Corroded brake pipes get a mention in the section covering underbody corrosion, so we'll go straight on to the main components. If your FTO fails the MOT on front brake efficiency, then to be brutally frank you need shooting with something unpleasant. MOT braking standards are not particularly onerous and the front brakes of any half decent FTO should sail through. So if you couldn't tell there was something amiss, or worse still just couldn't be arsed to fix it, then you really shouldn't be driving a car, never mind a performance car. It's a slightly different story on the rear as the handbrake system, unless it is maintained correctly, can be marginal and MOT failure is quite common. Problems can be caused by brake pads seized in the caliper, seized handbrake cables, ropey brake discs, a malfunction in the caliper itself or if you're really unlucky, a combination of all four.
Part of a major service, ideally every 12 months, should be a complete brake strip down and clean. If this schedule is adhered to, then apart from perhaps a quick tweak of the handbrake, an FTO should sail through the MOT brake test. If you want to make sure and are a competent DIY'er, then the FTO braking system is quite straightforward. Whip the front brake pads out and give the holding clips and caliper carrier a good wire-brushing.
Check the flexible brake hose for signs of cracking or chafing and replace if you have any doubts. Don't allow the caliper to dangle on the flexible brake hose - hang it out of the way with a bit of bent welding rod or, if you are not a proper welder, a wire coat hanger. It's a lot easier if the caliper carrier is removed completely, then you can get it in a vice and remove all traces of rust from the pad slots.
Clean all pads and brake discs and check for wear on pads and have a look at both brake discs for excessive grooving, cracking, or corrosion. Replace defective pads or discs as required and don't be tempted to fit old pads with new discs - it's false economy and risks damaging your new discs.
Clean caliper pistons with a wire brush and check for excessive corrosion and/or fluid leaks. Apply a little releasing fluid under the dust cover before making sure that the caliper pistons retract correctly. You'll need some sort of wide-jawed grips and strong wrists, or do as we do and use a woodworker's G clamp and a metal plate. Under even pressure, the caliper piston should retract fairly easily. If it doesn't then you'll need either a caliper repair kit, consisting of piston and seals, or, if the caliper bore is also corroded, an exchange caliper. Check that caliper bolts are free in the carrier and reassemble with copper assembly compound on the sliding pins and where the pads meet the retaining clips. The brake pads should be an easy push fit into the retaining clips. If it is not immediately obvious that getting grease or Copperslip on the friction faces of the pads or discs is a very bad idea, then you should stop now and seek help.
Talking of help, once the front brakes are re-assembled, this is the point where you will need an assistant to press the brake pedal a few times leaving you to check that when the pedal is released and you turn the hubs, there is no evidence of drag or brake binding. Get your assistant to keep the brake pedal pressed while you check all flexible hoses carefully for signs of swelling and of course for any fluid leaks. At the same time check all calipers, bleed nipples and any metal pipes for sign of seepage.
If you are confident that the brake pads are free in the caliper carriers then any brake binding still present will be caused by sticky caliper pistons. As mentioned above, this repair will require at least an overhaul kit consisting of piston/s and seals and it's the type of work that should really be entrusted to professionals. Jonah types will find that corrosion has got the better of the caliper bores and they should budget for exchange calipers.
The rear brakes follow the same procedure as the front but you will need to check both handbrake cables and the external handbrake mechanism on the caliper. Slacken the handbrake cables off fully at the lever end inside the car - you can access the single adjusting 10mm nut directly under the cup holder just in front of the centre arm rest.
You can now remove thehandbrake cable from the caliper and remove the bottom retaining bolt.
The caliper should swing upwards and then slide off the top pin. Again the caliper carrier is best removed for cleaning, particularly if badly corroded and don't forget to clean the pad retaining clips. The brake pads should fit into the caliper carrier retaining clips with just slight finger pressure. If you have fitted new brake pads then you will need to adjust the caliper piston to allow for the increased thickness of the new pads. Clean the caliper piston with a wire brush and check that it is free, but don't be tempted to force it by compression. The slotted piston is on a screw thread arrangement that compensates for brake pad wear, and needs to be screwed in or with the correct caliper piston tool, which inevitably will not be to hand, so you will just have to struggle on with pointy nosed pliers, a couple of blood blisters and lots of swearing.
The caliper piston should turn freely and be adjusted just sufficiently to allow the caliper to fit over the pads when the slot on the piston aligns with the little 'pip' on the inner pad. The whole caliper should slide freely on both the upper pin and lower sleeve thingy with a dab of copperslip on both.
Once again, avoid contaminating the brake pad friction surfaces with copperslip or grease. Give the whole of the outside of the caliper a good going over with a stout wire brush to get rid of any flakey rust. A spray can of white grease (we use Wurth products) is handy for the external handbrake mechanism and the slot for the handbrake cable. Refit the handbrake cables, press the brake pedal a couple of times to position the caliper pistons and then adjust for travel at the handbrake lever end inside the car. Check brake fluid level at the reservoir and adjust accordingly. Use DOT3 or DOT4 fluid and only from a sealed container. See the front brake section above for checking for brake binding or leaks.
As with the front, persistent brake binding, if not caused by seized pads or hand brake cables, will be the caliper itself. You're going to need at least a caliper repair kit and piston, or, if you have any doubts about the handbrake mechanism, a complete exchange brake caliper.
Once you've got it all bolted back together, topped up the brake fluid, torqued up the wheels and checked tyre pressures, you can take the car for a test drive. On quiet stretch of road try gentle braking. The vehicle should pull up straight with no vibrations or noises. Check the handbrake travel and adjust accordingly via the nut under the drinks holder in the centre console. If you have fitted new pads and/or discs then they will need a few hundred miles of non-aggressive braking to bed in correctly and thus achieve maximum efficiency. If you have fitted high performance brake pads and/or discs then you will need to refer to that particular manufacturer for their recommended bedding in procedure.
Although not part of the MOT unless you have a leak or if the level is too low, now seems a good time to mention this often neglected fluid. Check the brake fluid reservoir and have a look at the clour of the fluid - it should be a light golden colour. If it looks milky or dirty then it is definitely time for a change. Contaminated brake fluid may work ok when relatively cool, but its performance can deteriorate alarmingly when hot, resulting in excessive pedal travel. Changing the fluid is once again a two man job. Ideally start at the caliper furthest away from the master cylinder and work your way to the front, bleeding as normal until you can clearly see fresh fluid flowing from each bleed nipple in turn.
Boring but important
Although we have been very careful in the compilation of the advice pages of our website and the content is thoroughly checked by our panel of specialists, we cannot be held responsible for any loss or damage caused if you decide to follow the advice contained herein. Please bear in mind that a job which may well be a piece of cake on a vehicle lift could easily turn into a total nightmare when lying on your back in the front street in the regulation puddle. Don't tackle any work unless you are confident that you fully understand the complexity of the job you are undertaking. Make sure that you have the correct tools to hand, always wear the appropriate protection and never, ever work under an unsupported vehicle. If you are not entirely confident that you can complete the job, then it should be entrusted to a specialist.
If you feel that there are any errors on any aspect of this or other pages of our website, or if you simply wish to comment, please call Malcolm on 0191 586 7724 or send us an email