1986 Honda Civic Wagovan Brake Mystery Of Three Lifetimes

by VitalBodies on April 5th, 2010

Honda Civic Wagovan Brake Mystery Of Three Lifetimes
1986 Honda Civic Wagovan 2WD – driver side rear brake drum binding only when the lug nuts are on…

See the NEWEST and LATEST UPDATES below.

My mechanics came over and thought the car need new brakes as there was some kind of metal to metal sound in the back driver side.

So they proceeded to replace the brake shoes and springs and such from the parts kit (on both sides) that they ordered.
No luck, there was still grinding and binding. With both wheels off the ground you could spin the passenger wheel by hand with ease. You could not even budge the driver side.

1986 Honda Civic Wagovan Hub

1986 Honda Civic Wagovan Binding - Click for full resolution

They thought the backing plate might be bent and causing the binding.
You could see where someone had pried on it.
They replaced the backing plate with a factory new one.
No luck, there was still grinding and binding. With both wheels off the ground you could spin the passenger wheel by hand with ease. You could not even budge the driver side.

The hubs and bearing on both sides had been done six months earlier and spun fine – and still do.

Perhaps the drum is warped?
They replaced the drum with a hew one.
No luck, there was still grinding and binding. With both wheels off the ground you could spin the passenger wheel by hand with ease. You could not even budge the driver side.

Wow, what could it be?
We swapped the drum from the passenger side with the one from the driver side just as a test.
No luck.
We swapped them back to their original sides.

We swapped the bearing from the passenger side with the one from the driver side just as a test.
No luck.
We swapped them back to their original sides.

We swapped the wheel and tire from the passenger side with the one from the driver side just as a test.
No luck.
We swapped them back to their original sides.

We swapped the lug nuts from the passenger side with the one from the driver side just as a test.
No luck.
We swapped them back to their original sides.

Did we try all that driver side stuff on the passenger side?
Why yes, worked just fine on the passenger side.

Was the auto-adjuster backed all the way off?
Yes, we each checked it three times.

The emergency brake adjusted correctly?
Adjusted it to the point where there was zero tension (no braking) and made no difference. Then adjusted to what the factory Honda Wagovan book suggested.

The emergency brake cable binding?
No it moves quite freely on both sides.

Are the parts on in the correct order?
Matched them up and checked 10 times. They match the factory diagram in the factory Honda Wagovan manual shows.

1986 Honda Civic Wagovan Backing Plate

1986 Honda Civic Wagovan Binding - Click for full resolution

Is the spindle bent?
Put a factory new spindle on thinking that had to be the last thing it could be.
No luck.

Super short test drive?
Drum gets really hot as expected – binding is unchanged.

Bleed the brakes?
Yes, no change.

Replace the large nut on the spindle a torque it down tight?
New nut, no luck…

If all the parts are on except the drum, wheel/tire and lug nuts…
And then you put the drum on…
And then you put the wheel on…
There is no binding.

If you tighten the lug nuts even finger tight (which is not all that tight) it binds so hard you can barely turn the wheel with great effort?

NOTE: Finger tight is barely barely – I mean fingers to lug nuts no tools and no strain on the fingers.

The head mechanic has been fixing cars all his life and has never seen anything like this.
His son that works with him has never see anything like ti either.
I have worked on cars all my life and have not see anything like this?


As a test I put the lug nuts on with no wheel at all, same thing – totally binds.
New: brake shoes (springs and such), spindle, hub, bearings, backing plate, drum, spindle nut.

1986 Honda Civic Wagovan Brakes

1986 Honda Civic Wagovan Binding - Click for full resolution

All of the images above shows all the work that had been done except for the new spindle. We thought it might help to show 3 views.

Parts Diagrams (HondaPartsNow.com):
Brake Drum Hub Etc (note the right and left sides are different): http://www.hondapartsnow.com/diagrams/large/rear-brake-drum-458525.png
Axle Beam: http://www.hondapartsnow.com/diagrams/large/rear-axle-beam-458538.png
Brake Shoes: http://www.hondapartsnow.com/diagrams/large/rear-brake-shoe-458526.png

Parts: Part names and diagrams

Evidence for needing a new spindle?

Toe in - Was evidence for possibly needing a new spindle.

Updates, not the latest UPDATES:

It is just so odd to spin that wheel with the lugs on just backed off of finger tight, and then tighten even one lug and the whole thing locks up.
I can also say that the drum drags just a bit in one or two areas with the nuts backed off.
The wheel will not spin freely in all places but will most places.

Of note: if we tighten the lugs to normal tightness (on the drivers side wheel) there is less gap between the drum and the backing plate on the right (towards front of car) than on the left (towards back of car).
I would guess a 2mm difference.

You have to spin the wheel to see wobble and the wheel does not spin with the lugs on.

Back and forth movement?
There was no back and forth movement – like if you grab the wheel and push with your right hand and pull with your left hand and then do the opposite we got no movement – the bearings seem sound.

The Evidence:
There is a small 1″ wide, 1/4″ deep (approximate) dent in the fender.
The wheel has a fairly massive amount of toe in as shown in the image.
The tire wears on the outside edge.
Some of the parts have marks that let you know they are from the bone yard.
The drum binds.

Any ideas on what is wrong?

Newer UPDATES but not the latest updates:

I think we figured it out. After some more testing, trial and error and the process of elimination we figured out a number of things and determined the problem might have been an odd compound problem.

Of all the suggestions that we could think of, were written on this blog or on this forum post I tended towards the idea that the axle beam and trailing arm were bent and thus affecting the backing plate and thus affecting the brakes in a way that I-was-not-sure-how.

My friend Bryon was leaning towards the idea that the backing plate was tipped and skewing the two brake shoes relative to the sides of the drum. The drum is like a bowl that has straight sides and expects the faces of shoes to to also be straight in the same way. If the shoes were skewed in such a way where the part of face that was closest to the backing plate was sticking out more than the part of the face furthest from the backing plate on one shoe and visa versa on the other shoe – then they would bind he reasoned. Yet, why would they only bind at the last moment of assembly when the lugs reached finger tight? They would only bind at that last moment because the backing place was not parallel to the hub he theorized so when the drum was finally forced by the lug to angle of hub the binding would occur.

In both cases the logic seemed solid enough to tear into the job yet again, but could we prove or dis-prove either theory without buying more parts? And how could we go about proving or dis-proving or (oh my) fixing the problem.

Ideas were proposed, thought up and dredged up from memory of the forum and blog posts. All of them and none of them really won out so what was easy was attempted first, which was measuring the distance from the hub to the backing plate in many locations. The metal ruler did not quite help for that so a $1 plastic micrometer was produced and seemed to indicate the that the distances were not all the same. But are they supposed to be? The backing plate has a lot going on on the back and is not flat so it was hard to say.

Can we prove or dis-prove what is binding on what? We took the brake shoes out and all binding stopped when the drum was re-installed and the lugs put on full force. That seemed to prove it was brake shoes against the drum. But does that mean the brake shoes are flawed or the backing plate is warped or what?

How about placing two washers between the backing plate and the spindle to attempt to get the backing plate and the hub to be parallel? That attempt yielded a surprisingly greater distant between the backing plate and the drum on one side and less on the other – on the opposite sides we expected – yet oddly made the drum bind a bit less. More washers between the hub and drum seemed to fix the problem as the binding stopped but the backing plate was still way off from being parallel to the drum? I though that might indicate we were not really tightening the drum down any longer as it was not touching the hub by a distance of two washers – as the drum only used to bind when the lugs were tightened on to finger tight or so-far-onto the lug bolts/hub.


How about the trailing arm is bent theory? What if I loosened the four bolts that hold the backing plate/trailing arm/spindle/axle beam sandwich together and rock the trailing arm? Maybe that would prove or disprove that being the issue? Rocking the trailing arm made the gap between the backing plate and the drum more or less parallel, so we might be on to something.

What if the axle beam being bent is creating a dynamic tension with the trailing arm that is altering the gap between the backing plate and the drum (which is supposed to be equidistant)? By putting the only washers that could be found with holes large enough to fit on the bolts that held the backing plate/trailing arm/spindle/axle beam sandwich together we might have a valid test. The TWO washers would need to be on the bolts towards the front of the Wagovan between the spindle and the axle beam. This should both correct the toe in and alter the dynamic of the trailing arm vs the backing plate. This test was performed and yielded some interesting results. The tire now seemingly was spot on and had no toe in and the backing plate and drum now had an equidistant 3mm gap – a first!

Putting the drum on and tightening the lugs revealed that there was still binding!

But at least that may have proven that the skewed brake shoes were not the only problem and at least temporarily fixed the toe in.

Bryon really made a difference as he kept pushing for the final resolve…

So, what could cause the drum to bind to the brakes so hard when the lugs are finger tight or tighter? What if the brake shoes are off center or at the last moment of finger tightening the lugs the drum was moved to or from being centered?

I figured we could loosen the nuts behind the backing plate that hold the cylinder assembly on so the assembly would have some free play. Having done so the binding nearly stopped! Tightening them the binding came back. Upon taking the drum off again we could see that piston on the right/rear would not go in as far as it should and did not allow the brakes move towards the front of the vehicle and thus the center of the backing plate and thus caused the bulk of the binding. The left/front moved freely which had earlier given the illusion that the cylinder was fine.

HOT ON THE TRAIL: It seems that we found the solution, the cylinder needs replaced or rebuilt and possibly the axle beam needs to be straighted or we need to leave the washers in place.


The Next Step: Buy parts and see if the cylinder assembly does indeed fix the problem.  I found the Cylinder Assembly for $12 and free two day shipping on Amazon!

Wagner WC105167 Wheel Cylinder Assembly

Part arrived and I installed it.

Does the wheel spin freely with the lugs on tight?


Questions Remain: Some safety and technical questions remain however. Like are the washers ok or is that a safety issue and if not how does one straighten an axle beam or is it better to buy one new at $487 plus shipping from HondaPartsNow.com or what? What should one expect to pay for having the flange on the end of the beam straightened anyone know? I have never had this kind of work done and do not know all the logistics involved?

I asked the question of this forum:


Wagovan Forums:



  1. Did you try removing the brake shoes WITH everything else installed/tightened?

  2. VitalBodies permalink

    No. The next test is to remove the wheel/tire and drum then remove the brake shoes and put all the other parts back on (except the brake shoes) to see if the shoes are binding.

  3. Brake cylinder perhaps… misaliging the brake shoes?

  4. VitalBodies permalink

    We are getting down to where that is one of the last few choices – most everything else is new.
    The cylinder looks to be installed correctly (at a glance) and is retracted in all the way but is worth checking – not sure what to check for other than look it up in the Honda factory manual and see what is suggested.
    At one point we did not have much brake fluid in that line as some had leaked out waiting for parts and we still had binding.
    Since then we did bleed the brakes and refill the reservoir.

  5. Seems like something may not be plumb or bent. I would measure the distance between the backing plate and the round disc that the lug nuts screw-on and compare to the passenger side. Measure at various points around the circumference with a fine ruler. A run-out gauge could reveal allot for something bent. The backing plate could be extending too far out or the lug-bolt disc (whatever it’s called) is too far inward. You could use some precision washers (on lug bolts) or shim plate between the drum and the lug disc to see if that helps. Bet it will. If it’s something bent that may be the easiest fix, of course, if it will not compromise safety.

  6. VitalBodies permalink

    We did measure the hub distance to the backing plate on the driver side and passenger side and got the same measurement. We did NOT measure in a number locations and could try that. Washers were tired earlier and a spacer was tried with no luck.

  7. Then something certainly must be bent. How about shimming 1 washer at a time alternating between lugs as a test?

  8. Or brake shoes skewed opposite sides.

  9. VitalBodies permalink

    Have not tried either of those suggestions as yet.
    It is strange, as the spindle is factory new, the bearing/hub/drum/wheel/lugs are ruled out as they work fine on both sides and the backing plate is new also.
    If the flange that is on the end of the axle beam is bent or possible warped (the one that the spindle bolts to) I wonder if that is enough to warp the backing plate and cause the binding?
    Does not seem like it as the backing plate is bolted to the spindle rather than axle beam and the metal is quite thick on the spindle. The ARM, L. RR. TRAILING (trailing arm?) could be bent or warped.

  10. Perhaps you could pose the axle-beam question on the Honda thread: http://honda-tech.com/showthread.php?t=2755947

    If using washers, go with grade 5 or 8 (hardened) and as few as possible stacked. You may have to check the lug nuts periodically for tightness. Would do this as a temp fix or have a custom shim plate made at a machine shop. Basically, a large shim plate with the proper angle corresponding to the relative rotation of the lug bolts. A wood or aluminum shim plate could be made as a template and have a machine shop duplicate in steel.

    You could also take the axle beam to a machine shop if it needs straightening. With the proper tools, machines etc., can’t imagine it being that difficult to straighten. Seems crazy to spend so much for a new one.

  11. VitalBodies permalink

    The only washers are between the axle beam and the spindle – any others were removed.
    There are two washers, one per bolt on the froward (front of car) side between the axle beam and spindle to correct the toe in.
    The are automotive grade washer that have that gold/yellow appearance.
    I wonder if a machine shop or body shop would be best to correct the axle?

    I will take a look at the forum thread…

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