By on September 6, 2019

TJ writes:

My New Year’s resolution this year was to get my grandfather’s 1979 Chevy C10 running and driving again. It’s been parked in the garage since I drove it in there when my wife and I moved into our house in spring 2012. I stopped driving it because the transmission needed (another) rebuild and I didn’t have the time or money then. I’ve managed to get it running (full carb cleaning and new sending unit in the tank) and it will idle after some urging.

Now the next issue: I decided to check the brakes by jacking up first one end then the other and spinning the tires, then having someone step on the brakes (my 4 year old loved it). 3 out of 4 wheels spin, but the brakes don’t stop more spinning. The front passenger is stuck. I was able to get the rotor to turn some with a breaker bar. I could also hear some dragging in the rear passenger drum, but I was still able to turn it by hand. The pedal has some firmness, but not a lot and it doesn’t get hard after the engine is off (have to check the booster once I get the brakes working).

My first thought is to replace the front calipers and rotors (rotors probably need it anyway) and wheel bearings, since the rotors will be off. I’m not above rebuilding the rear drums also. Before I drop a bunch of money on parts, I thought I’d reach out for advice.

Sajeev answers:

A funny thing happened this Tuesday, hours before I got to this query: after 500-ish miles of pleasant motoring in my restored 1989 Lincoln Continental (TTAC’s Pilot Fish for that other V6 Ford), the front left caliper started sticking. I got to my destination without catching on fire but it’s still frustrating, considering the time (3-ish years) and money (don’t ask) spent fixing everything that looked wrong.

And several mechanics inspected the brakes, but you can’t eyeball the failing guts of a brake caliper, or the internal collapsing of a brake line. So what’s my point?

You better believe you’re replacing/turning/rebuilding:

  • Front Calipers/Pads, Rear Shoes/Wheel Cylinders
  • Front Rotors and Rear Drums
  • Rebuilding the other guts inside those drums
  • Replacing ALL Rubber Brake Lines (three, according to RockAuto)

The C-10 brake bits are pretty cheap online, not super cheap compared to what I just ordered: everything to rebuild mine was $75, including shipping.  Everything: mid-quality rotors, rebuilt calipers, Raybestos rubber lines and even Robocop-Car spec pads…yes, the latter really is a thing.

Ah, the joys of owning a high volume/low interest antique vehicle: all the hard work with none of the fame or fortune. So when all the stoppie bits (technical term) arrive next week, I look forward to my next donut with my Cop Car infused Continental. (I’ll do the rear brakes later, I promise.) 1989 Lincoln Continental Signature Series, Image: Sajeev MehtaNow go rebuild your brakes!  

[Images: Bring a Trailer, Sajeev Mehta]

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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24 Comments on “Piston Slap: Of Antique Trucks and Rebuilt Brakes...”

  • avatar

    When pickups were pickups and men were men… and stupid posts like mine didn’t exist.

    Seriously that’s a nice looking truck.

    • 0 avatar


      My first truck was a 77 K10 in baby blue. It was a beautiful truck.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. I miss trucks like that.

      • 0 avatar

        >When pickups were pickups and men were men

        You’re preaching to the choir…

        I have a 1987 1/2 ton Custom Deluxe – the last of the square-bodied Chevy pickups. Also the last Chevy pickup with a combination of a 3-speed manual Saginaw transmission (3-on-the-tree converted to 3-on-the-floor with a Hurst shifter) and TBI 4.3 Vortec V6.

        Just finished restoring the mechanicals, body is currently 80% restored (including new steel front fender wells courtesy of LMC truck). Only need to finish the rust repair, prime, paint and undercoat the chassis.

        I take it for nice long drives on the country back roads with a big smile on my face.

        Engine fires up on the first crank and purrs like a kitten.

        • 0 avatar

          Yep ;

          For suck a large looking truck these handled and rode quite well and were available with an astounding array of options new and well supported in the aftermarket .


          “I take it for nice long drives on the country back roads with a big smile on my face.

          Engine fires up on the first crank and purrs like a kitten.”

    • 0 avatar

      In the case of my 1987:

      >You better believe you’re replacing/turning/rebuilding:

      Front Calipers/Pads, Rear Shoes/Wheel Cylinders – CHECK

      Front Rotors and Rear Drums – CHECK

      Rebuilding the other guts inside those drums (including wheel cylinders) – CHECK

      Replacing ALL Rubber Brake Lines (three, according to RockAuto) – CHECK

  • avatar

    Yeah if their not working, wheel cylinders and calipers are a good idea. Rubberlines probably too unless they have been replaced in the last 10-15 years. You could try and bleed everything then try again if you want to try and pinpoint the issue. On the plus side in genral old GM products like yours tend to have some of the most affordable parts pricing around.

    For the stuck one take off the caliper before you order parts make sure the bearings etc are good. It’s rare but I once had a friends truck wheel bearing freeze (mind you the dust cap was long gone and the grease had long since disappeared when he parked it).

  • avatar

    I would also inspect and replace all suspect metal brake lines, especially in an almost 50 year old truck. And since you might be replacing all of the rubber lines, the master cylinder might be a good item to renew as well.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 on the master cylinder. TJ might save some bucks by rebuilding it himself. It’s not that difficult.

      • 0 avatar

        If you can find a kit. Those just aren’t that common any more and the possibility is that it has been replaced once before and some aftermarket units need a different kit than the OE unit.

        Personally I now only do 100% new master cylinders, they aren’t that much more expensive and I’ve had better luck with them.

  • avatar
    Big Smoke

    Get ready for “whileyouratititis” to set in.

  • avatar

    Re: sticking caliper

    I had the collapsing internals on the rubber line on an old S10. It acts like a check valve with enough residual pressure to drag the pads. Took a while to figure it out but I guess it’s fairly common on old stuff.

  • avatar

    _BEFORE_ you begin you should flush the entire hydraulic system by open bleeding it until clean fluid comes out of each bleeder nipple then continue until nothing come out so you don’t have old black crappy fluid in there when you replace the calipers, brake cylinders, master cylinder and hoses .

    Wheel & master cylinders are far too cheap to bother rebuilding 30 year old components .

    Those are the minimums, unless the drums are bell mouthed they should _not_ be machined / turned per the folks who designed them .

    Buy new front wheel seals and watch a your tube video to learn how to properly re pack the bearings, they rarely go bad .

    Push the grease in through the edges of the bearings, _NOT_ through the rollaers ! .

    Or, buy a $10 bearing packer and a big zip lock bag to store it in when you’re finished .

    Use good quality short fiber moly based grease, not cheapo translucent crap .

    Don’t forget to grease all those suspension Zerk fittings when the truck is up on safety stands, suspension unloaded .

    What a beautiful truck ! .

    I had a 1976 GMC 3/4 ton long bed for a while, it was a HUGE BEAST but also a damn good truck ready for work or play just like yours will be .


  • avatar

    “it will idle after some urging.”

    I can see the sentimental value, otherwise why mess with a Malaise Era vehicle like this?

    • 0 avatar

      Cause it’s cool man.

      Because it represents a piece of history.

      Because it is more likely to turn his kid into a gear-head than a shiny new Tundra/Titan/Silverado/F150/et al.

    • 0 avatar

      The carb may be fine. After sitting for so long, it’s possible that the fuel pump might have gone bad (cheap), or the fuel filter might be gunked up (cheap), or maybe a line is blocked (cheap/free). There might also be a vacuum leak … say from a dry-rotted vacuum brake booster diaphragm or hose? It might be a pretty minor issue.

      In general, cool truck!

      You may wish to go buy a lot of PB Blaster at this point before you dig further into it.

  • avatar

    Until four months ago I would have thought this endeavor to be a waste of time. I recently bought a 2006 GMC Sierra because GM, Ford, and FCA were not offering any great deals to lease another truck. My wife was not happy as she thinks vehicles stop being dependable at 85,000 miles and this truck had 87K on it.

    It runs great. The rocker panels are in the typical state of decay for 13 year old trucks, but I love everything else about it. I am trying to decide if I should do anything to preserve what is left of the rocker panels, but I don’t plan to buy new any time soon.

    Thank you for a great article.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Napa will set you up very affordably with new parts. The truck is old and stopping is mucho important, so no reason to get cheap here. New: rotors, pads, rubber lines, calipers, and booster if necessary. All easy to do. I believe Nate typed already, drain the lines of all the old fluid first, have junior hang out in the front and pump those brakes to get the old fluid out.

    TR4: why bother with a malaise era rig like this? Easy, simple to work on and anvil reliable once you get the years of lot rot sorted. If the truck is not rusted as it appears to not be, for not a lot of $$ invested, a truck like this has decades of useful life left in it and are super cool to drive. A set of wheels on that 79′ and the owner has a slick rig.

    FOG: I applaud your purchase of an 06′. I drive an 08′ Suburban and have for the last 10.5 years no real issues to speak of. For your next rig, look out west; CO, NM, AZ, NV, UT etc for a truck. No salt, you can easily find a 15 YO truck with zero rust. Other than the usual 130k door dings, road rash on the hood my Suburban looks brand new from 10 feet. I think it is worth the one way airfare to pick up a non rusted truck, one guys opinion though.

  • avatar

    I would also check the power brake booster (if the truck is so equipped). I recently got my 68 Caprice back on the road after 30 years of storage and the booster wasn’t “boosting” at all, resulting in a really hard pedal. The booster runs on engine vacuum, it is pretty easy to test. If you’re changing the master cylinder, this is the time to do the booster.

    Plus the new booster will have a nice look to it and really improve your engine bay. I didn’t like the look of a shiny new master cylinder and cap next to the grungy old booster anyway.

    Also don’t forget the rear rubber brake hose as it can be easy to miss.

  • avatar

    Another + + + on detlump and others.
    Master cylinder-REPLACE!
    And check/replace the brake booster. That era of GMC may have the Hydra-Boost. Either way best to replace after 45 years.

  • avatar

    My fantasy truck is a late 70s boxy Chevy shortbed, where the long hood and short bed almost make it look like an awkward sedan…painted poo brown with the off-white toilet paper stripe along the side…with little dog-dish hubcaps on white steelies. THIS GUY HAS MY TRUCK. It pleases me just to know it exists, whether it can stop or not.

  • avatar


    Everything Sajeev and Nate said.

    Enjoy your truck – built before GM decided they could skip the primer coat, like they did on mine – lol.

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