Is it normal for a car to swing left and forward when stopping suddenly?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 1992

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1985 Olds Cutlass Supreme. I have had to slam on the brakes several times to avoid unexpected obstacles. Each time I make a panic stop, the left rear of the car swings out to the left and forward. Fortunately, there have been no collisions due to this braking problem. I have had it to the dealership numerous times, and each time they told me they tested it in panic stops, and could find nothing wrong. Is it possible there was a recall that I missed? What else do you suggest?

TOM: Well, Dave, unless you've been in the Federal Witness Protection Program, it's pretty hard to miss a recall notice. But just to be sure, we called the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). They confirmed that there has been no recall relating to the brakes on your Oldsmobile--although they told us there have been recalls on the steering linkages, the cruise control, and the seat belts!

RAY: And by the way, anyone can call NHTSA's toll free "Auto Safety Hotline" to get recall information by dialing 1-800-424-9393.

TOM: What's happening, Dave, is that your left rear wheel is probably locking up. And there aren't that many things that could cause it. It could be something as simple as a bad tire or an improperly inflated tire.

RAY: Or it could be that the rear brake shoes have some kind of contamination on them like brake fluid that's coming from a leaky wheel cylinder. While LOTS of it would cause the brakes to slip and NOT work, a little bit of fluid on the shoes can actually cause them to grab and lock up. But if that were the case, the guys at the dealership probably would have seen it.

TOM: Another possibility--and one that's easier to overlook--is a STICKY wheel cylinder--not on the side that's locking, but on the OTHER side. If the brakes on the right side aren't grabbing as quickly as they're supposed to, the effect is that the brakes on the left side seem to be working TOO well. And that may be why they're grabbing and locking up.

RAY: But if the dealership continues to insist that they can't find anything, and you really feel you're in some kind of jeopardy, spend $100 bucks and get a brake job (and make sure whoever does it really checks out the wheel cylinders). New linings and newly machined drums may very well fix it, and you may never know exactly what was wrong with the old ones. But who cares? As long as it's fixed, you'll be happy, right?

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