A major brake failure can lead to more than just damaged rotors and drums. Brake fluid is caustic and it can strip paint and will dissolve grease. If you experience a wheel cylinder problem, you should have the wheel bearings inspected when the brake system is repaired.
During a long distance drive, I noticed a loud metallic bang upon applying the brakes. Immediately after this, a large cloud of smoke came from the rear of the car. The smoke dissipated and the brakes appeared to be working perfectly. I knew it was time for a brake inspection and put that on the to-do list.
A few days later, I inspected the fluid levels. The brake fluid was low and I added clean fluid. I arranged for an appointment with a nearby auto center. While I have completed brake jobs myself, I felt it would be better to have the work done professionally. I do not have the equipment to turn the drums and was worried that I might need replacements.
I dropped the car off and waited for the inevitable call that my drums would need to be replaced. Interestingly enough, the drums were fine. The brake pads on the right rear wheel were totally gone, down to bare metal. While this should have caused major damage to the drum, the wheel cylinder had blown. Both pistons had gone through the seals. The result was that the shoes were not making any contact with the drum to damage it. The drum was also full of brake fluid, something I did not think carefully enough about at the time.
A complete set of rear shoes and two new wheel cylinders later and the car was back on the road. As a note, after a major brake fluid leak, fluid remaining on the under body off the car will burn off when it heats up. The first time I drove any distance, the rear passenger side of the vehicle billowed smoke for about one mile.
Within one week, I began to notice an unusual vibration from the right rear. The faster the car traveled, the louder the vibration. This was a quick alert to a problem coming from the rear wheel. Once I thought about the damage to the wheel cylinder, I called the auto shop and brought the car back in. My diagnosis was correct. The wheel bearing was completely shot.
Enough brake fluid leaked, causing a breakdown of the wheel bearing grease. I was able to catch the problem before major damage occurred to the assembly. I only needed to have the one bearing replaced. The bearing on the driver’s side was fine. Lesson learned. In the event of a major brake fluid leak, all components in the area should be thoroughly inspected for safety.