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posted: 1/15/2012 12:01 AM

Doug McAllister/Under the Hood: Winter storm woes

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Happy new year to everyone! As I began to write this column this morning, I am aware we are getting our first snowstorm this winter. We sure have gotten off easy so far.

With 50-plus degree days in January, this has been awesome, so none of us are allowed to complain.

I am also aware of what happens with regard to our cars when the first major snow and cold temperatures hit. All of the maintenance we failed to perform is going to show up and could potentially cause us problems.

By the time you read this you will already know if your tires were worn too low to provide adequate traction in the snow. You will know if your anti-lock brakes and your traction control are working properly (or was that little light on the dash trying to tell you something). You will know if your windshield wipers cleaned properly and if you had enough washer solvent in the tank. You will know if your defroster and heater are working at peak performance and you will know if you remembered to put your snow brush in the car!

If you had problems with any of the above, don't wait until the next storm to be reminded of it again. Make an appointment with your service provider and get your car fixed up so you are ready for all the snowstorms that surely will come.

Also by now you will have had a good brush-up on how to drive in snowy, slippery conditions, I hope.

Q. I have an S-10 Blazer that I took in for brakes the other day. When I got the call to tell me what was wrong I was shocked by how much it was going to cost. Not only did I need rear brake pads and rotors, which I expected, I needed some kind of a dust shield on both sides and rear emergency brake shoes, too. Does that sound right; I always thought the rear brakes and emergency brake were one in the same?

A. Yes, it does sound correct. Most of the GM trucks and sport utility vehicles have this type of rear brake design. Your vehicle has rear disc brakes and then a separate set of emergency brake shoes that contact a surface on the inside of the brake rotor.

The dust shield you referred to is designed to keep all the road gunk and debris out of the emergency brake mechanism. This dust shield is also the backing plate for the e-brake shoes. The shoes are mounted to the plate and they need to ride smoothly on it. These backing plates are fairly thin and very exposed to road salt and water; consequently they rust away to nothing and no longer perform their desired function.

The end result is everything, including the rotors, become very corroded and unusable. All the extra parts and labor can add up to making a fairly expensive brake job.

They have come up with a two-piece backing plate now that doesn't require as much disassembly and will help keep the labor costs down. For anyone who has declined this service in the past because of the cost, you may want to look into this option and see if it fits the budget a little better.

• Douglas Automotive is at 312 S. Hager Ave., Barrington, (847) 381-0454, and 123 Virginia Road, Crystal Lake, (815) 356-0440. For information, visit Send questions to