Power Boosters

Written by: Mike Ervin

Power brakes operate just as non-power brake systems except in the actuation of the master cylinder pistons.  A vacuum diaphragm is located on the front of the master cylinder and assists the driver in applying the brakes, reducing both the effort and travel that must put into moving the brake pedal.

The vacuum diaphragm housing is connected to the intake manifold by a vacuum hose.  A check valve is placed at the point where the hose enters the diaphragm housing, so that during periods of low manifold vacuum brake assist vacuum will not be lost.

Depressing the brake pedal closes off the vacuum source an allows atmospheric pressure to enter on one side of the diaphragm.  This causes the master cylinder pistons to move and apply the brakes.  When the brake pedal is released, vacuum is applied to both sides of the diaphragm, and return springs return the diaphragm and master cylinder pistons to the released position.  If the vacuum fails, the brake pedal rod will butt against the end of the master cylinder actuating rod, and direct mechanical application will occur as the pedal is depressed.

The hydraulic and mechanical problems that apply to conventional brake systems also apply to power brakes, and should be checked for if the tests below do not reveal the problem.

Test for a system vacuum leak as described below:

  • Operate the engine at idle without touching the brake pedal for at least one minute.
  • Turn off the engine, and wait one minute.
  • Test for the presence of assist vacuum by depressing the brake pedal and releasing it several times.  Light application will produce less and less pedal travel, if vacuum is present.  If there is no vacuum, air is leaking into the system somewhere.

Test for system operation as follows:

  • Pump the brake pedal (with engine off) until the supply vacuum is entirely gone.
  • Put a light, steady pressure on the pedal.
  • Start the engine, and operate it at idle.  If the system is operating, the brake pedal should fall toward the floor if constant pressure is maintained on the pedal.

One thing I have came across when a power brake booster goes bad, sometimes when applying the brakes the engine rpm will go up.  What in effect is happening is, the booster is causing a giant vacuum leak, thus when you depress the pedal it lets the engine suck air.  Of course the above tests should indicate this, but if you have noticed this when driving you may want to do these tests to check it.

Removal and installation:

To Remove:

  • Remove the two nuts holding the master cylinder to the power cylinder and position it away from the power cylinder.  Do not disconnect the hydraulic brake lines; be careful not to bend or kink pipes.
  • Disconnect the vacuum hose from the vacuum check valve on the front housing of the power head.
  • Disconnect the power brake push rod from the brake pedal.  You will need to remove the metal tang that depresses the brake light switch first.  It's held on with a 9/16" bolt and nut.   Then it's a matter of removing the little clip from the pedal stud.
  • Remove the four (or six depending on which unit you have) nuts from the mounting studs which hold the power brake to the cowl.

To Install:

  • Mount the power brake booster to cowl and tighten retaining nuts.
  • Connect the power brake push rod to the brake pedal.
  • Connect vacuum hose to vacuum check valve.
  • Connect master cylinder to booster and tighten nuts.