The braking system on a car is arguably one of the most important facets as it directly contributes to the safety of the driver and passengers. For that reason, it’s imperative to keep the parts of the system in good condition at all times.
There are two braking systems used primarily in automobiles – the disc brake system and the drum brake system. Wheel cylinders are used in drum brake systems.
Like most car parts, wheel cylinders can also begin to experience problems over time. If not fixed immediately, they can cause serious issues with the braking system and increase the risk of accidents on the road. The good thing is that they’re small parts and relatively simple to repair or replace.
The Cost of a Wheel Cylinder Replacement
Being as the parts are quite small, the cost of wheel cylinder replacement isn’t as high compared to other car components. Individually, the estimated price range is from $2.59 – $287.32 depending on type and brand. Here are the prices of some of the most popular brands:
- Adler: $19.55 to $45.31
- AMO: $34.08
- Centric: $3.90 to $9.82
- Beck Arnley: $5.54 to $54.38
- Crown: $16.60 to $33.47
- Dorman: $4.31 to $52.21
- Febi: $11.62 to $14.87
- FTE: $34.17 to 124.65
- Motorcraft: $11.58 to $63.11
- Nabtesco: $26.67 to $44.74
- OPGI: $15.03 to $109.14
- Raybesco: $3.85 to $62.30
- Wagner: $4.15 to $60.62
You can save a bit of cash by purchasing a wheel cylinder and then replacing it yourself. As long as you have a little basic knowledge about hydraulics and your car’s braking system, you shouldn’t run into any huge problems. If you’d like to know more about how to do the work yourself, check out our step-by-step instructional guide at the end of this article.
If the wheel cylinder in your car can survive with a small repair, there are wheel cylinder repair/rebuild kits available for purchase that contain all the parts you need. They’ll usually have extra springs, new pistons, seals, bolts, and boots (small pieces of rubber).
An enclosed instruction manual should guide you on how to assemble it. These kits are very affordable and the price ranges from $1.51 to $123.31 depending once again on the type and brand.
As brake cylinders cost much less than other parts and since failure to replace or repair them right away can end up wrecking other parts of the car’s system, it’s recommended to always take care of brake issues sooner rather than later. What once had a low price and was an easy fix could quickly spiral out of control and become much worse.
If you’re not confident enough to repair it yourself and don’t mind spending more, a vehicle tech in an auto shop can take care of it. You’ll have to pay the price of the wheel cylinder (unless you brought one yourself) plus the labor. The labor will cost an estimated $114 to $189 depending on the vehicle type, auto shop, and the mechanic’s hourly wage.
Below is a list of some of the most trusted and popular auto service and repair companies in the United States.
- AAA – American Automobile Association
- Firestone Service Centers
- Pep Boys
- Wal-Mart Oil and Lube
- O’Reilly Auto Parts
- National Tire & Battery (NTB)
If you decide to play it safe and bring your car to a repair shop, here’s a tip that can save you money. Since the mechanic is going to take off the wheels and open the drum anyway, now would be a good time to have the brake shoes replaced and the drum turned.
You’ll have to pay a little extra for those parts, but you’ll be saving in the long run because you won’t have to return and pay an additional labor charge. It’s actually recommended to replace the brake shoes along with the wheel cylinders, as both parts may be contributing to the problem.
What’s a Wheel Cylinder?
While brake calipers are used in disc brake systems to grind the brake pads against the disc rotors in order to slow down the car, drum brake systems use wheel cylinders. Wheel cylinders receive the incoming pressure provided by the hydraulic system and direct it towards the brake shoes which create friction against the brake drum in order to slow down the vehicle.
In short, they’re a really important part of the car and you wouldn’t be able to stop your vehicle properly without them.
Wheel cylinders were invented in 1958 and were originally made out of cast iron. After it was discovered that the iron cylinders often rusted, the new material of choice became aluminum.
There are four-wheel cylinders on a car – one on each wheel which works to apply the brake pressure being received. As drum brakes have been largely replaced by disc brakes, wheel cylinders are mostly seen only on the rear wheels of older-model vehicles.
A wheel cylinder comes equipped with a rubber seal to prevent leakage of brake fluid. This is a great protective feature for the pistons on the cylinder because without the seals, the hydraulic fluid would escape and the brake will not work as intended.
Here is a video explaining about a wheel cylinder and how it works (it’s only about 4 minutes long): Watching it will give you a close-up view of a wheel cylinder and further information about it.
Symptoms of a Bad Wheel Cylinder
One of the main problems that can plague a wheel cylinder is a broken or degraded rubber seal. If the cylinder shows signs of leakage, it might need to be repaired or replaced.
If the problem is just with a seal, it can be easily repaired without having to replace the entire part. Leaking brake fluid is very corrosive and can cause damage to paint as well as clog up other components of the braking system such as the drum or the outside of the shoe.
The most apparent symptom of a broken seal will be the presence of brake fluid dripping down the side of the wheel. You also might get an indication when pushing the brake pedal – it might feel soft and go all the way to the floor when stepped on.
Continuing to use the brake while a rubber seal is off and leaking fluid can lead to the entire system failing altogether. Keep a watchful eye out for any brake fluid exiting or dripping down the wheel.
Wheel cylinders can also become damaged from normal use. It will be difficult for the untrained eye to identify this problem, so it’s recommended to bring your car in if you suspect an issue, most especially if your car has had a recent bump or collision that might have knocked something out of place. A service mechanic will visually inspect the vehicle, take off the wheel if they need to, and determine if the cylinder is indeed damaged.
Having a bad wheel cylinder has the potential to become seized – meaning that it disallows the brake shoes from moving away from the drum. When this happens, braking will cause only one wheel on one side of the car to brake which will inadvertently cause the vehicle to move towards that side. A strong odor will also be present.
If you spot any of the aforementioned symptoms in your car, it’s recommended to have it inspected right away. The best way to prevent worse issues from arising with your wheel cylinders is simply to be observant and don’t delay a repair or replacement.