Time has come again to attempt work on the Taurus brakes. My wife phoned from her work parking lot to say that there was an unusual squeal and she had also been complaining about some mysterious grinding. This is not to say that it is necessarily the brakes, but the back brakes had been looming as an issue ever since the front brakes had been replaced earlier in the summer and we ran out of time to spend getting into the rear brakes.
The main issue here is that the our 2002 Ford Taurus SEL sedan has rear drum brakes. It must be near the current size and weight limit for a car with rear drum brakes as the “wagon” model with identical engine and features gets disc brakes. I realize that much larger vehicles had drum brakes in the past and that they even had them on the front — but it seems pretty clear from the equipment lists of major vehicles that disc brakes are superior in almost every way, save cost for lower end light vehicles.
In particular, these rear drum brakes don’t like to be removed. They resist it with all their ability. Most literature on the subject (both Haynes and AllData) advise you loosen the tensioner through a very tiny hole in the backing plate. I don’t have a hoist yet, so my wife has tried getting in there with a dentist’s mirror and a screwdriver both times we’ve done this repair successfully — and basically failed both times. The previous iteration failed because all the components inside the drum had turned to compost. She failed this time because the wheel itself (examining it after having removed the drum) is very difficult to turn and thus nearly impossible to turn from the perspective of the tiny hole in the backing plate. Keep in mind that this picture is at an odd angle; this hole is devilishly hard to access and another point for automotive engineers having to work on their own vehicles. The axle shaft is to the left of the hole in the left of center top of the photo. This placing of the hole makes it exceedingly difficult to get both eyes and tools anywhere near the hole.
Just for reference here, I’m posting the picture of the toothed wheel on the left here. This picture is from the side with the drum removed. The wheel we’re talking about is part of the automatic adjustment mechanism. The lever in front of it (from the camera’s perspective) is pushed up near the limit of the brake pedal’s travel; thus if the lever manages to push up an entire “click,” the driver has pushed hard enough on the brakes and far enough on the brakes to indicate that they need to be tightened by one notch. Knowing how things work is not always comforting and in this case, I really wonder how reliable such a thing is.
This wasn’t my first plan of attack, however. I had read somewhere (and I no longer have the reference) that releasing the emergency brake cable can make the repair easier. I attempted this, but the result is pictured here to the right. This “turnbuckle” thing is found running down a channel near the outside of the car on the drivers side. The emergency brake passes through the floor under the drivers door sill plate and then runs back from there (branching near the driver’s side rear axel). This piece is where the section from the pedal (on the right) is joined to the section from the rear (on the left). I put “turnbuckle” in quotes because although it looks like one, it is not. The nut on the bolt shaft is turned to loosen it (while holding the shaft). The “buckle” only serves to couple this to the rear section (which starts with a soldered end). In this case, I broke the shaft despite my liberal application of penetrating oil… I suppose I should expect as much since the whole assembly was out in the elements for almost 10 years at this point.
In the end, brute force won the day. To the left here you can see the drum (bottom of picture) being removed from the backing plate (top of picture). I’ve seen quite a few backing plates that are not too strong and couldn’t take the punishment, but these on the Taurus seem to take it. I pried first with a small screwdriver, then with a larger one and then with the claw of a framing hammer. There is sprung “give” in the shoes which are what is largely stopping the removal; so just tugging at the drum on alternate sides doesn’t work. I found that I had to pry at each step — which is why the wide claw of the framing hammer was used in the last step: turning the claw was effective while pulling was not.
At any rate, the drums are off now. I’ll get the new shoes from the parts store in the morning. I would have got them today, but the store cut it’s hours without posting this on their website — so we missed them today. The drums are in good shape and the miscellaneous springs are in relatively good shape — but we’ll probably replace the springs as they’re collectively cheap. Given the material left on these shoes, it would have probably been fine for the winter, but now that I have it apart, it’s going to be replaced.