How much damage did Tim's wife do, driving home from the circus... with the parking brake on?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 01, 2006

Dear Tom and Ray:

My wife drives a 1998 Subaru Outback Legacy with 110,000 miles on it. She recently had a dealer do a full brake job. Last night, when coming home from the circus, she forgot to take the parking brake off and drove home approximately 15 miles with smoke and a burning-brake smell trailing behind. I guess she had trapeze tricks and tumbling in her mind instead of proper auto care. My questions: How much damage did she do, and should I expect to have to pay for another brake job? -- Tim

RAY: No, you should only have to pay for another half a brake job, Tim.

TOM: Actually, you might not have to pay for anything. The '98 Outback came with two different brake configurations. The high-end Outbacks had disc brakes on all four wheels. Disc brakes make lousy parking brakes.

RAY: So in that car, there are separate drum-brake parking brakes on the rear wheels. On that model, even if you wore out your parking brake, your regular brakes would be fine. That's the best-case scenario.

TOM: However, many Outbacks came with disc brakes on the front wheels and drum brakes on the rear. And on those models, the rear drum brakes are also the parking brakes. So if you have drum brakes on your rear wheels, some damage might have been done.

RAY: If the parking brake was just on lightly, the drums might be fine. But since you say there was "smoke" involved, you need to investigate further. Typically what happens when the drums overheat is that they warp. In that case, you might notice a pulsing in the brake pedal when you come to a stop.

TOM: And if the brakes got really hot, the brake linings, which are glued to the shoes, may actually have come off. So have your mechanic take off the rear wheels and do a visual inspection.

RAY: And don't be mad at your wife for this, Tim. There's not a day that goes by that we don't hear about some clown causing problems on the road.

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