelles, Nova's--even Corvair's & Vega's!) But THIS one takes the cake! The car otherwise runs great considering the age and mileage, but really leaves alot to be desired when it comes to servicing, adjustments and overall engineering. **Same piece of crap as the (clone) Cavalier---Thanx again.

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Friday, January 22nd, 2010 AT 10:34 PM
Tiny
JACOBANDNICKOLAS
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Sorry I didn't have better news for you. I'm an old Chrysler man for the past 30 years. My favorite was a 68 Superbee. I was young and my father made me sell it before I killed myself. I'll never own another new one. Something tells me Fiat is really going to make matters worse.

It sounds like you had a lot of nice cars over the years. The Vega you mentioned caught my eye. I'm not even sure what year it is, but there is a Cosworth (don't know if that is spelled right) Vega with like 17K on it for sale near me. It's nice. THey want 6K for it but I can tell the rear fenders were painted. It has checks in the paint. Other than that, it's solid and really nice. I forget what the #plate on the dash said, but I know they didn't make many.

Good luck with the brakes. I really think the top dogs at GM (and all companies) have young family members that finish engineering school on line with a C- average grade. And since they are family, they get the job.

Joe

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Saturday, January 23rd, 2010 AT 5:32 PM
Tiny
KURT VONSTERNBERG
  • MEMBER

Hi Joe,

Thanks again for your response. Yes, you could say I've had several nice cars over the years, seeing as I'm now 58+ yrs. Old. I had (2) '57 T-Birds back in '68. One had the original 312 Y-block (w/"trips") and in the other I stuffed a big block dual-quad Ford 406 FE w/top loader 4 speed. That thing was a sick screamer (ran mid 11's) on/off the streets! I sold the 'birds" (BIG mistake!) Then bought a real nice jet black '63 1/2 Ford Galaxie 500 2 dr. Hard top with a dual-quad 427 FE big block back in '69 through '71 (ran mid 12's) on/off the streets! The gas then was only about 24c / gallon! We all bitched when Sunoco 260 went up to 38c/ gal.--Can't even buy it now! Sold the Ford and bought a '63 Corvette Sting Ray "split-window" coupe in mid '71 (my 1st Chevy) Did a total body-off/frame up restoration on it and sold it in '83 ("another" BIG mistake!) For downpayment on a house. Later on, I had several stock Vega's, but never a Cosworth although I know the Cosworths very, very well. I also had a few friends who had Cosworths back when they were new (75-76) In the mid '80's I did up a 'real nice' Vega GT wagon with a small block 350 and all the "fixin's". That one was another "sick-screamer"! I sold that one in '95 (another BIG mistake) and have been driving "beaters" ever since! My dad was a big time performance "Mopar" freak back in the early days. I remember he had a new '67 Barracuda 273 Formula S. Then a year or so later he bought a new '69 Roadrunner 383. Then a year or so later he bought a 340 Challenger and then a 440 GTX. These were all "brand new" cars! Then he got into the Jap stuff--Toyota Camry's, and many others. He is now 85 yrs. Old and believe it or not, owns a canary yellow 2005-C6 Corvette decked out to the max (Callaway-600+hp!) It has actually been in Corvette Enthusiast magazine (twice) see issue (Feb / 2008 / pg.96) ---believe it! Yes, you could say we've had "some" cars! I also agree with your statement of the "young" engineers----SCARY--VERY scary!

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Sunday, January 24th, 2010 AT 12:35 AM
Tiny
JACOBANDNICKOLAS
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Your father and I would get along really well. I would love to have any of the cars you mentioned. I'll check out Corvette Enthusiast Magazine.

I wish I could find a Super Bee that I could afford. I can't believe what kind of money they are worth. About 10 miles from where I live, I am watching one sink into the ground. I think it's a 70. The guy will not sell it. At this point, I question if it is even repairable. The body is all there, but sitting on grass and mud doesn't do much for the underside.

It was great talking with you. At 45, my wife thinks I'm going through a mid life thing. Maybe I am. Here is another interesting point. My father is 85 too. He got a new Dakota in 07. Had to have the V8. (LOL) Not a vette, but for a 4x4, it does well.

Take care.

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Sunday, January 24th, 2010 AT 1:53 AM
Tiny
MARTINCR
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In response to said problem I believe you are right. They do need an adjustment for older cars. What I see as the problem is that older cars rust. And rust grows in thickness, agree? If so think about this, your break cable harness is made with a spring like shape between each coil is rust on older cars this rust lengthens the outer housing, and the cable inside does not get longer causing a partly applied break situation, solution either buy and install new cables, for an older car may not be what you wish to do. Shoes assembled check if the top of shoes come together and rest on pivot point if not what I did worked for me I take no responsibility for liability if you choose to alter original equipment. This being said. I took cross brace above axel out and on side with more meat where I could easily take slot deeper I did just that ! About 1/16 deeper on each side of car, this allowed shoes to come together and for me problem solved. A simple file and your on your way !

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Thursday, December 25th, 2014 AT 4:46 PM
Tiny
BLISSOM
  • MEMBER

Just for the record, I am having the EXACT same issue. The only difference is on my 1998 Pontiac Sunfire 4 cyl 2.2L the left rear wheel is the one acting up. My car's left rear wheel seems to grab at low speeds on soft dirt/gravel/grass. Further on hard pavement it too dips at low speeds. All pads, rotors, and drums look pristine. Thanks for the info you guys have provided but as I understand it's just one of those things I'll have to live with.

Thanks again.

Jason

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Sunday, October 18th, 2015 AT 8:48 AM

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