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Old 05-07-2019, 11:33 AM   #1
mbsl2
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Default 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

Hey folks,

6 months ago I replaced the front brake pads due to normal wear and tear. I also flushed and replaced the brake fluid. The rotors looked fine.

Everything had been going fine until yesterday a strong burning smell emitted from the front drivers side wheel and the brake pedal became difficult to press.

When I got home I found the caliper for the front drivers side was locked up and the smell was obviously coming from there. I was able to ease it off by bleeding that brake.

I removed the brake fluid cap and it appears to be distorted/melted? I've attached a picture.

I did confirm the brake fluid used last time was DOT3.

The cap will need replaced but as for the cause I do not know?

My current idea is flush the brake fluid again, replace the cap and use different (still DO3) fluid?

Any advice/pointers would be appreciated.
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Old 05-07-2019, 12:06 PM   #2
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

The image shows a flexible rubber diaphragm. It flexes to accommodate fluid emptying from the master cylinder as calipers fill up when brake pads wear down - caliper pistons extending as pads wear. The slit in the center of the diaphragm allows venting as the cap has a side vent channel in its threads. Cap and seal are usually lifetime items not subject to wear. Contamination from mixing silicone brake fluid with DOT-3 (mineral oil) fluid destroys rubber seals in brake systems not designed for silicone fluid.

Its difficult to see if your seal is deformed. Use rubber gloves (or not) and feel if this seal is ruined. It may look deformed when its just flexed and remembers its last position. If you can straighten out the slight bends to reform it back to its original folded shape then its probably not ruined and just looks wrong. The purpose of this rubber seal is to minimize exposure to air with the cap on. DOT-3 brake fluid is hygroscopic - it absorbs moisture and lowers fluid boiling point and a reason for periodic replacement.

After all is done, try brakes with engine off; press on the brake pedal several times then check to see if the driver's side caliper releases. Disc brakes use their piston seals to help retract pistons just enough to allow pads to rub lightly on both surfaces of rotors. The slight runout (<0.002") of rotors also helps push pistons back resulting in slight rubbing of pads to disc. You should feel this when manually rotating tires mounted on disc brakes. With more mass, its easier to rotate wheels on disc brakes. With tires removed, its a little more difficult to rotate disc brakes but they should rotate. If a caliper locks up and refuses to release, something's wrong.

I replaced my front passenger caliper due seizure a few years back. I don't remember which caliper (four wheel disc brakes) but one of them suffered a punctured piston seal as I was trying to clean calipers. Incorrect maintenance on my part. It seized after several years - one day on a trip from NYC to central NJ, I noticed the car difficult to maintain speed. Stopped to check at a rest stop and found the right front rim was too hot to touch. I did what I could to nurse the car back home and verified the caliper locked, applying brakes all the time. The tell tale test was in drive where releasing brakes allows idle engine power to move the car forward or reverse on level ground. Locked brakes won't allow car movement in drive or reverse at idle rpm.

Last edited by fdryer; 05-07-2019 at 12:17 PM..

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Old 05-07-2019, 12:41 PM   #3
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

Thanks for the reply, appreciate it.

The seal definitely won't return to it's original shape. It's flexible, comes out of the cap, and goes on/comes off the mast cylinder fine but it's permanently deformed as it is in the picture.

After several pumps of the brakes with the engine off I'm able to rotate the disc an inch back and forth with no trouble. I've repeated this test multiple times and it's not locking up.

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Old 05-07-2019, 12:51 PM   #4
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

Another cause of front brakes locking is the rubber hose tat goes from body to caliper. They can collapse internally acting as a one way valve. It allows fluid into the caliper but blocks it from returning a little when you let off the brakes. I replace that hose with every brake pad change.

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Old 05-07-2019, 01:17 PM   #5
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

If I'm not mistaken, the brake hose choking fluid flow occurred only on Vues and on front brakes. The cause; a metal hose hanger formed around the hose may have been formed too tightly resulting in strangling the brake hose. A member cut his hose in half and showed an image of the center portion blocked, preventing fluid flow. No other Saturn has this problem. However, this strangling in the L-series brakes may be a new issue.

If brake fluid heated up very high, I wonder if heated fluid can travel up and heat up the master cylinder to deform this seal. There would have to be a lot of heating and for s long time as metal brake hoses absorbs heat. Brake fluid doesn't travel much as it depends on disc brake pads wearing down in order for fluid to fill the piston chambers.

My calipers rust from participating in salt belt states vigorously melting snow to let us slip and slide on roads and highways. It's fun as long as we can avoid playing bumper cars or smashing into barriers, people, homes, etc. I've had to de-rust the buildup over the years just to get replacement brake pads to fit. No wonder Brembo and other brands use paint or aluminum with anodizing to keep their calipers clean.

And in theory, all DOT-3 brake fluid around the world is mineral oil and supposedly compatible wherever its bought and used. Using other brake fluid like DOT-5 brake fluid in brakes designed for DOT-3 is a no-no due to silicone oil incompatible with rubbers used in brake systems. I think DOT-5 is used in racing brake systems designed for it. Not in vehicles with owners manuals and brake master cylinder caps specifying DOT-3 only.

Last edited by fdryer; 05-07-2019 at 01:28 PM..

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Old 05-07-2019, 02:40 PM   #6
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

I have had that problem with the hose happen on a few different brand name vehicles. For the $20 bucks they cost why not replace them every front brake pad change.

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Old 05-07-2019, 03:14 PM   #7
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

Thanks again. I will see about replacing the hose.

During the initial troubleshooting (getting it unseized) I had bled that one brake. After testing multiple pumps with the engine off it did not lock up again and the brakes felt normal.

However, I just took it for a test drive and almost all pressure is gone from the brakes. I'm almost hitting the floor before any real braking happens.

I will go ahead and bleed all the brakes then test again.

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Old 05-07-2019, 03:20 PM   #8
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

This is the first for me to read about brake hoses failing in this scenario. In my case, it never occurred to me for brake hose failure as I tested calipers by braking then attempting to turn the tire. Forcing the caliper piston to retract it freed up the locked brake. Replacing the caliper using the original brake hose has been trouble free since. Vues definitely have choked hose issues right at the bracket holding the hose out of the way.

While your experience is valuable, it may not apply to all brake hoses otherwise there would be ample warnings everywhere; youtube, public message boards like Saturnfans, brake sites for the brake industry, repair shops, dealers, service bulletins and safety notices from NHTSA.

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Old 05-07-2019, 03:46 PM   #9
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

How did the caliper pins look and did you lube them thoroughly?

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Old 05-07-2019, 04:22 PM   #10
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

It sounds to me like a brake piston is sticking or is stuck. They are metal pistons and if they are rusty they will not retract and simply keep the brake on, on that side or they will rust in the off position and simply not work.

Last year my son, who has a 2003 L300 said Dad the front brake is making a weird noise. I looked immediately at the pads and on one side they were completely worn down and were grinding on the rotor. You may well assume that the problem is with that caliper, but that is not the case. Going to the opposite side, the pads were more or less brand new. What had happened was the 'new' pad side had seized OFF. The side where the pads had worn down was working properly but was having to do the work of 2 calipers, hence it wore out fast.

You cannot cut corners or skimp on brakes. They are the only thing between you and a hospital bed. I replaced both front calipers, rotors, pads AND flexible hoses. The rear rotors were replaced the year before. My son has had no more problems and Dad can sleep at night!

I would suggest you pull the front pads and if needs be remove the calipers from the car BUT check the condition of the pistons. If you can see corrosion, and they cannot be pushed in with a G clamp, don't risk it. Just replace the whole lot. If you have boiled the brake fluid, that may need replacing as well, just for safety's sake.

We tend to take disc brakes for granted and they tend to get forgotten about unlike drum brakes which require periodic adjustment and so you look at them. I source from Rock Auto and the prices are good. My son also got all new brake pipes last year as well along with a new handbrake cable. His system is more or less replaced apart from the master cylinder. He doesn't have abs, so his system is simple.

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Old 05-07-2019, 05:45 PM   #11
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

Thanks again for the replies.

The pins looked good when I replaced the front brake pads. they were lightly greased and slide in well.

When replacing the pads the brake pistons depressed fine with a c-clamp without much effort. I also don't feel any pull to one side when braking.

I took it for a ~20 minute test drive after re-bleeding. The brakes felt spongy at first but after a couple of minutes they return to what feels like normal. I applied the brakes both gently and more suddenly and everything feels fine... for now.

When I returned I jacked the car up and was able to rotate the drivers side wheel back and forth with ease, so the caliper does not appear to have locked up again.

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Old 05-07-2019, 06:16 PM   #12
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

Whatever caused that caliper to lock up was either resolved from servicing or may come back at random. Be aware of the possibility of it locking up again. While I do not think this should occur, I remind myself from time to time to release brakes at stops to check for car movement, creep, as indication that all four brakes release. The one caliper that locked made acceleration slower and held the car while in drive with brakes released to indicate something wrong. We all take for granted trouble free brakes. My issue snuck up on me. Hopefully you don't experience this scenario.

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Old 05-08-2019, 09:35 AM   #13
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

One final comment which I only realized this morning. It was never apparent from the initial or subsequent posts whether the car is fitted with ABS. Saturn could never make its mind up about fitting ABS on the L Series. One year it was an option, then the next standard, then the next an option.

A malfunctioning ABS unit will usually throw a dash light BUT that notification system is only as good as the led on the dash. So if your car is fitted with ABS, does the dash light come on then go off?

The other thing I know is the bleeding brakes which are fitted with ABS can be a different process than non ABS.

I would like to hope that the issue is fixed, but as no culprit was ever found, I am sceptical that it is fixed long term. I hope I am proven wrong.

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Old 05-08-2019, 09:51 AM   #14
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

Our 2000 LS2 L3.0 Liter has ABS and our ABS Dash Light has been ON for years!

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Old 05-16-2019, 10:05 PM   #15
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

Thanks for the replies.

The ABS light does come on when the key is inserted (with the other lights) then goes off, so no indication of problem there.

I've been driving the car fine for a week. Took it to get state inspected today, asked them to look at the brake system too. They found no problems.

Of course, on the drive back the caliper became locked up again.

After getting home (driving slow) I let it sit for a couple of hours before going out to look at it again.

Here's the thing:
- The caliper was still locked up. I slowly unscrewed the brake fluid cap (which I did not replace btw) and as I unscrewed it, it let out a slow hiss. No bubbling of fluid or anything. The caliper had unlocked, I was able to roll forward in idle drive. The brakes now feel normal again...

I'm not sure where to look next. I have no SES or check engine light and no ODB II codes showing.

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Old 05-17-2019, 12:09 AM   #16
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

Presuming you unscrewed the brake master cylinder (slowly unscrewed the brake fluid) cap and heard a hissing sound, this seems very odd.

1-Brake master cylinder caps are grooved on the inside threaded portion to allow venting of the master cylinder. The rubber seal has a vent slit in the middle of the seal for venting. Any pressure, hydraulic or air) should never develop at any time with the cap on or off. Even when brakes are pressed, with engine idling or off, zero hydraulic or air pressure exists above the rubber seal when the correct seal and cap are used. I know this as I have serviced my L300 and examined the rubber seal and cap.

2-With the abs light cycling on then off, this removes the abs from interfering with brakes.

3-Was the brake master cylinder ever replaced?

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Old 05-17-2019, 12:30 AM   #17
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

Thanks again.

Sorry, yes, brake master cylinder cap. It's possible the distortion of the cap is causing the build up of pressure? I do see the groove on the inside thread and the slit in the rubber seal. The distortion does not seem to block either of these, but it may when put back in place?

The brake master cylinder has not been replaced. I can see about doing that.

The vehicle is at 114k miles btw.

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Old 05-17-2019, 02:11 AM   #18
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

Please don't replace the brake master cylinder unless you have determined it to be the reason for locking up front brakes at random. Something is wrong and there isn't anything you described to point where. Personally, I can't imagine the rubber seal allowing pressure to build up but there are unusual situations. Over tightened the master cylinder cap to force distortion? The cap only needs to be finger tight.

Hydraulic pressure is generated below the two tiny ports on the bottom of the master cylinder reservoir, out of view from the plastic screen filter. The two ports allow gravity to feed brake fluid into the two piston chambers when the brake pedal is released. When pressing down on the brake pedal, each piston closes off the ports and begins building pressure as pedal travel continues. Pressure builds up and goes out the two lines to the abs unit. Abs is effectively invisible to the brake system until its activated. The reservoir is always vented from the slit and open grooves in the cap. Hydraulic pressure is distributed to front and rear brakes. More pedal effort, more pressure to brake. The power vacuum brake unit uses engine vacuum to multiply brake pressures.

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Old 05-17-2019, 11:35 AM   #19
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

I have had a pedal stick on these cars enough to heat up the brakes. It also held the brake lights on and the cruise control off. Lube the pedal bushings solved this on this car.

However the failure of the reservoir cap seal indicates fluid contamination. Any oil product most likely power steering fluid destroys all the rubber in the brake system. This causes cascading problems through the brake system starting at the master cylinder. The op stated that they flushed the system therefore destroying all the components with the problem fluid. This would be an expensive fix without a complete parts car.

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Old 05-17-2019, 11:59 AM   #20
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Default Re: 2003 LW300 Front Drivers Caliper locked up

Quote:
Originally Posted by fdryer View Post
Please don't replace the brake master cylinder unless you have determined it to be the reason for locking up front brakes at random. Something is wrong and there isn't anything you described to point where.
Agreed!

This could be as simple as a bad caliper. I'm not suggesting that the caliper is malfunctioning, I cannot know unless I'm there with you examining this. Thus far your trouble has been located at the one wheel and not elsewhere within the hydraulic system. It stands to reason that the problem is at that location. The master cylinder cannot isolate its function to only one wheel so as to cause this type of failure. I'm in agreement with floridasl22002 based on the information provided.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mbsl2 View Post
...When replacing the pads the brake pistons depressed fine with a c-clamp without much effort. I also don't feel any pull to one side when braking...
In general, restoring a caliper piston into the bore as described above requires minimal effort as long as the master cylinder cap was removed to relieve pressure. What many DIY mechanics don't realize is that returning the piston into the bore in this manner can cause damage to the piston seal. If this occurs, it will typically result in the piston moving out of the bore off center and pressing unevenly against the inner pad when braking. This, in turn, alters the pressure against the outer pad as it causes the caliper itself to shift off center while traveling across the bracket surface. This could have happened here. The only way to verify this is to examine the brake pads.

When checking the pad condition,
1) if the surface of the brake pad friction material remains parallel with the pad plate then the caliper is not at fault;
2) if the fricition material surface appears to be at a diagonal relative to the pad plate then the piston is moving at an angle when exiting the caliper bore. The remedy here is to
a) replace the caliper, or
b) repair the caliper by removing the piston and replacing its seal (it is not common for the piston to have been damaged in this scenario although it's not completely out of the question), reinstalling the piston and new seal with the caliper bleeder screw open.

(The preferred professional method of resetting the caliper piston into the bore is to have the bleeder screw loosened first so that there is no pressure whatsoever against the piston as it is pressed back into the bore. This prevents any damage to the seal from occuring during that process.)

...
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