True North is:

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Michigan, United States

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Give me a Brake

Over the course of my life I have worn many hats and done a lot of different things, but when it came to anything mechanical I would always defer to a professional. Especially when it came to our vehicles. It was always my thought that if you needed repairs, minor or major, you went to the shop, pulled out your plastic, and walked away with a fixed car and some type of warranty.

Well, that type of thinking is over for us, and so when the brakes on our Blazer started squealing I knew I was soon going to be delving into realms unknown. To be honest I wasn't too worried about the actual job of changing the brakes, but I was worried about my tool situation. I have always believed that I could do just about anything as long as I have the proper tools, and proper tools were exactly what I did not have. My collection of automotive tools is a mismatched and unorganized mess that is crammed into two large tool boxes. Most of these tools are from stuff my Dad had laying around and the rest are just odds and ends I have acquired over the years.

Just to make sure It was indeed my brakes making all that noise (which I was 99% sure) and to get a price quote so I could see how much money I was going to save, I took the Blazer into Midas and had them look at it. The estimate they gave me was $236.00 for brakes and rotors. Apparently I had let the brakes go too long and now the rotors had to be replaced. My habit of procrastination was costing me. Once again the hard lesson that 'putting things off and being frugal doesn't mix well' was rearing its ugly head.

Anyways, with the information about the parts I needed at hand, I headed over to a local automotive store and purchased what I would need. Brakes, rotors, a small packet of grease and some spray cleaner...the total: $100 and some change. A difference of $136 from the Midas quote. The way me and Melissa looked at it...that was $136 dollars we didn't have to earn, and that is a good thing.

The next thing I did was 'google' anything I could pertaining to changing brakes, which thankfully there was a ton. So, with a couple printouts in hand, my new parts, and a smattering of odd tools, I went to work.

At this point I'd like to tell you how smooth everything went, but if I'm being honest I have to tell you that my lack of tools (and quality tools!) was a problem. Once I figured out what size I needed to take of my caliper bolts (18 mm btw for anyone with a 2002 blazer), and discovered that I had every MM size except 18 I had to go buy a socket. Returning with my new socket I immediately broke my old and shabby ratchet. This prompted another run to the store, but this time I bought a wrench. My savings (or money we don't have to earn) was being depleted. At least my useful tool collection was growing.

As I suspected, once I had the proper tools, the actual job was rather easy. It did take the better part of the afternoon, but when all was said and done...the brakes worked great!

New skills and accomplishments are a great recipe for successful homesteading!


  1. Atta Boy North.. just curious, did you have someone help you bleed the lines or did you do the bottle and hose method?

    The thing about aquiring tools is that you have to use them!

  2. Yes, Melissa helped me. Never heard of the 'bottle and hose' method. Harder I guess?

  3. You're absolutely right that with the right tools you can do any job. For the first 5-8 repairs you may well spend as much on tools as you will save by doing the job yourself. But of course you are making an investment.

    I began repairing my own cars at age 18 when I first lived on my own, because I couldn't afford to pay someone else to do it. You just have to face the fact that you'll mess up from time to time as you learn. Stripped threads, snapped bolts, bashed knuckles, fried electrical parts... I've done it all. But learning how to be creative in recovering from mistakes gives great satisfaction too.

    I learned the hard way - don't *ever* be tempted to save money by buying cheap tools. The cost in aggravation and damaged parts is bad enough, but in the long run, "cheap" tools cost more overall because they need to be replaced.

    There are a few tools & tips I wish I'd known about when I started doing my own repairs. This is just off the top of my head, certainly there are more.

    1. GOOD phillips-head screwdrivers: Crappy screwdrivers waste lots of time. If you price Snap-on screwdrivers they will seem insanely expensive. But most other brands strip the screw head much more often. I'd love to have my entire set of tools from Snap-on but I just have the screwdrivers, and that's enough.

    2. know when to destroy it - if bolts or brackets are seriously rusty, cut 'em off whenever you can. I wasted too much time trying to unbolt rust globs. For nuts there is a thing called a nut-splitter, doesn't cost to much and saves a whole lot of time. Small hacksaws are handy too. I have a compressor so I find the air cut-off tool very handy.

    3. bucket of nuts 'n bolts - It takes a while to build up your own collection, but you can find these at estate sales sometimes. Basically, you throw every nut 'n bolt you pull from old machines, or have left over from other jobs, into a bin. Once it's big enough, it's invaluable for finding that one bolt required to finish the job at hand.

    4. 12-point sockets are easier to get on in tight quarters, but 6-point sockets are better for the big bolts because they're less likely to round the bolt head.

    5. A good repair manual for your vehicle more than pays for itself. The Chilton manuals are pretty bad in my opinion. Haynes are better. The factory manual may be best, but it may also assume that you're an expert mechanic, and they can be pricey. (OTOH, someone may have scanned it to a .pdf file and put it online, wink, wink)

    There's so much more I can't think of right now... wish I could swing by and help you with your next repairs, but it sounds like you're off to a great start.

  4. Great advise! I really appreciate the time you spent replying. Next repair....fuel pump...ehhh:)

  5. Great job!! I love doing our brakes. Some info I got from a master mechanic on fuel pumps is never let your fuel light come on or go below 1/8 tank. The fuel pump has to work harder and thus goes bad faster.

  6. Patrick, THANK YOU!!!

    You gave me the courage to try this. Our Ford F150 had been squeaking and I new it needed new brakes, but was REALLY scared to do it myself. found a website with a little video on it and it seemed SOOOOO easy i just HAD to try it. It took me about 45 minutes to do both front brakes and they work great! Midas wanted $200 it cost me $40 in parts.

    Thanks again for giving me the courage to attempt it!

  7. Thanks for your story, Rick! Congrats!...feels good to not have to spemd that money.