Braker Braker

PICT0006_4cb0d95069f17-lightboxThe Brabus is my first foray into sports car ownership.  I expected fun driving and good brakes and was expecting to see high service bills and more frequent maintenance; including brake changes.

The Brabus has a 7000 mile service cycle which is low compared to other cars and my mileage means the servicing happens yearly.  The biggest surprise was the brakes; my driving style and the roundabouts are heavy on brakes but they just don’t wear.  They do produce a lot of brake dust making the wheels filthy so I knew they were wearing but after every service, the technicians always said that the brakes ‘would do’ for a while more.

This was surprising, as Milton Keynes is not a brake friendly place.  Then a funny thing happened on the way home from the office.

A particular roundabout has a sweeping right-hander that ‘flicks’ left on the exit.  If the traffic lights are in your favour, you can keep accelerating through the whole corner right through the exit.  One could describe it as a ‘drivers’ corner’.  Said roundabout now has a 40 mph limit imposed since its re-design – meh!

On this particular occasion (pre speed limit), all the conditions were perfect, warm road, cool air and the traffic lights in my favour with barely any other traffic around.  Halfway through the corner, the ESP warning light comes on and puts the car into some strange ‘limp mode’.  Very strange, especially when the light disappeared on a straight piece of road.   This limp mode function also made the car more responsive and it ‘felt’ quicker.

After consulting my favourite forums, the problem was low brake fluid.  So the brakes were wearing after all!

Brake fluid topped up, it was business as usual until the portent of doom – droning (droning – not grinding) brakes – began soon after the light.

I needed new pads, for sure, but I thought I would go for something a bit better… a complete upgrade… including performance discs…

The question was; holey or groovy?

I had ruled out the drilled discs as:

a) I had read some horror stories about overheating and bending and

b) I couldn’t find any from suppliers in the country.

Typically, drilled discs are used for vented type but this increases the disc width and weight considerably.  This would mean new calipers and associated gubbins!  Perhaps this could be a mega brake upgrade for the future?

I finally settled on the EBC Ultimax (that come completely painted black – über cool) coupled with EBC Green Stuff pads –  a snip at £15 or so from Smarts Part Direct (A great independent parts provider for Smart cars – and cheaper than everywhere else) and waited for the weekend when I could fit them.

In the middle of that week, my car began making the grinding sound of doom!  The brakes had definitely ‘had it’.  Limping the car home, I tried to use the brakes as little as possible.  The Brabus’ gearbox makes engine braking less effective than on a manual car but with extending my braking/slowing distance my brakes did not suffer their usual pounding.

The weekend came, and I got the spanners out!  I have always had an interest in the mechanical aspect of cars and learned to change brakes way back when I first started driving.  But as I was removing the front wheel and braking apparatus I noticed that the whole area was filthy. Some front wheel arch pampering would be in order!

After cleaning the inner wings, all the bits of metal, wishbones and anti-roll bars, I was quite pleased.   A thorough scrub of the alloys to remove the ground in dirt on the inside of the wheels and with new discs I thought it would look great – with the exception of the calipers.  They looked a bit scrappy. so I thought I would paint them.  Now if it was a Porsche they would be yellow, Ferrari would be red but I like understated (he says owning a Brabus) and gloss black it was.

Calipers painted, arches cleaned, wheels gleaming and with black discs and Green Stuff pads showing (or should I say glowing) through, it did look quite tidy.

So all set to brake as late as possible then?

Er no.

The instructions for both brakes and discs state that they should be bedded in with approximately 200 miles or so of careful driving.  Having ruined some brand new discs on my old Vectra by harsh braking into roundabouts, this lesson is one I have learned at my cost.

I had been driving remarkably sensibly with about 50 miles to go before the 200-mile mark when I had an announcement at work. The whole company was implementing short time working to the tune of 50% and that meant that I didn’t need to drive to work as much.  My commute drive is my main blast in the car and as I could already feel the difference, I was more than a little gutted for drop in driving, let alone the 50% cut in wages.

Those last 50 miles seemed to take an age but when they were ready they were very ‘strong’.

My-oh-my were they strong.   So strong, they were giving the anti-lock braking system a thorough pounding.

We had friends visiting from Sweden and they had heard the legend of ‘The Toy’.  I took ‘Mr’ out in it through a favourite route of mine and had to apply some hard braking to avoid something.  The only comparison I can make as a ‘before and after’ is the Jeremy Clarkson, McMerc SLR brake test.  Honestly, it felt like I had halved the previous braking distance. My innards felt re-arranged.  My passenger thought he had detached a retina, I think both of us swore under our breath!

I had bought these brakes because the reports I had were glowing not only for their stopping power, but also for their longevity as they were reported to last far in excess of 30,000 miles.  On the rare occasions I took the car out for the remainder of the year, I learned just how late I could brake into corners [grin] and I do admit it, I did hammer them!  But heck, they worked better when hot!

Just before Christmas, I was made redundant and ‘The Toy’ was garaged as a ‘when I need to travel’ drive.  Perhaps it was the lack of use, perhaps it felt neglected, perhaps it was complaining at me trying to drive it in the snow (yep) but on the way to the Birmingham NEC to drop ‘The Toy’ off for the Autosport Exhibition, the same portent of doom began droning.  Only this time, it was accompanied by an odd scratching noise.

Further investigation revealed that my Green Stuff pads had worn down to the steel marker! After only 5000 miles!  So much for 30,000 miles…  After some more investigation, I think it was my spanner tinkering that hadn’t ensured a free and moving caliper and that had caused binding and the premature wear!

Quandary; Do I replace with Green Stuff (£45) or try the Black stuff (£25) to see if it happens again.  I choose the cheaper option thinking that if I do need professional help, I will have only wasted £25!

So another set of tinkering, paying particular attention to the movement of the caliper and I am happy to say that they have lasted, are not binding and the brakes are still as good as ever!

The brake saga has been drawn out due to changes in my personal circumstance and these cars are not perfect but even after 2 and a bit years of ownership; this car still turns heads and even gets comments like ‘I love that sound’ when I press the loud pedal, but most of all, it still makes me smile.




Steve Lloyd