Motorhomes just like cars require regular maintenance so they can be used safely. Where a motorhome in most cases differs from a car is its infrequent use. This can be particularly applicable to how the brakes perform on a motorhome. There are various causes of potential brake problems on a motorhome, such as squealing and overheating. Its not always due to the pads or discs on the motorhome being warn out. It can be due to other braking components prematurely failing due to the infrequent use most motorhomes experience. Therefore, with this post, I’ll discuss some of the potential causes and reasons for motorhome brake problems.
However, this post is not intended to be a step-by-step guide of how to DIY fix your motorhome brakes. Working on braking systems when you’re not completely sure or confident in what your doing could be extremely dangerous. My intention with this post is to highlight potential brake issues so when you take your motorhome to the garage you can be aware what repairs may need to take place. Hopefully, you have the time to read this full post on potential motorhome brake problems. However, if not please use the Table of Content below to jump to specific sections. 🙂
Introduction to Motorhome Brake Problems and Repair
If you get into your motorhome and the handbrake seems to be stuck on, and when you pull away you can hear a lot of squealing and scraping noises coming from the brakes this may simply be due to corrosion. As stated above, unlike a car that is generally used quite frequently motorhomes tend to only be used a couple of times a year. Hence, much of the time the vehicle is sat idle. Corrosion then forms on the brake discs, therefore there is no longer any clearance between the discs and brake pads. Hence for the first couple of miles, maybe even further you’re removing that corrosion as the wheels rotate and the brakes are applied. However, it can sound pretty noisy. Now, if after say 5 miles you are still hearing a lot of scraping noises coming from the brakes this may be a sign of an actual brake problem/repair that needs to be addressed.
I’m not a mechanic, though I do personally carry out my own work on my car brakes, I also have my work checked over by a mechanic. Below is a video from ‘Diamond Dave’ at Practical Motorhome discussing potential motorhome brake problems/repairs and maintenance.As Dave states in the video below, typically a motorhome weighs in excess of 3 tonnes. Therefore, its vital that your motorhome brakes are performing as they should not only for your own safety but for other road users.
Seized Brake Pads and Calipers on Motorhomes
As discussed above, if you are still hearing a lot of noise coming from the brakes on your motorhome after a few miles, it could be due to a seized brake pad or caliper. The brake caliper is essentially a piston which pushes the pads against the disc during braking. When your foot is not on the brake pedal and the caliper piston is not pushing against the pads the rotation of the brake disc should push the pads away from the surface of the disc. However, as Dave discusses in the video above, the clips which enable the pads to slips back and forth can become seized. Hence, even when your foot is not on the brake pedal the pad is still touching the disc. This causes premature wear of the pad. It also creates excessive heat build-up. This denatures the brake pad causing cracking and delamination. What that essentially means is the brake pad separates from its metal backplate.
A typical example of brake pads fitted to a motorhome based on a Fiat Ducato: Image – Amazon
The excessive heat build-up can also lead to cracking of the discs themselves. Therefore, when brake pads become seized against the disc, it often means both the pads and discs need to be replaced. Its also best practice to have the pads/discs changed on both sides. If you don’t you could experience harder braking on one side of the motorhome than the other. Hence, under hard braking, say and emergency stop, the motorhome could pull to one side.
A typical example of new front discs for a Fiat Ducato based motorhome, also commonly referred to as ‘rotors’: Image – Amazon
Seized Brake Capilers Are More Expensive To Fix
So I recently had a seized brake caliper on my car, and to be honest the experience was a bit scary until I worked out what the problem was. We live on a hill, one day I went out and travelled a couple of miles downhill to a set of traffic lights, I could then see what I thought a first was smoke coming from the engine bay. I quickly pulled in and got out of the car, I then realised it was a problem with the brakes. Its a car I don’t use that frequently and I was unaware the caliper had become seized. So after travelling a few miles the brake pads and disc got very very hot. Its a very similar to issues to a seized brake pad, unfortunately, it costs more to fix. Instead of just swapping the brake pads and discs I also had to have a new brake caliper.
Top Tip: Now, if your motorhome needs a new brake caliper a garage will just probably purchase a new one. However, a brake caliper is essentially a cast iron housing with a piston instead. Often its just the piston part that’s failed, not a cracked housing. Therefore, there are companies that recondition brake callipers. They completely strip them down and put in a new piston and O-rings. When you order such a reconditioned caliper you give them your old caliper as a part of the deal, which then will the recondition for another customer. Hence, you get a brake caliper which is just as good as a brand new caliper, but half the price.
Some garages do refurbish/repair brake caliper pistons in house, with a kit such as this. However its quite rare, most just replace brake calipers with new/reconditioned units: Image – Amazon
Motorhome Brake Fluid Should Be Changed Every 2 Years
Now, any ‘good’ garage should be changing the brake fluid on your motorhome when they replace the discs/pads unless it was changed recently. As Dave states in the video above, brake fluid is hygroscopic, which means it pulls moisture from the air. Obviously, when that fluid is passing through metal/steel/iron components that’s not ideal, leading to corrosion issues. Hence, over time it goes from a golden/honey colour to a much darker/black liquid. Therefore you want to make sure whichever garage is working on your motorhome brakes they change the brake fluid and bleed the brake system to remove any air. Air in the brake line is very dangerous and leads to inconsistent braking performance. Now, in the video above Dave states brake fluid should be changed every 3-4 years. However, other garages I know state it should be changed around every 2 years. As the performance of the brakes on your motorhome is so vital, personally I would have it changed every 2 years.
Make sure the garage who is carrying out work on your motorhome brakes replace the brake fluid if it is more than 2 years old and they use a decent product such as Comma: Image – Amazon
Overheating Motorhome Brakes
Now, let’s presume for a second your motorhome brakes are not experiencing the issues stated above of seized brake pads/calipers or old brake fluid. Motorhome brakes can still overheat going down a long steep road due to the weight of the vehicle and the relatively small front discs. One means to address this is when your front discs are being replaced ask the garage to fit ventilated discs apposed to solid front brake discs. With ventilated discs, there is a room for air to get inside the rotors to aid with cooling.
If your motorhome is not already fitted with ventilated front brake discs ask your garage if would be possible to have them fitted to help reduce overheating. The costs difference typically between solid discs and ventilated discs is negligible: Image – Amazon
Motorhome Rear Brake Shoes
Dave in the video above doesn’t reference the rear brakes on a motorhome, so I’ll just quickly do so. Motorhomes have rear drum brakes which are similar to caravan brakes. Inside the metal drum, there are two brake shoes which when you put your foot on the brake push the shoes against the interior surface of the drums. Now, drum brakes are not as efficient at braking as disc brakes. However, as they are enclosed they don’t suffer so much from corrosion issues which front disc brakes on motorhomes experience. As the rear brakes do less work than the front brakes they typically last much longer before the brake shoes need replacing, though at some point they will need replacing.
A typical example of the brake shoes fitted to a motorhome based on a Fiat Ducato: Image – Amazon
Conclusions on Motorhome Brake Problems
As discussed above, some motorhome brake issues such as squealing may be a tempory issue due to corrosion on the surface of the discs. However, other issues such as seized brake shoes/calipers will require repair/maintenance. Along with that, making sure the brake fluid is in good condition and changed regularly every two years is important. I don’t encourage anyone who is not competent to work on their motorhomes brakes to do so. However, being educated about potential issues may help you save money. For instance, using reconditioned brake calipers instead of brand new parts as referenced above.
You could also ask your garage what the cost of the parts they order would be and compare them to online prices. With a website such as Amazon Vehicle Part Finder, you can enter your vehicle reg or make/model and it displays all the applicable parts. Not only the right brake pads/shoes and discs but also brake lines, fluid etc. If the prices are cheaper, you could purchase them online and then get your garage to fit them.
I hope you found this post on motorhome brake issues informative and useful. I also hope at some point in the future you consider coming to visit us here at Horton Common to experience our fully serviced pitches. 🙂