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My 2008 Ford Escape hybrid broke down in the middle of nowhere. Stopped to get gas and when I turned the vehicle on, the ABS light came on in the dash and and it felt like the engine wouldn't get any gas. The vehicle will go about 15 - 20 mph but refuses to go faster. After a little research, I found out about "limp" mode and that supposedly the computer sensed an error in the brake system and now is forcing the vehicle to be unable to go faster than 20 mph. Fast forwarding through a 130 mile tow to the nearest town with a mechanic, a small shop worked on the vehicle for about a week. They said the rear calipers, pads, and rotors were shot, so they replaced those within about 2 hours but then for the rest of the week claimed that they were unable to pressure bleed the brake system. I finally had the vehicle transported another 320 miles to my home city and when I received the vehicle the ABS light and the red brake light are on and the brake peddle goes all the way to the floor before it begins to brake (and not very well).

Did the small town shop screw up my brakes?

They said a lot of stuff during the week they had it. Everything from "The brakes won't bleed correctly because it is a hybrid", "We had to order a special pressure bleeder, but we got the wrong one", "Everything is fixed but the computer won't reset", to "hybrids need to pressure bleed for over two weeks sometimes".

In the end, I have an inoperable vehicle and they still charged me $650 for the work they did.

Did I get totally bamboozled?

I plan on towing it to a Ford dealership now, but I'm just curious if any of what they said was legit or if they were just screwing me around.

Update:

Took the vehicle to Ford dealership. After 2 days, they told me that the ABS light came on originally because of corrosion and bad contact with the battery leads. They also told me that the new calipers were put on incorrectly (left one on the right side and vice versa) which is probably why the small shop was unable to flush the system properly and also why the red brake light was now on. Not really sure whether or not the calipers/pads/rotors were really in bad enough shape that they needed changing. I think it is pretty evident now that the small shop didn't know what they were doing.

  • Thanks for the update! It is always great that people take the time to update the question with the final diagnosis. – juhist Jan 27 '17 at 20:08
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    Oh, one more comment. If the Ford system is similar to the Toyota hybrid synergy drive, there should be a powerful (2kW or so) DC-DC converter supplying the 12V system from the high voltage system, and the power to the high voltage system is provided by motor-generators. I don't believe the ABS system requires more than 2kW (which would need over a 160 ampere fuse), so a perfectly functioning DC-DC converter should mean bad battery lead contact should cause no ABS trouble. So, the diagnosis of the dealership can be incorrect, although it is probably better than the diagnosis of the tiny garage – juhist Jan 27 '17 at 20:12
  • Interesting, thanks for this. I might make mention of it and see what they say. May even print your comment... Thanks, again! – GeoJohn Jan 27 '17 at 20:17
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Sounds like an incorrect diagnosis to me. Why would worn-out rear calipers, pads and rotors turn on the ABS light? The failure mode of these components should mean that you notice the problem even before the ABS light turns on.

Of course, the final judgement will happen at the Ford dealership, but let's consider how hybrids differ from regular cars. Hybrids have regenerative braking, and therefore, if you press the brake pedal only little, only regenerative braking is used. The symptom of brake pedal going nearly all the way to the floor and then braking poorly might mean that you are missing regenerative braking. But then again, it might mean that the brake system has not been bleeded correctly. If the second option is the case, it can actually mean they did you a disservice. The explanation that hybrids "need to pressure bleed for over two weeks sometimes" clearly shows that they are lying and don't understand much about hybrids. Why would anyone design a car that has malfunctional brakes for two weeks?

You should consider this an important lesson. Never let anybody work on the hybrid system, unless the person is skilled in repairing hybrids. If the ABS light turns on, it means there is most likely an electrical fault in the brake system. The electrical part of the brake system belongs to the hybrid system due to renegative braking. Oil changes are ok to be done by anyone, but I would do other regular maintenance at the dealership, and the same applies to repairs in the hybrid system. For example, Toyota in Finland has a special warranty for the hybrid battery which is valid only if you let them check the battery regularly. The warranty stops to be valid if regular maintenance is performed elsewhere.

As a sidenote, I have found that my hybrid (a 2016 Toyota RAV4) seems to occasionally automatically test the ABS system when at standstill and when pressing the brake pedal. You hear the sound of the ABS system in these cases. Have you noticed a similar occasional sound when at standstill and when pressing the brake pedal? If so, it might reveal why the problem occurred after stopping to get gas. The self-test of the ABS system probably failed in your case.

  • I have definitely heard the "self-test" you mentioned many times before. Unfortunately, I couldn't say for sure whether I heard it during the ordeal. – GeoJohn Jan 23 '17 at 22:11
  • On that Rav4 hybrid that's not a self test. It's the actuators in the bypass modulator valve activating to allow pressure through. It should only happen if you press hard on the pedal when stopped. – Ben Jan 27 '17 at 22:08
  • @Ben - You may be interested to answer this question, then: mechanics.stackexchange.com/questions/41880/… – juhist Feb 11 '17 at 12:06

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