Hurricane clean-up will include brake systems

HOUSTON, TX – The rain has stopped in many areas and the sun is out, but the clean-up is just beginning.

For those drivers and fleets with trucks that took on water during recent Category 4 and 5 hurricanes Harvey and Irma, it’s important that clean-up includes taking steps to ensure brake components are checked and cleaned or replaced.

Jim Szudy, engineering manager for advanced systems engineering for Bendix, says safety on the road should come first, and that may mean some components need to be replaced immediately, even if they look okay.

“At the top of the list is the question of whether the floodwater was salt water,” said Szudy. “If the answer is yes, then you should immediately begin replacing parts.”

Salt water is extremely corrosive, and will have a damaging long-term effect on components that could result in sudden, premature malfunction. Combined with lost lubrication and other damager to pneumatic air brake valves that have been submerged, and replacement is necessary.

Szudy recommends any brake system valve that’s been submerged in sea water should be replaced, along with air compressors, air reservoirs, antilock brake system (ABS) relay modulators, and brake actuators.

Those areas on the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana, and also on the Atlantic Coast in the south of Florida, may have seen extensive salt water damage due to storm surge. Other areas experiencing flooding due to rain and rising fresh waters, may have avoided salt water damage, however.

For fresh water damage clean-up will mean a good power wash for the vehicle and trailer, including the foundation brakes, followed by a thorough check of the truck to determine the condition of the components.

Complete disassembly may be necessary to clear any water out of systems. If water or contamination is found in any of the pneumatic components, replacement may be necessary to avoid long-term problems. If no evidence of water or contamination is found, thoroughly test the air brake system and ABS before returning the vehicle or trailer to service.

The action of floodwaters and power washing may move the ABS wheel speed sensors from their normal position. By hand, push the wheel speed sensors back into contact with the exciter ring, and normal wheel bearing play will adjust the sensor position when the wheel turns.

Here is a list of helpful tips to get started checking each system for water damage:

Vehicle valving

  • To check for evidence of water or contamination, mark and remove the connectors at the first valve in the system from the front.
  • Inspect the valve for water and contaminants, and carefully use air pressure to blow air through the hoses and watch for evidence of water or contamination.
  • Continue to inspect all the valves in the air brake system, removing one service and control hose from each to inspect. Replace any non-functioning valves.

The charging system

  • When fresh water has entered the air compressor or dryer through the air system intakes, do not attempt to start the vehicle.
  • Use dry compressed air from a stationary (or suitable portable unit) air compressor to drain the service tanks of any residual water. Air dryers remove moisture in compressed air, but they won’t remove moisture that’s present after the service tanks.
  • After pneumatic lines are reconnected, install a new or properly serviced air dryer to aid in removing any residual moisture from the air inlet.


  • Examine wheel-ends for water, which increases the possibility of rust-jacking (corrosion between lining material and the shoe table) on drum brakes, and can also pool in drums when left standing, leading to corrosion.
  • Ensure the integrity of the friction coupling between the friction and disc or drum.
  • Verify no water has entered the chamber through the airlines by removing fittings and mounting stud nuts and orient ports down. If present, drain and reinstall. Follow the appropriate wheel-end relubrication procedures, including regreasing slack adjusters.

Electronics system

  • Conduct a diagnostic download on the system
  • Diagnostics software for both the ABS and stability (if equipped) controllers. 
  • In most cases, electronics will validate through self-check: If the electronic control unit (ECU) is operable, it will check the necessary solenoids, sensor, harnesses, etc.
  • Inspect the seven-pin electrical connector interface between the tractor and trailer.
  • Inspect tractor and trailer glad hands and the supply and control hoses, since water and contaminants can pass into the air brake system through unprotected glad hands.

Remember, if you are unsure whether the damage was salt water or fresh water, components should be replaced to avoid problem down the road. If you have questions about flood clean-up, always seek the advice of a trained mechanic.

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