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A few years ago, I bought a 1994 Honda Accord whose brakes went out shortly thereafter. The problem was a faulty ABS module. The cost to replace the module was around $2000, so I opted not to do it.

My mechanic at the time told me that the problem is fairly common to Hondas from that era. I am now evaluating the purchase of a 1998 Honda Accord, but I'm wondering how likely it is that I will have the same problem again.

Is it true that the ABS module in 90s-era Hondas is prone to failure? Is the problem bad enough that it should give me second thoughts about buying such a car? What options do I have for fixing the problem if the ABS does fail? Do I really have to buy a genuine Honda ABS module to replace it, or are there cheaper alternatives?

Update

I found this: http://repairpal.com/abs-modulator-may-leak-air-and-cause-low-brake-pedal-312, which is almost certainly the problem that I had. The occurence count and comments on that issue are possibly the best answer I will find to this question.

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  • Define "common", please. Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 12:33
  • 20 year old cars have problems that pop up like this. I doubt anybody can tell you the likelihood that your 20 year old used honda will experience this failure within a given time span.
    – cory
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 16:17

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The 1990's Honda Accord had a dual braking system. ABS was quite new at the time, so a normal braking system was used, plus a separate one for ABS. You can recognize this by the two brake fluid reservoirs - one at the rear, in the normal location (grey cap), and the ABS reservoir (red cap) at the front, behind the windscreen washer filler.

Honda Accord 1996 ABS

Do they fail? Yes. Pretty much all the time. And a replacement is, indeed, $2,000. The usual failure is that when you turn on the engine, the brake pedal vibrates for a few seconds while the ABS tries to build pressure. It can't, so the ABS light comes on on the dashboard.

The problem is that two O-ring seals on the bottom of the ABS module perish, so it cannot build pressure. Replacing those seals (less than $5) is a cheap and quick repair. It doesn't cover absolutely every failure, but a good percentage of them. Instructions are available on YouTube etc.

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    It is very typical that rubber parts in old cars fail. I would expect lots of rubber related failures in a car of this age, e.g. fuel lines failing, power steering rack failing, valve cover gasket failing, and in the worst case perhaps even engine oil seals failing.
    – juhist
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 18:34
  • The failure mode in my case led to a squishy brake pedal and irregular braking behavior. Maybe this is a less common failure mode though?
    – nispio
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 20:09
  • @nispo: That doesn't sound like an ABS failure, but more like a master cylinder failure (especially if the brake pedal slowly descends to the floor when held at traffic lights). The ABS system on these Honda's can actually be turned off/removed without affecting normal braking, because it's a separate system.
    – PeteCon
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 20:32
  • Do you know what year that (the dual braking system) went away? I asked my mechanic at the time if there was any way to take ABS out of the loop, and he said that in my 1994 Accord it was integrated with the braking system and could not be disabled or bypassed.
    – nispio
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 23:29
  • The red cap reservoir is for the power steering. You can verify this on any Accord/Civic with that engine. Can you cite service information for this dual braking system? Honestly I've never seen it and I've worked on a lot of Hondas.
    – Ben
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 23:52

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