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I was driving this car around yesterday quite a bit with no problems, when I stopped to go into a store for a few minutes. After I came out, I started the car, and the brakes went right to the floor with no resistance.

The brakes were working fine before, no sponginess. After restarting the car several times, and pumping the brakes, I couldn't get any pressure at all in the brakes, they just go right to the floor. I couldn't find any fluid leaking around the tires or the ground.

I drove around the corner to where I was going with the e-brake, and parked it. The car sat for maybe a half an hour. When I came out to start it and try it again, everything worked fine. I have been trying to see if I can get them to fail for the last couple days and everything seems fine.

The brake fluid was at an acceptable level as well.

Does anyone know what might have happened? I was thinking it was maybe just something electrical that failed to start the brake pump up when I started it. Is my master cylinder going bad? It sure seems OK now!

  • Is the car equipped with ABS? If so was the ABS running when the condition occurred? Was the pedal rumbling or vibrating as it went to the floor or was is perfectly smooth? – vini_i Jun 4 '16 at 19:43
  • The car does have ABS. I don't believe it was engaged when this was happening, I'm sure I would have noticed the light on the dash. There was no rumbling or vibrating (as in the ABS being engaged) when the brakes were pushed with the car moving. When turning the corner, I was using the e-brake and the brakes both and ABS was not engaged. Thanks. – element11 Jun 4 '16 at 20:13
  • Check the rear brake pistons. They could be out of adjustment or a piston was sticking. Had the same thing in a 89 VW fox – Old_Fossil Jun 7 '16 at 2:14
  • @resident_heretic thank you, it was the one brake piston. The caliper was mostly seized and was rubbing slightly for so long it caused other issues as well. Definitely a heat related issue. – element11 Jun 10 '16 at 1:05
  • @element11: you're welcome... – Old_Fossil Jun 10 '16 at 4:17
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I was driving this car around yesterday quite a bit with no problems, when I stopped to go into a store for a few minutes.

If you really wanted to try to reproduce it, you could try doing that again. but I would suggest doing it in a safe place, like driving around a parking lot for a whiiilee....

I drove around the corner to where I was going with the e-brake, and parked it. The car sat for maybe a half an hour. When I came out to start it and try it again, everything worked fine. I have been trying to see if I can get them to fail for the last couple days and everything seems fine.

Sounds like a heat-related issue... or at least affected by it. If it is, then driving it a lot and braking more should cause it to happen again, although I don't recommend you driving it around much at all in this condition.

The brake fluid was at an acceptable level as well.

What color is the fluid? How old?
Could be that the fluid is so old and full of contaminants that when heated, it became very very compressible. although probably not that likely to be or behave THAT bad.


How much braking did you do during that driving around before the problem occurred? Were you braking hard at any point?
How much time lapsed since going into the store and getting out to start to car with everything working again?
How are the pads, rotors, etc.? When was the last time you had them serviced?
How was the fluid level while the problem was occurring? When did you last change fluids?

If you are feeling gung-ho about it then I would suggest starting by changing fluids; and if you really want to start replacing parts, replace the brake cylinders, unless those parts are relatively new.
If you do not normally work on cars or are not comfortable with working on the brake system, I strongly suggest taking it to a mechanic for proper diagnosis and repair. Brakes are super safety critical for obvious reasons.

ABS system is a good thing to check, as mentioned by someone.
Calipers too, as mentioned by someone, although I feel like it wouldnt be this bad.
it could be anything at this point, you gotta start diagnosis somewhere.

Need moar info.

  • Funny story, today one of the front calipers seized and was grinding against the rotor, causing an awful grinding noise. I had noticed a bit of a growl, which I thought was a wheel bearing starting to go. I was going to get it in shortly to look at the bearings. It turns out the calipers/brake pistons were seized and rubbing against the rotor for quite some time. This caused significant heat, and my mechanic said that this problem might have been caused by the brake fluid overheating. Long story short, car was towed, front caliper was rebuilt, pads and rotors changed on the front. – element11 Jun 10 '16 at 1:00
  • After all this it was good to discover what was wrong. This answer got to the just of it, especially the heat related issue. Ill consider this one solved. Thanks everyone. Ill take a look at the brake fluid too, but the mechanic must have thought it was OK. – element11 Jun 10 '16 at 1:20
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I had something similar happen in a 2000 Saturn LS2 (or L200) and it was a problem with the brakes and struts. Certainly a General Motors problem and not the first time I have heard of this. If the car is in the USA, check the VIN number with safercar.gov to see if its in a recall, or find an independent mechanic too check it over. I hope it helps. I am not a mechanic, but its a GM thing maybe. Check all of the fluids too. Have them check rotors and calipers too.

  • Welcome to the site, and thanks for the answer! Can you go into more detail on what your symptoms were, and what specifically about the brakes and struts solved your problem? – MooseLucifer Jun 9 '16 at 18:59
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Sounds to me like a master cylinder, but hard to say with total certainty. Honestly though, it's worth it to swap you MC rather than getting in a wreck. The part is less than $100 (in my area). Just my 2 cents. :)

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