Wheel won’t turn on car left 3 months: Rust or Brake Issue?

Apparently the person who we told to move the car every week didn’t. The left rear wheel of my (front-wheel drive) car will not turn; the right turns fine. I jacked up the car and applied considerable leverage to the wheel, but it still won’t turn. I took off the wheel itself and WD-40’d the heck out of everything in sight.

While I wait for that to soak in, it occurred to me that the problem might be brake-related. Does that make sense?

If the WD-40 doesn’t miraculously break the corrosion, what else should I try?

Update: I waited for the WD-40 to soak in,removed the tire again, tap-tapped with a hammer for a few minutes, and the wheel broke free. Leading speculation seems to be that the emergency brake cable may have been stuck…

9 thoughts on “Wheel won’t turn on car left 3 months: Rust or Brake Issue?

  1. Is it a drum brake? I had a similar issue with a drum brake being stuck and no way to force it back by rotating the wheel (due to corrosion, I was actually making things worse by forcing the wheel). Only option was to open it and use some rust remover…

  2. well i’m sure you’ve checked the emergency brake. it controls only that wheel. make sure the brake pedal/handle springs back to the released position with some force. If it springs back, your brake probably is not engaged. If it doesn’t, your brake cable is probably stuck; working the brake pedal/handle in and out, or up and down, or whatever, could free it.

    otherwise it’s probably rust on the rotor which happens quite quickly if you’re in a humid or rainy climate. If you live on a crowded street I wouldn’t try this, but if you’re in a semi-sparse area, you could probably just turn the car on and rock the car back and forth until it snaps free. It will make a terrible noise until the brake pads remove all the rust from that rotor.

    or you could take it to a garage. I’m sure they’ve dealt with this a lot.

  3. On a car that has sat for a while (and has drum brakes), it’s usually brake shoes getting stuck to the drums. There should be a hole or slot behind the drum (usually at the top) where you can see a sort of sprocket or toothed wheel. That’s the brake adjuster; it ratchets away from a metal plate to adjust for your brake shoes’ wear when you apply brakes while backing up. You will need a couple of screwdrivers, one to turn that sprocket toward the little metal plate keeping it from moving in one direction and one to sort of push the plate out of the way so you can do that. If the screwdrivers don’t quite allow you to turn that sprocket, you can get a little spoon that is made for that purpose from the auto parts store. Since you have “WD-40’d the heck out of everything in sight” (sigh), you’ll want to spray a lot (LOT) of brake parts cleaner on the shoes and drum and let it all dry before you put it all together. DO NOT touch the inside of the drum or the pads with skin, or grease if at all possible. Once it’s free drive (slowly) backward and pump the brakes to adjust the shoes back to normal position. Check the level of the brake fluid in your master cylinder (there should be a line) and make sure it doesn’t appreciably lower after you’ve closed it and pumped the pedal a few times. Check also for brake fluid on the ground. Drive very slowly at first and test your brakes at low speed before driving directly to the brake shop. 🙂

    You’ll want to have a brake shop check your drums, rotors, calipers, etc. to make sure that you don’t have any real problems. Rotors will likely need a turn. You’ll also want to get the wheel bearings repacked sooner rather than later. the brake shop can do that for you, too. If they’re disk brakes, the caliper might be stuck to the disk, similar story, If I recall correctly (though no first-hand knowledge on that one from me). You’ll probably find an adjuster.

  4. I really hate posting what a previous poster just posted. But I swear, It wasn’t there when I posted!?!?! 🙂

  5. Yea, I had the same issue, the parking brake cable freezes inside the housing somewhere near the wheel.
    I’m my case I could feel it wasn’t right when I released the parking brake lever.

    After that I didn’t set the brake when I left for a long time.

  6. Taking the practical approach: If your rear brakes are drum brakes (meaning there is no “shiny machined part” exposed like there is on your front brakes), and you only sprayed WD-40 on the outside rusty/unmachined parts, I’d just drive the car and not worry about taking it to a mechanic or taking it apart to use brake cleaner.

    You had, as previous posters diagnosed, the shoes rust to the drum, under tension of the emergency brake. Now that they’re broken free, routine driving will keep them from being an issue again. I doubt it was the emergency brake cable itself rusting. Chocking the wheels and leaving the car parked in gear when leaving for a long time probably prevents a recurrence.

  7. If it is not an automatic, just put in the first/reverse gear instead of using the parking brake. Parking breaks tend to get stuck in cold/after some time, something we were already warned about in driving school.

  8. Knowing the year and make would make this easier. You do NOT want to spray WD40 around just anywhere. The solution depends on just what is causing the sticking. Look to the Ebrake cable first if you are new to fixing cars.

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