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96 Explorer, Brakes press themselves.

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Mar 16, 2017, 11:53 PM

Post #1 of 5 (808 views)
96 Explorer, Brakes press themselves. Sign In

1996 Ford Explorer XLT (rebuild) 2WD 5.0
270k miles? odometer went out a long time ago.

I think this is a domino effect issue stemming from a lost caliper bolt.

In late December, my front right brake began to just compress itself at will, putting it out of commission. The duration, pressure, and time of the compression are completely random, but short. about 1-3 seconds, and hard enough to cause the vehicle to lurch at 25mph, but not to stop it completely.
I have systematically tried to fix this issue, but I'm tired, broke, and in over my head.

I have replaced the brake pads, brake hardware, brake hoses, rotors (hub combo), and calipers.
Additionally replaced the bearings, tie rod, sway links, and lower ball joint since December alone.
All of my fuses look good.
I have also unhooked the ABS from the sensor as its been giving me issues kicking in unnecessarily for about a year now.

I am told three possibilities remain:
- The ABS is still kicking in because I have not removed the fuse.
- The emergency brake must be going out
- The Brake Booster has failed.

I'm pretty confident its not the e-brake since...well, front, lol.
I don't know much about the ABS outside of the fact that its been nothing but a dangerous annoyance to me, but I find it hard to believe it could still function if unplugged from the sensor.
I don't know anything about brake boosters at all.

Before I spend another $200+ on a repair I cant do myself:
There are three fuses that effect brake function in some way, but I'm a 'nuts and bolts' kind of person, so this is beyond my knowledge. Which of the three fuses in my truck is the ABS fuse?

-Brake pressure switch
-Brake on/off switch
-4WABS Main Relay/control Module

I suspect its the last, but the 4w is throwing me off. I am in absolute dread of making the issue worse. I love my truck, she's just a high maintenance girl, and I make a humble living, lol.

Is there anything else that should be considered? This vehicle seems to only ever have the most outlandish and ridiculous issues a vehicle could possibly have.

Thanks for listening to me rant, and I appreciate any input!


(This post was edited by SkellyGee on Mar 17, 2017, 12:17 AM)

Tom Greenleaf
Ultimate Carjunky / Moderator
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Mar 17, 2017, 2:48 AM

Post #2 of 5 (793 views)
Re: 96 Explorer, Brakes press themselves. Sign In

It's not the parking brake on all that list of things or yet as that's rear only.

Not mentioned is if there was ever a chance brake fluid NOT used and an oil instead? You've done a lot so must have gone thru a lot of brake fluid and may not even know for sure? If in question and with just some time look for swollen rubber starting right at the fill cap for evidence. That would be a disastrous problem!

Other things and questions: Just how did a caliper bolt come off? That doesn't just happen so easily and probably caliper long ago ruined also could have ruined that wheel and maybe the spindle that holds it plus the heat if driven like that would boil brake fluid into a varnish like mess probably that would not flush out - guessing and don't know how bad that scene was?

What you describe is most consistent with heat expanding brake fluid and the master cylinder not allowing it to return just as it would when you apply brakes then let go it can't. Said MOST likely.

Why: It's return is plugged up or another flex hose or line failure if metal not common. You didn't mention a new master that could be wrong also rare. The adjustment of pushrod from booster isn't so likely either if you have boost and haven't touched it forget that till more tests.

#1 - rule out contamination with an oil. ATF or PS fluid would ruin all rubber in brakes parts of the entire system if driven with that in it. Wildly costly - anything with rubber would have to go meaning ABS, proportioning valve, rubber hoses calipers and drums if used the wheel cylinders inside.

If not or no evidence you need to catch it dragging ready with tools. Release brake bleeder of just that caliper (you said front right) it might release right away and should just a quick spit out don't let air in. If so it's locked with pressure. Hose would be the most common but you said it's new? Still could have failed?

If you can catch it again find the front brake line(s) at the master which should be closest to the firewall end. Release some pressure while brake is locked if it unlock quickly there's a problem with master or somehow pushrod to it not enough normal "play" to allow fluid back or it's plugged up now.

Not going to be easy to be fast and ready to do this to isolate why that caliper can't release.

Last thought: That caliper now new since bolt fell out if damage to spindle also jams caliper now it has to go. It would end with that. That's tough metal and think caliper would lose that little disaster which it was. Sorry to say that about the only reason a caliper bolt came out on its own is last person there left it loose. They are much more likely to freeze stuck than fall out,


Hammer Time
Ultimate Carjunky / Moderator
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Mar 17, 2017, 5:47 AM

Post #3 of 5 (789 views)
Re: 96 Explorer, Brakes press themselves. Sign In

Let me point out one thing here.............

The ABS system DOES NOT apply brakes. It is engineered to RELEASE brakes. Once you unplug a sensor or any other component and the ABS light comes on, the system is disabled and you have a normal brake system without ABS.
TRACTION CONTROL is designed to apply brakes and that wasn't an option in your vehicle.

ABS is one of the best safety features ever invented and is only bothersome to you because you do not maintain your vehicle properly. Most any part of a car can be dangerous when it malfunctions and you do not repair it.

Your vehicle was engineered for a life span of about 200K miles and you have 300K plus, far beyond that. There comes a point when the vehicle is no longer serviceable for use.


We offer help in answering questions, clarifying things or giving advice but we are not a substitute for an on-site inspection by a professional.

kev2 profile image

Mar 17, 2017, 6:39 AM

Post #4 of 5 (779 views)
Re: 96 Explorer, Brakes press themselves. Sign In

  Some thoughts:
Truthfully - do you drive with 2 feet one foot for brake pedal?
Did you replace front brake flex hoses? this is my prime suspect.
>>> operate vehicle when wheel is dragging you could loosen the brake bleeder - does fluid exit under pressure ?
The caliper bolt coming out - unusual - is the caliper free floating or binding?

Tom Greenleaf
Ultimate Carjunky / Moderator
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Mar 17, 2017, 8:02 AM

Post #5 of 5 (773 views)
Re: 96 Explorer, Brakes press themselves. Sign In

All pertinent point guys. OP damage from the caliper with more though more concerning now to me to look and make it move properly watching it even all apart again.

I mentioned the blockage of return fluid because just the heat of your engine warming up will apply brakes in certain problems and faster from heat to a caliper the fluid expands normally and returns normally so you don't think about it. That would make brakes feel and really are applying themselves if one target that one. It might only feel like one if flawed job overall.

HT mentioned the useful life of some parts with miles. It's true! There's a limit to items that are used and move. You only think you may have replaced everything sometimes for new and can one item if it was only one item but isn't.

Option and my own observations is with super care some vehicles make 200K fairly trouble free just ordinary care with no lapses. After that dumb stuff goes right up to springs in a seat, the wrap on steering wheels, knobs, seat adjustments - game over at some point or just daily some stupid thing goes wrong you must have working.

Nuff said. I think all info you need is already mentioned here,


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