Jeep Cherokee (XJ): Diagnosis and testing

Base brake system

Base brake components consist of the brake shoes, calipers, wheel cylinders, brake drums, rotors, brake lines, master cylinder, booster, and parking brake components.

Brake diagnosis involves determining if the problem is related to a mechanical, hydraulic, or vacuum operated component.

The first diagnosis step is the preliminary check.


(1) Check condition of tires and wheels. Damaged wheels and worn, damaged, or underinflated tires can cause pull, shudder, vibration, and a condition similar to grab.

(2) If complaint was based on noise when braking, check suspension components. Jounce front and rear of vehicle and listen for noise that might be caused by loose, worn or damaged suspension or steering components.

(3) Inspect brake fluid level and condition. Note that the brake reservoir fluid level will decrease in proportion to normal lining wear. Also note that brake fluid tends to darken over time. This is normal and should not be mistaken for contamination.

(a) If fluid level is abnormally low, look for evidence of leaks at calipers, wheel cylinders, brake lines, and master cylinder.

(b) If fluid appears contaminated, drain out a sample to examine. System will have to be flushed if fluid is separated into layers, or contains a substance other than brake fluid. The system seals and cups will also have to be replaced after flushing.

Use clean brake fluid to flush the system.

(4) Check parking brake operation. Verify free movement and full release of cables and pedal. Also note if vehicle was being operated with parking brake partially applied.

(5) Check brake pedal operation. Verify that pedal does not bind and has adequate free play. If pedal lacks free play, check pedal and power booster for being loose or for bind condition. Do not road test until condition is corrected.

(6) Check booster vacuum check valve and hose.

(7) If components checked appear OK, road test the vehicle.


(1) If complaint involved low brake pedal, pump pedal and note if it comes back up to normal height.

(2) Check brake pedal response with transmission in Neutral and engine running. Pedal should remain firm under constant foot pressure.

(3) During road test, make normal and firm brake stops in 25-40 mph range. Note faulty brake operation such as low pedal, hard pedal, fade, pedal pulsation, pull, grab, drag, noise, etc.

(4) Attempt to stop the vehicle with the parking brake only and note grab, drag, noise, etc.


A brake pedal that falls away under steady foot pressure is generally the result of a system leak. The leak point could be at a brake line, fitting, hose, or caliper/wheel cylinder. If leakage is severe, fluid will be evident at or around the leaking component.

Internal leakage (seal by-pass) in the master cylinder caused by worn or damaged piston cups, may also be the problem cause.

An internal leak in the ABS or RWAL system may also be the problem with no physical evidence.


If a low pedal is experienced, pump the pedal several times. If the pedal comes back up worn linings, rotors, drums, or rear brakes out of adjustment are the most likely causes. The proper course of action is to inspect and replace all worn component and make the proper adjustments.


A spongy pedal is most often caused by air in the system. However, thin brake drums or substandard brake lines and hoses can also cause a spongy pedal.

The proper course of action is to bleed the system, and replace thin drums and substandard quality brake hoses if suspected.


A hard pedal or high pedal effort may be due to lining that is water soaked, contaminated, glazed, or badly worn. The power booster or check valve could also be faulty.


Pedal pulsation is caused by components that are loose, or beyond tolerance limits.

The primary cause of pulsation are disc brake rotors with excessive lateral runout or thickness variation, or out of round brake drums. Other causes are loose wheel bearings or calipers and worn, damaged tires.

NOTE: Some pedal pulsation may be felt during ABS activation.


Brake drag occurs when the lining is in constant contact with the rotor or drum. Drag can occur at one wheel, all wheels, fronts only, or rears only.

Drag is a product of incomplete brake shoe release.

Drag can be minor or severe enough to overheat the linings, rotors and drums.

Minor drag will usually cause slight surface charring of the lining. It can also generate hard spots in rotors and drums from the overheat-cool down process.

In most cases, the rotors, drums, wheels and tires are quite warm to the touch after the vehicle is stopped.

Severe drag can char the brake lining all the way through. It can also distort and score rotors and drums to the point of replacement. The wheels, tires and brake components will be extremely hot. In severe cases, the lining may generate smoke as it chars from overheating.

Common causes of brake drag are:

  •  Seized or improperly adjusted parking brake cables.
  •  Loose/worn wheel bearing.
  •  Seized caliper or wheel cylinder piston.
  •  Caliper binding on corroded bushings or rusted slide surfaces.
  •  Loose caliper mounting.
  •  Drum brake shoes binding on worn/damaged support plates.
  •  Mis-assembled components.
  •  Long booster output rod.

If brake drag occurs at all wheels, the problem may be related to a blocked master cylinder return port, or faulty power booster (binds-does not release).


Brake fade is usually a product of overheating caused by brake drag. However, brake overheating and resulting fade can also be caused by riding the brake pedal, making repeated high deceleration stops in a short time span, or constant braking on steep mountain roads. Refer to the Brake Drag information in this section for causes.


Front brake pull condition could result from:

  •  Contaminated lining in one caliper
  •  Seized caliper piston
  •  Binding caliper
  •  Loose caliper
  •  Rusty caliper slide surfaces
  •  Improper brake shoes
  •  Damaged rotor

A worn, damaged wheel bearing or suspension component are further causes of pull. A damaged front tire (bruised, ply separation) can also cause pull.

A common and frequently misdiagnosed pull condition is where direction of pull changes after a few stops. The cause is a combination of brake drag followed by fade at one of the brake units.

As the dragging brake overheats, efficiency is so reduced that fade occurs. Since the opposite brake unit is still functioning normally, its braking effect is magnified. This causes pull to switch direction in favor of the normally functioning brake unit.

An additional point when diagnosing a change in pull condition concerns brake cool down. Remember that pull will return to the original direction, if the dragging brake unit is allowed to cool down (and is not seriously damaged).


Rear grab or pull is usually caused by improperly adjusted or seized parking brake cables, contaminated lining, bent or binding shoes and support plates, or improperly assembled components. This is particularly true when only one rear wheel is involved. However, when both rear wheels are affected, the master cylinder or proportioning valve could be at fault.


This condition is generally caused by water soaked lining. If the lining is only wet, it can be dried by driving with the brakes very lightly applied for a mile or two. However, if the lining is both soaked and dirt contaminated, cleaning and/or replacement will be necessary.


Brake lining contamination is mostly a product of leaking calipers or wheel cylinders, worn seals, driving through deep water puddles, or lining that has become covered with grease and grit during repair.

Contaminated lining should be replaced to avoid further brake problems.


Some conditions attributed to brake components may actually be caused by a wheel or tire problem.

A damaged wheel can cause shudder, vibration and pull. A worn or damaged tire can also cause pull.

Severely worn tires with very little tread left can produce a grab-like condition as the tire loses and recovers traction. Flat-spotted tires can cause vibration and generate shudder during brake operation. A tire with internal damage such as a severe bruise, cut, or ply separation can cause pull and vibration.


Some brake noise is common with rear drum brakes and on some disc brakes during the first few stops after a vehicle has been parked overnight or stored. This is primarily due to the formation of trace corrosion (light rust) on metal surfaces. This light corrosion is typically cleared from the metal surfaces after a few brake applications causing the noise to subside.


Brake squeak or squeal may be due to linings that are wet or contaminated with brake fluid, grease, or oil. Glazed linings and rotors with hard spots can also contribute to squeak. Dirt and foreign material embedded in the brake lining will also cause squeak/ squeal.

A very loud squeak or squeal is frequently a sign of severely worn brake lining. If the lining has worn through to the brake shoes in spots, metal-to-metal contact occurs. If the condition is allowed to continue, rotors and drums can become so scored that replacement is necessary.


Brake chatter is usually caused by loose or worn components, or glazed/burnt lining. Rotors with hard spots can also contribute to chatter. Additional causes of chatter are out-of-tolerance rotors, brake lining not securely attached to the shoes, loose wheel bearings and contaminated brake lining.


Thumping or clunk noises during braking are frequently not caused by brake components. In many cases, such noises are caused by loose or damaged steering, suspension, or engine components. However, calipers that bind on the slide surfaces can generate a thump or clunk noise. In addition, worn out, improperly adjusted, or improperly assembled rear brake shoes can also produce a thump noise.

Brake lamp switch

The brake lamp switch operation can be tested with an ohmmeter. The ohmmeter is used to check continuity between the pin terminals (Fig. 6).


  •  Terminals 1 and 2: brake sensor circuit
  •  Terminals 3 and 4: speed control circuit if equipped
  •  Terminals 5 and 6: brake lamp circuit

Fig. 6 Brake Lamp Switch Terminal Identification
Fig. 6 Brake Lamp Switch Terminal Identification



NOTE: Disconnect switch harness before testing switch continuity.

With the switch plunger retracted, attach test leads to terminal pins 1 and 2. Replace switch if meter indicates no continuity.

With the switch plunger retracted, attach test leads to terminal pins 3 and 4. Replace switch if meter indicates no continuity.

With the switch plunger extended, attach test leads to terminal pins 5 and 6. Replace switch if meter indicates no continuity.

Red brake warning lamp

The red brake warning lamp will illuminate under the following conditions:

  •  Self test at start-up.
  •  Parking brakes are applied.
  •  Leak in front/rear brake hydraulic circuit.

If the red light remains on after start-up, first verify that the parking brakes are fully released. Then check pedal action and fluid level. If the lamp on and the brake pedal is low this indicates the pressure differential switch and valve have been actuated due to a leak in the hydraulic system.

On models with ABS brakes, the amber warning lamp only illuminates during the self test and when an ABS malfunction has occurred. The ABS lamp operates independently of the red warning lamp.

For additional information refer to Group 8W.

Master cylinder/power booster

(1) Start engine and check booster vacuum hose connections. A hissing noise indicates vacuum leak.

Correct any vacuum leak before proceeding.

(2) Stop engine and shift transmission into Neutral.

(3) Pump brake pedal until all vacuum reserve in booster is depleted.

(4) Press and hold brake pedal under light foot pressure. The pedal should hold firm, if the pedal falls away master cylinder is faulty (internal leakage).

(5) Start engine and note pedal action. It should fall away slightly under light foot pressure then hold firm. If no pedal action is discernible, power booster, vacuum supply, or vacuum check valve is faulty. Proceed to the POWER BOOSTER VACUUM TEST.

(6) If the POWER BOOSTER VACUUM TEST passes, rebuild booster vacuum reserve as follows: Release brake pedal. Increase engine speed to 1500 rpm, close the throttle and immediately turn off ignition to stop engine.

(7) Wait a minimum of 90 seconds and try brake action again. Booster should provide two or more vacuum assisted pedal applications. If vacuum assist is not provided, booster is faulty.


(1) Connect vacuum gauge to booster check valve with short length of hose and T-fitting (Fig. 7).

(2) Start and run engine at curb idle speed for one minute.

(3) Observe the vacuum supply. If vacuum supply is not adequate, repair vacuum supply.

(4) Clamp hose shut between vacuum source and check valve.

(5) Stop engine and observe vacuum gauge.

(6) If vacuum drops more than one inch HG (33 millibars) within 15 seconds, booster diaphragm or check valve is faulty.


(1) Disconnect vacuum hose from check valve.

(2) Remove check valve and valve seal from booster.

(3) Use a hand operated vacuum pump for test.

(4) Apply 15-20 inches vacuum at large end of check valve (Fig. 8).

Fig. 7 Typical Booster Vacuum Test Connections
Fig. 7 Typical Booster Vacuum Test Connections


(5) Vacuum should hold steady. If gauge on pump indicates vacuum loss, check valve is faulty and should be replaced.

Fig. 8 Vacuum Check Valve And Seal
Fig. 8 Vacuum Check Valve And Seal


Combination valve


(1) Have helper sit in drivers seat to apply brake pedal and observe red brake warning light.

(2) Raise vehicle on hoist.

(3) Connect bleed hose to a rear wheel cylinder and immerse hose end in container partially filled with brake fluid.

(4) Have helper press and hold brake pedal to floor and observe warning light.

(a) If warning light illuminates, switch is operating correctly.

(b) If light fails to illuminate, check circuit fuse, bulb, and wiring. The parking brake switch can be used to aid in identifying whether or not the brake light bulb and fuse is functional. Repair or replace parts as necessary and test differential pressure switch operation again.

(5) If warning light still does not illuminate, switch is faulty. Replace combination valve assembly, bleed brake system and verify proper switch and valve operation.


The valve controls fluid flow. If fluid enters the valve and does not exit the valve the combination valve must be replaced.

Disc brake rotor

The rotor braking surfaces should not be refinished unless necessary.

Light surface rust and scale can be removed with a lathe equipped with dual sanding discs. The rotor surfaces can be restored by machining in a disc brake lathe if surface scoring and wear are light.

Replace the rotor under the following conditions:

  •  severely scored
  •  tapered
  •  hard spots
  •  cracked
  •  below minimum thickness


Measure rotor thickness at the center of the brake shoe contact surface. Replace the rotor if worn below minimum thickness, or if machining would reduce thickness below the allowable minimum.

Rotor minimum thickness is usually specified on the rotor hub. The specification is either stamped or cast into the hub surface.


Check rotor lateral runout with dial indicator C-3339 (Fig. 9). Excessive lateral runout will cause brake pedal pulsation and rapid, uneven wear of the brake shoes. Position the dial indicator plunger approximately 25.4 mm (1 in.) inward from the rotor edge. Maximum allowable rotor runout is 0.102 mm (0.004 in.).

Fig. 9 Checking Rotor Runout And Thickness Variation
Fig. 9 Checking Rotor Runout And Thickness Variation



Variations in rotor thickness will cause pedal pulsation, noise and shudder.

Measure rotor thickness at 6 to 12 points around the rotor face (Fig. 10).

Position the micrometer approximately 25.4 mm (1 in.) from the rotor outer circumference for each measurement.

Thickness should not vary by more than 0.013 mm (0.0005 in.) from point-to-point on the rotor. Machine or replace the rotor if necessary.

Brake drum

The maximum allowable diameter of the drum braking surface is indicated on the drum outer edge.

Generally, a drum can be machined to a maximum of 1.52 mm (0.060 in.) oversize. Always replace the drum if machining would cause drum diameter to exceed the size limit indicated on the drum.


Measure drum diameter and runout with an accurate gauge. The most accurate method of measurement involves mounting the drum in a brake lathe and checking variation and runout with a dial indicator.

Variations in drum diameter should not exceed 0.076 mm (0.003 in.). Drum runout should not exceed 0.20 mm (0.008 in.) out of round. Machine the drum if runout or variation exceed these values. Replace the drum if machining causes the drum to exceed the maximum allowable diameter.

Fig. 10 Measuring Rotor Thickness
Fig. 10 Measuring Rotor Thickness


Brake line and hoses

Flexible rubber hose is used at both front brakes and at the rear axle junction block. Inspect the hoses whenever the brake system is serviced, at every engine oil change, or whenever the vehicle is in for service.

Inspect the hoses for surface cracking, scuffing, or worn spots. Replace any brake hose immediately if the fabric casing of the hose is exposed due to cracks or abrasions.

Also check brake hose installation. Faulty installation can result in kinked, twisted hoses, or contact with the wheels and tires or other chassis components.

All of these conditions can lead to scuffing, cracking and eventual failure.

The steel brake lines should be inspected periodically for evidence of corrosion, twists, kinks, leaks, or other damage. Heavily corroded lines will eventually rust through causing leaks. In any case, corroded or damaged brake lines should be replaced.

Factory replacement brake lines and hoses are recommended to ensure quality, correct length and superior fatigue life. Care should be taken to make sure that brake line and hose mating surfaces are clean and free from nicks and burrs. Also remember that right and left brake hoses are not interchangeable.

Use new copper seal washers at all caliper connections.

Be sure brake line connections are properly made (not cross threaded) and tightened to recommended torque.

Brake fluid contamination

Indications of fluid contamination are swollen or deteriorated rubber parts.

Swollen rubber parts indicate the presence of petroleum in the brake fluid.

To test for contamination, put a small amount of drained brake fluid in clear glass jar. If fluid separates into layers, there is mineral oil or other fluid contamination of the brake fluid.

If brake fluid is contaminated, drain and thoroughly flush system. Replace master cylinder, proportioning valve, caliper seals, wheel cylinder seals, Antilock Brakes hydraulic unit and all hydraulic fluid hoses.

    Previous pageDescription and operation

    Brake system DESCRIPTION Power assist front disc and rear drum brakes are standard equipment. Disc brake components consist of single piston calipers and ventilated rotors. Rear drum brakes are du ...

    Next pageService procedures

    Brake fluid level Always clean the master cylinder reservoir and cap before adding fluid. This will prevent dirt from falling in the reservoir and contaminating the brake fluid. The reservoir ha ...

    Other materials:

    Maintenance-Free Battery. Air Conditioner Maintenance. Body Lubrication
    Maintenance-Free Battery Your vehicle is equipped with a maintenance-free battery. You will never have to add water, nor is periodic maintenance required. WARNING! Battery fluid is a corrosive acid solution and can burn or even blind you. Do not allow battery fluid to contact your eyes, ...