Friday, December 1, 2006

VW - Brake Grease


In 1957 I had a part-time job doing brake jobs at Pep Boys in Hayward, California. It was an after-hours sort of thing, six pm until ten or eleven; whenever I finished; two to four jobs a night. You had to provide your own tools and as a part-timer, I didn't have a regular bench or locker; haul them in when I started, haul them home when I was done. I used Pep Boys parts of course, and whatever consumables I needed were provided by the store. One of those consumable supplies was brake grease.

I quickly used up the tube of brake grease I had in my kit and replaced it with what the store carried, a fair sized can with a fitted top like a coffee can; you opened it with a key. I don't recall the brand name, maybe 'Whitmore' but that's just a guess.

The can held four ounces and since you only use a dab here and there, a can that large was just about a life-time supply. It was hard, yellowish stuff with the consistency of saddle soap. The last time I saw the can was before we took off for a month- long trip down to Baja in 1991 to observe the eclipse.

About a year after the eclipse trip I was doing a brake job, went looking for the brake grease and couldn't find it. No problem; there's two real parts-houses in the town I live in, plus three or four of the fast-food variety. Next time I was downtown I stopped at the biggest parts-house, asked for can of brake grease.

There were four guys working the counter and I knew three of them, having done business there for nearly twenty years. They all thought I was joking, including one old fart who's been around since Henry was making T's. But not a one of them had ever heard of brake grease; swore they had never carried it, hinted that there wasn't such a thing. Ditto with the other parts-house. And ditto on the humor, too. They were convinced I was pulling their leg -- or someone was pulling mine, like sending a seaman duce to the bosun's locker for twenty fathoms of chow line.

I had to drive ten miles to another town, go to a Chevy dealer and pay a ridiculous amount for a tiny plastic tube of 'High Temperature Grease' and the gratuitous comment from the parts- guy, "Nobody calls it brake grease any more." I do.

If the counter-men at two parts-house had never even heard of brake grease it's a fair bet they haven't been selling much of it, which gives me a hunch a lot of you may not of heard of it either. And don't go a'waving St. Muir at me. Mr. Muir was a writer and a publisher; my grandmother was a better mechanic.

Before writing this I dug through a stack of shop manuals to see when brake grease lost its honest name. A couple of recent Haynes manuals still call it brake grease. Toyota calls it 'Special High Temperature Lubricant (Brake)'. The Bentley VW manual (66-69 Sedans) doesn't show you where to apply brake grease, although they offer a cryptic 'Use lubricants sparingly,' as if you'd been born knowing what, where & how.

Here's the where: On the threads of your adjusters. Take them apart, clean them, apply a dab of brake grease, reassemble them and wipe off any excess. Then put a dab at any point on the backing plate touched by the shoes; I think the bugs have four such places, two per shoe (most cars have three, a few have four). Then you put four other dabs on the ends of the shoes, where they contact the pivot, adjuster or wheel cylinder piston. When you assemble the rear shoes, put a dab on the link pin before you install a new Circlip. Put a dab where the parking brake cable fits to the lever.

Here's the how: A dab means just the lightest smearing of grease; use your finger. A two-ounce tube of brake grease should be enough for 25-30 brake jobs, mebbe more.

Here's the what: Ask for 'High Temperature Lubricant.' (Even then I'd be wary if it didn't mention 'suitable for brakes' or something similar.) And don't be surprised if you have to go to a dealer to find it.


The geezer behind the parts-counter had been selling parts for forty years and swore he'd never heard of brake grease. That told me he hadn't done too many brake jobs; from the look of his hands, he may not have done any at all. But he knew all about it and was quick to share his perception of reality.

On the other hand, when it comes to brakes, no grease at all is better than one dab in the wrong place. Your brakes won't work as well but the wiser course is to know what you're doing before you do it. Hanging around a professional brake shop and keeping your eyes open wouldn't be a bad idea.



Anonymous said...

It is certainly interesting for me to read this article. Thanx for it. I like such topics and anything that is connected to them. I definitely want to read more on that blog soon.

Anonymous said...

I use a caliper anti-squeal lubricant with a silicone blend called Sil-Glyde.

Eduardo said...

I had the same problem when I went looking for it at different auto supply stores, no one had ever heard of such a thing. I saw it in the Haynes manual instructions on doing break jobs....

Anonymous said...

I had the same problem and got the same responces when I went looking for it here in southern Cal..