EGR Severe Service Brakes
Got Brakes? That's the tag line EGR Severe Service Brakes uses in its marketing materials, and after installing the EGR brake package on my truck I can confidently answer this question with a resounding "yes!" For the first time ever my Turbo Diesel 2500 has reliable and consistent braking. Here's the story of my mission to improve my braking performance.
I've always loved the way my Turbo Diesel 2500 "gets up and goes," but like many Turbo Diesel Ram owners (at least us guys with rear drum brakes) there has never been much to love about getting my heavy truck stopped. Anyone who has been following my EarthRoamer® Turbo Diesel 2500 build-up is already aware of my disdain for the original factory brakes on my 1998 1/2 truck. In my opinion, the brakes on my stock, non-ABS equipped truck were not up to the level of performance of the rest of the truck. Stopping distances were long and quick stops were almost always accompanied by a hard pull to the right. As my truck became heavier with additional equipment the problem only got worse.
I checked into replacing the rear drum brakes with disc brakes, but couldn't find anyone selling a conversion kit for Turbo Diesel 2500's. After researching the problem, I found that many owners were having good success with Performance Friction brake pads and decided to give them a try. After replacing my stock brake pads with Performance Friction brake pads my braking improved significantly, but my truck's braking performance was still "barely tolerable."
In all fairness to Dodge, designing effective brakes for our nose heavy Cummins powered trucks is a difficult task. An unloaded Turbo Diesel 2500 weighs about 6,500 pounds, with a lot of that weight up front. Load that same Turbo Diesel 2500 up to its maximum gross vehicle weight rating of 8,800 pounds and you've added over a ton of weight; most of it over the rear axle. Somehow, the brakes have to effectively stop the truck when it is unloaded as well as when it is fully loaded - without locking up the wheels when the truck is lightly loaded.
One way Dodge engineers attempt to deal with this problem is by installing a ride-height sensitive proportioning valve to the rear brake circuit. When the Turbo Diesel 2500 is heavily loaded a proportioning valve allows more pressure to the rear brake circuit which increases the braking force on the rear brakes. I learned about this proportioning valve the hard way after I had extra leaves added to the rear spring packs of my Turbo Diesel 2500. With the extra springs my truck rode higher in the rear, even when loaded, and the proportioning valve regulated the pressure to the rear brakes the same as if the truck was unloaded. Essentially, I had very little rear braking force and overall braking performance suffered dramatically. The fix was easy; eliminate the proportioning valve. This works fine if you ALWAYS have a load on your truck, but if you eliminate the proportioning valve and drive your truck with light loads, you run the risk of locking up the rear brakes.
Dodge has a technical service bulletin (TSB 05-04-98) for 1997-1999 2500 4x4 trucks that are lifted and always operated at 75% and above GVWR that details this modification.
Here's the description of TSB 05-04-98:
[1997-1999 2500 4x4 trucks] are equipped with a rear height-sensing valve that adjusts brake pressure to the rear brakes based upon the distance between the vehicles frame and rear axle.
In situations where the vehicle is operated ALL THE TIME at or above 75% of the GVW AND the vehicle suspension has been altered, removal of the rear height sensing device may be necessary to help prolong the front pad life and provide suitable braking performance.
CAUTION: THIS PROCEDURE SHOULD ONLY BE PERFORMED ON 2500 SERIES 4X4 VEHICLES THAT ARE CONTINUOUSLY OPERATED AT 75% OR GREATER GVW AND HAVE HAD THEIR REAR SUSPENSION ALTERED.
For my entire 16,000 mile Alaska trip in 1999, I ran my Turbo Diesel 2500 with the Performance Friction brake pads and the proportioning valve removed. Even though my truck's braking was better than stock, it was still barely acceptable. My next braking upgrade was a BD Diesel Performance exhaust brake installed in the fall of 2000. The BD exhaust brake was a major improvement in braking performance, especially when descending long mountain grades. By selecting the right gear (usually just taking it out of overdrive and keeping the engine RPMs high), I could descend almost any grade without touching the brake pedal. An exhaust brake can literally be a lifesaver when driving in the mountains, but it doesn't do much good around town and at lower speeds. By design, at speeds below about 35mph my torque converter isn't locked up and the exhaust brake remains disengaged. Also, at lower RPMs the effectiveness of the exhaust brake diminishes.
Fortunately for me, in late August of 2001 I received an email from Glenn Maurer of EGR Severe Service Brakes asking me to give him a call about improving the braking performance of my Turbo Diesel 2500. After failing to find a solution to my braking problem for over three years I was skeptical, but I was also desperate to improve my truck's braking performance. I gave Glenn a call and he patiently explained me the benefits of his braking system upgrade for Turbo Diesel 2500's and 3500's. EGR's kit includes new slotted front rotors, high performance carbon Kevlar front disc brake pads, high performance carbon Kevlar rear brake shoes, larger rear wheel cylinders, and high performance synthetic brake fluid.
EGR takes a whole system approach to improving Turbo Diesel Ram braking. The carbon Kevlar metallic and ceramic pads and shoes have a high coefficient of friction. The coefficient of friction actually increases as the pads and shoes heat up and stopping power improves. The pads and shoes utilize a ceramic inner layer between the friction material and the backing plate to reduce heat penetration to the brake fluid system. The slotted rotors help to dissipate the heat more quickly, and the Motul RBF 600 synthetic brake fluid can withstand very high temperatures. The Motul RBF 600 synthetic brake fluid provided with the kit has an extremely high boiling point and exceptional recovery time which virtually eliminates vapor lock and brake fade.
It was obvious talking to Glenn that he "knows brakes." I needed new pads and shoes and was impressed with his brake knowledge, so I decided to give his kit a try. I had a local shop install the EGR components. My front pads were wearing unevenly indicating a sticking caliper so they were replaced with rebuilt calipers from CarQuest for about $45 each. The brake drums had visible hairline cracks so they were replaced with new drums that cost about $100 each from Dodge (CarQuest is a little cheaper). With the exception of the master cylinder and brake lines, my entire braking system was being replaced with new components - right down to the fluid.
I was more than a little anxious when I picked up my truck and carefully followed the break-in instructions EGR had provided with the upgrade package. After properly seating in the brakes, I went for a test drive. The results were incredible. For the first time, I had confidence in my truck's stopping power. Gone was the nosedive during panic stops. Gone was the sharp right pull during hard braking. The EGR system gave me sure, straight, level stops.
I hadn't realized before just how deficient my rear brakes had been. Once I gave it a little thought it made perfect sense. I had gone through four sets of Performance Friction front brake pads in 70,000 miles but had only worn out one set of rear shoes during this period. The front brakes had been doing almost all of the braking.
Dodge has a technical service bulletin for 1994-1997 BR 2500HD and 3500 series Ram Trucks (TSB 05-02-96A) that addresses the problem of premature front pad wear, here's a summary of the TSB:
Symptoms: Front brake pads wear prematurely compared to the wear experienced on the rear shoes Normally, it is expected that the front brake linings will require replacement approximately twice before the rear lining assemblies need replacement. The accelerated wear condition can be identified by requiring the front brakes to be replaced four to six times before the rear lining assemblies are replaced.
Diagnosis: Review service history to determine if front brake wear appears to be accelerated.
If a 2500 series, 8800 GVW is operated continuously near the GVWR, have the vehicle weighed to determine if the loaded condition is at 75% or more of GVWR.
Visually inspect the front and rear brake assemblies for any signs of abnormal wear. Refer to the appropriate service manual for abnormal conditions.
If the front brake pads are evenly worn, and the rear brake linings indicate light wear, perform the repair procedure.
Repair: Replace front brake linings on 2500 and 3500 series vehicles, the rear linings on 3500 series vehicles.
For 2500HD 8800 GVW (sales code Z2B and Z7B only) that are operated near 75% GVWR, replace the rear brake cylinders with 27mm one-ton cylinders.
Also, because rear brake adjustment is critical to the total operation of the braking system, it is recommended that the customer be made aware of the proper procedures to operate the rear automatic self-adjusting brake system. The procedures are outlined in the Owners Manual. The procedure states "To maintain correct adjustment, you need only drive your vehicle in reverse and apply the brakes until the vehicle comes to a complete stop.
This TSB doesn't apply to my 1998 1/2 Turbo Diesel 2500, but it's comforting to see that Dodge engineers came to the same conclusion that EGR came to. If you are running a heavily loaded truck, larger rear wheel cylinders will provide needed rear braking and offer a significant improvement in overall braking performance.
EGR goes several steps beyond the larger wheel cylinders by also providing slotted rotors, carbon Kevlar pads and shoes, and high performance synthetic brake fluid. For about $780 plus shipping, the EGR kit provides the security of knowing that when you need to stop your truck, it will stop. I think the added safety and security of the effective braking provided by the EGR kit is money well spent. I am very impressed with the quality of the EGR brake upgrade kit and the improvement in my truck's braking. I invited EGR to become a sponsor of my EarthRoamer.com project and I'm pleased to welcome EGR as an EarthRoamer.com sponsor.
EGR also sells a rear disc brake conversion for single rear wheel Rams with a Dana 70 or Dana 80 rear axle. The cost of this kit is $1999 plus another $325 for a hydraulic parking brake. I haven't seen this kit or driven a truck with this rear disc brake conversion, but if the quality is up to the standards of my EGR kit this should be a great product. Check out www.earthroamer.com/egr for the latest information on this conversion.
In October of 2000, I visited BD Engine Brake in Abbotsford, BC, Canada, and had them install a BD exhaust brake. This significantly improved my braking, especially when descending steep grades and when decelerating from highway speeds.
While the BD Engine Brake works very well, I wouldn't install any engine brake on a Ram with an automatic transmission unless I upgraded the transmission.
Performance Friction Brake Pads
While it's not a 100% solution, the Performance Friction brake pads are a MAJOR improvement over the stock pads. They're not very expensive and I highly recommend them.
Adjust the Rear Brakes
Once a week or so, I back up at about 10-15 mph and then brake hard. Go forward and stop hard again. Do this a couple of times and the rear drum brakes will self adjust, usually improving braking substantially.