Upon my return home I changed into clothes that I didn't mind getting wet/muddy/salty and crawled under the Expedition to figure out where things went awry. My examination of the brake system was brief as I found the problem with the first wheel I checked. The inside of my front driver's side caliper was soaked in brake fluid, as was the inner rim, tire wall, ball joint, control arm, blah blah blah. When I trained my flashlight on the brake line and followed it upwards it didn't take long to find the culprit: there, where the flexible rubber hose mates to the hard line that feeds into the caliper, was an explosion of rust that was putting forth a steady drip of brake fluid.
For the morbidly curious:
See on the left half of the picture, where the rubber hose gets notably thicker and then metal tubing emerges from it? That point, where the tubing starts and the hose ends, is where there's a flare that mates the hose to the brake tubing. That flare, after 10 years of road salt, rain and dirt, had rusted and finally ruptured. So every time I stepped on the brake it was sending streams of brake fluid out onto the road... and putting none to the caliper itself.
One of the things that surprised me most about tonight's little misadventure is that I had lost braking power on both axles, something that in my mind shouldn't have occured. So, after I found where the problem was I popped the hood and gave the brake system a more thorough look-over. What I found rather surprised me! See, all the Ford trucks I've owned until this point have had dual-cylinder brake systems. What this means is the master cylinder had two brake lines coming off it, one for each axle. Each brake line would go to a splitter block, which then fed out to that axle's respective brake calipers/drums. Apparently, somewhere along the line, Ford decided this was entirely too safe and/or didn't work well with their Anti-lock Brake System (ABS). So they went with a single cylinder system that feeds into a four-way distribution block. With that design, once one of the lines from the distribution block loses integrity (and thus pressure)... well, the entire system, like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest link. With the line ruptured and spewing freely, that's where all the pressure and thus all the fluid went. The path of least resistance and all that.
I checked on AutoZone's website and found they carried the replacement part I needed (hence I got the picture) and ran over to my store, getting in just minutes before they were set to close for the night. When the clerk asked what I was looking for I told him the exact part... and he said they didn't carry it! Lies! Or maybe the website lied to me? I had him check the computer, which showed ONE in stock. "I can go look for it, but I haven't seen one of these in almost a year." I encouraged him to go look, and he disappeared into the back for about five minutes. I'd begun to despair when he came out, but was empty handed. "Just another minute or two," he assured me as he disappeared into another stock room. Now I was sure I was boned... but eventually he emerged, grinning, with a plastic bag in his hand. "Last one! Last one from a box of eight," he grinned. I guess I lucked out there and joked back, "Maybe you only had one left from a box of eight because Ford makes the part so badly you had a run on 'em." He laughed a bit and I related my finding about the single-cylinder, four-way distribution brake system. "Nope, that's how they're all made these days."
To that I can only say: What the hell?
Unfortunately for me the garage is full so I would have to work in the driveway, which at 9:30 PM is a dark and chilly place that is not at all conducive to me putting the truck up on a jack. It's supposed to start snowing in a few hours, which will further add to the misery of doing this replacement in the driveway tomorrow. After a brief consideration and discussion with Curmudgeon, I opted to limp the truck to the local "Merlin Muffler and Brake," a chain I've done business with in the past and been relatively pleased with. This meant four miles of having hazards on, driving half the speed limit, downshifting and using the parking brake to arrest my motion when coasting to a stop wasn't doing the trick. Four miles of people stacking up behind me, no doubt swearing like wounded sailors. And one very, very interesting left turn. But ultimately I was able to get the truck into the parking lot. I left the replacement part on the driver's seat and closed the truck up. The thing I don't like about this is I had to A) leave the truck unlocked and B) leave the keys in the ignition. Why? Because the Expedition is an automatic. To get the vehicle out of PARK and into DRIVE or any other motion-related gear you have to have... that's right, the brake pedal depressed. I was lucky to be able to coax the shift lever to believe I had the brake depressed (I did... but it had to go all the way to the floor first) when I started it in the driveway to begin this little trip. I didn't want to make the Merlin guys go through that sort of trouble, so I left the truck in Neutral and set the parking brake. Unfortunately, with the transmission in Neutral, you can't remove the key from the ignition. You see where this is all going, I'm sure.
I'll call the shop tomorrow morning as soon as they open, tell them what door on the truck is unlocked, what the problem is and that the replacement part is already in the cabin. They can get it on one of their lifts and, with warmth and a power brake bleeder, probably have the whole works replaced and bled in under 30 minutes. So I should have my truck back tomorrow afternoon, just in time for our intrepid drive north to Antioch.
Taking little white pills and my eyes are open wide