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Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Give me a (hand) brake

They say that gearheads swear by their factory service manuals and at their Chilton's manuals. Unfortunately, I only had the latter when I was replacing the handbrake lever on my Focus.

This started a while ago when the button on the lever, for no apparent reason, sank into the handle and wouldn't pop out. A little searching around found that a leather-wrapped SVT brake lever from Ford Racing was less than what the dealer wanted for a standard plastic-handled lever. Curiously, while they said the SVT lever fits all models, the Ford dealer offered two different styles, one of which cost twice as much. It depended on whether the length of cable connected to it, whether it had a ball end or a T end. Here's a hint: If the cable that attaches to the lever isn't broken, don't buy the more expensive one. The cable is just bolted onto the lever and swaps between the two levers with absolutely no hassle whatsoever. As it turns out, my parking brake cable had the more expensive T-end and the SVT brake had the bal end. I just put the original cable onto the SVT handle.

At any rate, the Chilton's manual offers a considerable amount of questionable advice when swapping the parking brake handle out. Much of this relates to how they try to make one manual fit several years; the description of how to remove the trim at the rear of the center console was dead wrong. Luckily that wasn't too hard to figure out; the back cover just kind of pops up if you pull its divider towards the front of the car.

It also neglected to mention that the cable can easily come out entirely if you don't hold a little tension on it when you remove the lever. The directions claimed you could remove and replace the parking brake handle entirely from the inside, without ever needing to crawl under the car. If the cable remains attached to the rest of the system, yes, you can do it. However, if you let the cable get shoved backwards, it can easily pop off the bracket that it attaches to. Reattaching it requires supporting the car on jackstands, crawling under it, and removing a heat shield in the center tunnel. If at all possbile, keep the cable from going slack and you will be able to avoid crawling under the car. Note that I can't be sure if cars that use a ball end on the cable have the same problem.

Unfortunately, while a factory manual for the Focus would be nice to have, Ford has several books out on the Focus and the price of them adds up to around $300. Unless I get the urge to rebuild the engine, I may just settle for a slightly inaccurate manual that costs less than a tenth as much.

And even with a somewhat inadequate book and several extra steps to reattach the cable, I had the parking brake swapped out in less than an hour.

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