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Can I Convert My Car To Manual Brakes By Removing The Brake Booster?

By IFCAR - Own work, Public Domain,

Our latest question comes from Rob. He asks: “I have a 1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo and I want to convert it to manual brakes. Can I remove my power brake booster and use the same master cylinder to make it manual brakes?”

Excellent question Rob! At first the idea makes sense. If the power brake booster is what puts the “power” in power brakes, then removing it should be the only step, right? Not quite. The brake system is designed to work as a unit. Removing the brake booster would truly render the system “manual” but the effort required to stop the car would be MUCH higher than you’d expect. This all has to do with the size of the master cylinder bore and brake pedal ratio. My friend & fellow hot rodder Jefferson Bryant did an excellent write up on master cylinder sizing and pedal ratio that can be found right here. I highly suggest reading Jefferson’s article as it covers a lot of theory and includes some great technical information.

So the short answer is: no, you cannot convert a car to manual brakes by just removing the power booster. But lets dig a little deeper for a solution. The GM G-body vehicles (including Rob’s 1984 Monte Carlo) were built from 1978-1988 and included a LOT of vehicles:

  • Buick Regal (1978–1987)
  • Chevrolet El Camino (1978–1987)
  • Chevrolet Malibu (1978–1983)
  • Chevrolet Monte Carlo (1978–1988)
  • GMC Caballero (1982–1987)
  • Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme (1978–1988)
  • Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser (1982–1983)
  • Oldsmobile Cutlass Salon (1986–1987)
  • Pontiac Bonneville (1982–1986)
  • Pontiac Grand Prix (1978–1987)

Vehicle list courtesy of Wikipedia.

This broad spectrum of vehicles were all built on the standardized General Motors G-body platform, which means that a lot of the parts are mix-n-match. If you dig into the vehicle options from back then you will find that a few cars were available from the factory with manual brakes. The folks at the G-Body Forum have a great discussion thread about model years and parts differences for the factory manual brake cars right here. Even though we have not done this particular swap here at Ask My Car Guys world headquarters, it looks like you will need a manual brake master cylinder (with reservoir), a factory pushrod from the junkyard (or an adjustable unit), and an adapter plate for the firewall (since the brake booster is mounted with four bolts, and the master cylinder alone only uses two). You will also have to bend your brake lines a bit to attach them to the master cylinder (since it moves back a few inches). You brake pedal SHOULD have the correct hole in it already to mount the pushrod for proper manual brake pedal ratio (there is a great discussion thread with photos here on the G-Body Forum). That should be the bulk of the parts you need, from there it will be classic hot rodding “trial and error” to get everything working smoothly. It may be easy, it may not, you have to decide if it is worth the time and effort.

Another great resource is this discussion thread on the forum. This method uses some bits from a Chevrolet S-10 pickup and some good old hot rodding modifications to get the job done.

The bottom line is that when you want to change your vehicle from one configuration to another, start by looking to see if your vehicle was ever available with that option during its production life. This works for brakes, transmissions, engines, rear axles, even seats. There is no reason to re-engineer the vehicle when factory replacement parts may be available that bolt right in and are designed to work together.


Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Is My Car Part Of The Big Airbag Recall?

two airbags deployed

You have probably heard about the huge airbag recall involving Takata airbags. These airbags were used in hundreds of thousands of vehicles for well over a decade. Unfortunately there is still some confusion from car owners about whether their vehicle is affected. Some manufactures have been speedy to send recall notices, while others seem to be dragging their feet. We’ve taken the list available here from the NHTSA and made it a bit more user friendly. Simply look for your vehicle’s make, model and year. Alternately, if you have your VIN you can go here and see if any recalls are open for your vehicle.

If you have one of the vehicles on this list it is important that you contact your local dealer immediately and ask if your vehicle is included in the recall. If it is part of the recall, you will need to schedule your recall repair. Once your repair is scheduled it is important to make time to have the repair done. We’ve had reports of dealers with stacks of replacement airbags that are assigned to customers who won’t bring their vehicle in for the free repair. There is no excuse for that. Replacement airbags are trickling in slowly, so don’t assume that your vehicle is not repairable.

Make Model Year
Acura 3.2CL 2003
Acura 3.2TL 2002-2003
Acura ILX 2013-2016
Acura ILX Hybrid 2013-2014
Acura MDX 2003-2006
Acura RDX 2007-2016
Acura RL 2005-2012
Acura TL 2009-2014
Acura ZDX 2010-2013
Audi A3 2005-2013
Audi A4 Cabrio 2006-2009
Audi A5 Cabrio 2010-2011
Audi Q5 2009-2012
BMW 1 Series M 2008-2013
BMW 128i 2008-2013
BMW 135i 2008-2013
BMW 323i 2000
BMW 325Ci 2002-2006
BMW 325i 2001-2011
BMW 325iT 2002-2003
BMW 325xi 2001-2011
BMW 325xiT 2002-2003
BMW 325xiT 2006-2012
BMW 328i 2000
BMW 328i 2006-2013
BMW 328i xDrive 2006-2013
BMW 328xi 2006-2013
BMW 330Ci 2002-2006
BMW 330i 2001-2011
BMW 330xi 2001-2011
BMW 335d 2009-2011
BMW 335i 2006-2013
BMW 335i xDrive 2006-2013
BMW 335is 2007-2013
BMW 335xi 2006-2013
BMW 525i 2002-2003
BMW 530i 2002-2003
BMW 540i 2002-2003
BMW M3 2001-2013
BMW M5 2002-2003
BMW X1 sDrive28i 2013-2015
BMW X1 xDrive28i 2013-2015
BMW X1 xDrive35i 2013-2015
BMW X3 xDrive30i 2007-2010
BMW X5 3.0i 2003
BMW X5 4.4i 2003
BMW X5 M 2007-2013
BMW X5 xDrive30i 2007-2013
BMW X5 xDrive35d 2009-2013
BMW X5 xDrive35i 2007-2013
BMW X5 xDrive48i 2007-2013
BMW X5 xDrive50 2007-2013
BMW X6 M 2008-2014
BMW X6 xDrive35i 2008-2014
BMW X6 xDrive50i 2008-2014
Chevrolet Silverado 2500 2007-2008
Chevrolet Silverado 3500 2007-2008
Chrysler 300 2005-2010
Chrysler 300 SRT8 2005-2010
Chrysler 300C 2005-2010
Chrysler Aspen 2007-2008
Chrysler Crossfire 2006-2007
Dodge Challenger 2003-2009
Dodge Challenger 2003-2009
Dodge Challenger 2003-2009
Dodge Challenger 2004-2008
Dodge Challenger 2005-2008
Dodge Challenger 2005-2011
Dodge Challenger 2006-2010
Dodge Challenger 2008-2010
Dodge Challenger 2008-2010
Dodge Challenger 2008-2010
Dodge Sprinter 2500 2007-2008
Dodge Sprinter 3500 2007-2008
Ford GT 2005-2006
Ford Mustang 2005-2014
Ford Ranger 2004-2006
Freightliner Freightliner Sprinter 2500 2007-2014
Freightliner Freightliner Sprinter 3500 2007-2014
GMC GMC Sierra 2500 2007-2008
GMC GMC Sierra 3500 2007-2008
Honda Accord 2001-2007
Honda Civic 2001-2005
Honda Civic CNG 2001-2004
Honda Civic Hybrid 2003-2005
Honda CR-V 2002-2011
Honda CR-Z 2011-2015
Honda Element 2003-2011
Honda FCX Clarity 2010-2014
Honda Fit 2009-2013
Honda Fit EV 2013-2014
Honda Insight 2010-2014
Honda Odyssey 2002-2004
Honda Pilot 2003-2008
Honda Ridgeline 2006-2014
Infiniti FX35 2003-2005
Infiniti FX45 2003-2005
Infiniti I30 2001
Infiniti I35 2002-2004
Infiniti M35 2006
Infiniti M45 2006
Infiniti QX4 2002-2003
Lexus Lexus SC 2002-2010
Mazda B-Series Truck 2004-2006
Mazda Mazda6 2003-2008
Mazda Mazdaspeed6 2006-2007
Mazda MPV 2004-2005
Mazda RX-8 2004-2008
Mercedes-Benz C230 2006-2007
Mercedes-Benz C230 Kompressor 2005
Mercedes-Benz C300 2008-2011
Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic 2008-2011
Mercedes-Benz C320 2005
Mercedes-Benz C350 2006-2011
Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG 2009-2011
Mercedes-Benz E350 2010-2011
Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic 2010-2011
Mercedes-Benz E350 Cabriolet 2011
Mercedes-Benz E550 2010-2011
Mercedes-Benz E550 4Matic 2010-2011
Mercedes-Benz E550 Cabriolet 2011
Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG 2010-2011
Mercedes-Benz GL320 BlueTec 4Matic 2009-2010
Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec 4Matic 2011-2012
Mercedes-Benz GL450 4Matic 2009-2012
Mercedes-Benz GL550 4Matic 2009-2012
Mercedes-Benz GLK350 2010-2012
Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4Matic 2010-2012
Mercedes-Benz ML320 BlueTec 4Matic 2009-2010
Mercedes-Benz ML350 2009-2011
Mercedes-Benz ML350 4Matic 2009-2011
Mercedes-Benz ML450 4Matic Hybrid 2010-2011
Mercedes-Benz ML550 4Matic 2009-2011
Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG 2009-2011
Mercedes-Benz R320 CDI 4Matic 2009-2010
Mercedes-Benz R320 CDI 4Matic 2009-2010
Mercedes-Benz R350 4Matic 2009-2012
Mercedes-Benz R350 BlueTec 4Matic 2011-2012
Mercedes-Benz SLK280 2007-2008
Mercedes-Benz SLK350 2007-2008
Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG 2007-2008
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG 2011-2014
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Cabriolet 2012
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT 2013-2014
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 2010-2014
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 3500 2010-2014
Mitsubishi Lancer 2004-2006
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 2004-2006
Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback 2004
Mitsubishi Raider 2006-2009
Nissan Maxima 2001-2003
Nissan Pathfinder 2002-2004
Nissan Sentra 2002-2006
Pontiac Vibe 2003-2008
Ram Challenger 2003-2009
Ram Challenger 2003-2009
Ram Challenger 2003-2009
Ram Challenger 2008-2010
Ram Ram 5500 2008-2010
Saab 9/3/2016 2003-2011
Saab 9/5/2016 2010-2011
Saab 9-2x 2005
Saturn Astra 2008-2009
Sterling Bullet 4500 2008-2009
Sterling Bullet 5500 2008-2009
Subaru Baja 2003-2005
Subaru Impreza 2004-2005
Subaru Legacy 2003-2008
Subaru Outback 2003-2008
Toyota Corolla 2003-2008
Toyota Corolla Matrix 2003-2008
Toyota Rav4 2004-2005
Toyota Sequoia 2002-2007
Toyota Tundra 2003-2006
Volkswagen (VW) CC 2009-2014
Volkswagen (VW) Eos 2012-2014
Volkswagen (VW) Golf 2010-2014
Volkswagen (VW) Jetta Sportwagen 2010-2014
Volkswagen (VW) Passat 2006-2010
Volkswagen (VW) Passat 2012-2014


You can visit for more information and updates on the Takata airbag recall.


Photo courtesy of Morgue File.

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Why Do I Have An Expensive Car Repair If The Parts Are Cheap?

One question we get often at “Ask My Car Guys” is “Why did I have such an expensive car repair? I found the part online and it is only $XX.XX, but the shop wants $XXX.XX to do the job?” And while it is easy to scream “THE SHOP IS RIPPING ME OFF!!” the explanation is quite simple: parts and labor are separate costs.

Take for example the lowly rear main crankshaft seal on your engine. The rear main seal’s job is to keep the oil inside the engine while allowing the crankshaft to rotate freely and send power to the transmission. The seal itself is usually less than $20 for most vehicles, but the labor involved is usually several hundred dollars. Why the disparity? Because in order to change the rear main seal on most vehicles the entire transmission must be removed from the vehicle. Now we are talking about needing a lift and special transmission jack just to get to a piece of molded rubber. Gaskets & seals are particularly bad offenders, as they are usually fairly cheap to buy but getting to them can be hours of labor. Speaking of labor…

Labor time is actually standardized across almost every repair. Mechanics use an industry standard to estimate the time that a competent mechanic should take to do a specific repair. The labor payment rate is up to each individual shop, but the time required for a repair will be fairly even across the board. This means that if a shop gives you an estimate of 2 hours do perform a job, the shop across town should give the same time estimate as well. The number of hours necessary should be about the same, but again, it is up to each shop to decide how much they charge per hour for that labor.

There is an exception to the estimation rule, and that is some mechanics can actually complete a repair faster than the standard estimated time. This is where being a skilled mechanic with the right tools pays off. The mechanic still deserves payment for the estimated repair time because they have invested their own money in training and specialty tools that make them highly skilled. The payoff for the customer is a repair that takes less time and gets you back on the road sooner. Some mechanics will pass the reduced labor time on to their customers, but that is solely at their discretion. Look at it this way, do you REALLY want the cheapest, least competent person fixing your car? Didn’t think so.

Let’s talk about part pricing for a minute. Most shops are able to give a “good, better, best” range of options for repair parts they install. Sure, you can go online and find a part cheaper, but that isn’t the same part that a shop is going to install in your car. Why doesn’t the shop want to sell you the cheapest part you ask? Because they don’t want to do the job twice. Shops don’t make money on a “come back” repair, they work with their suppliers to make sure they are installing dependable parts. If a part fails it isn’t the part manufacturer that looks bad, it’s the repair shop!

Just for fun, here are a few examples of common parts that fall into the expensive car repair “cheap to buy, expensive to install” category:

  • Intake manifold gasket
  • Starter (if mounted under the intake manifold)
  • Oil pump
  • Oil pan gasket
  • Clutch throwout bearing
  • Water pump
  • Heater core

There are far more, but those are ones we hear a lot at “Ask My Car Guys” central.

So before you fire off that angry Tweet or Yelp review following an expensive car repair, take a minute to think about how complex a modern car can be, and realize that paying to have a job done right isn’t a necessary evil, it is an investment in your safety and your vehicle’s future.

Photo courtesy of Morgue File.