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When I drove off in my 1996 Legacy I used the brakes very gently a couple times then saw the Brake indicator lamp and pushed the brake pedal... It went easily to the floor and then I got about 5 percent of normal braking action. So it seems that a problem affects both sides of the dual system. There is still fluid in the reservoir and no evidence of leaks in the engine compartment. (And yes, I went and got my other vehicle and have not driven it anywhere since.)

What could cause this? Could it be something simple like a fuse or belt? Something not too expensive? Or is it probably something big that is not worth putting that much money into a car that has gone most of the way to the moon?

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I would have it towed to a repair shop. But it sounds like the master cylinder is bad. If the reservoir is full and there are no signs of leaks, its most likely the master. But you do need to have this checked by a qualified mechanic.

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  • Ok, but towing All Wheel Drive cars requires putting them on a flatbed. I am not sure if my auto insurance would pay to have the car moved from home to a shop, and if not, I would be spending a lot of money to either spend a lot more (which I would choose not to do) or not spend any. Then I have to find a way to dispose of the car... So, my goal is to either fix the car for minimal money or get rid of it for nothing. I suppose that is always true. – user29824 Jul 9 '17 at 15:21
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    I get it, but you're the only one who could make the decision. Good luck – cano Jul 9 '17 at 15:28
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    @nocomprende I am pretty sure your insurance would be more concerned about covering (or not covering) an accident that you caused by driving a car with known faulty brakes. A flatbed towtruck is not expensive compared to the damage a car without brakes can do. You could also be criminally liable for any damage you cause due to gross negligence. I would not drive that car at all until it is repaired by a mechanic/shop that has whatever qualifications the laws in your jurisdiction require. – user4896 Jul 9 '17 at 20:50
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    Yeah this isn't even "I'm worried my car might stall," this is "I'm considering driving a car that I know has no brakes on the highway." You will not be a sympathetic figure when you cause an accident. Even if there's no situation that requires a sudden stop, you're really going to navigate an off-ramp in traffic solely with your parking brake? I realize you're in a difficult spot, but please, please remove this from the list of ideas you're considering. – Zach Lipton Jul 9 '17 at 21:48
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    @ZachLipton certainly. I stand rebuked. Lapse of reason. Thanks. – user29824 Jul 9 '17 at 22:15
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Yes a tow is expensive, $100 or thereabouts, so, you don't want to fix it yourself and you can't afford a tow either? Then to keep the cost at a bare minimum, maybe I'd find somebody who's a mechanic and/or has done brake work before, and who is willing to come to where your car is and fix it there?

Just for kicks I priced your replacement master cylinder (this part is the most likely part needing replacement to fix your brakes) and O'reailly has it for $50 (the cheapest one, it comes without the plastic reservoir part, so you swap your old one to it). Now if you can find a guy who can do it for $50 labor, (anything from $50 to $100 is about right for labor, if you expect somebody who knows what they are doing and has tools) you might be able to get your car fixed for the price of the tow - or certainly for less then $200 probably.

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  • If it is so cheap a part and can be done under a tree, why is there a prevailing sense that it means "don't bother to fix the car"? I figured it would cost a minimum of $1000. – user29824 Jul 10 '17 at 21:18
  • @no competence... it all depends where you go for the repairs. If you go to the dealer, it'll usually cost a lot more if they use "factory/authorized rebuilt parts. But if you go to the local parts house and get a decent part it cheaper if you know anyone who know how to fix it work something out that works for you. Heck, I've worked on cars for friends for a 12pack. – cano Jul 10 '17 at 21:33
  • If you take it to the stealership, er, DEALERship yeah they are gonna bend you over, thats what they do. An independent shop, he's going to charge flat rate, will be less then dealer usually but still quite a bit. That plus the tow is whats making this too expensive, thus my idea to find some mechanic who is at loose ends or wants to make some money for about 2 or 3 hours work (if that). The actual replacement process is not hugely difficult - you unbolt the brake lines coming out of the master, then the mounting nuts, (to the power steering bell housing usually) and it comes off. – Maybeth Jul 10 '17 at 23:08
  • 2/ Then reverse the process, bolt the new master on. Then you add the fluid, then bleed the master cylinder (of air); then you reinstall the brake line fittings. After that, you bleed all 4 brakes (tedious, but not particularly difficult). If you have a hard pedal, with no leaks (hold the brake pedal for about 3 minutes) you're done. So you need a few special tools and knowledge to do this as you can see. But this isn't any kind of rocket science, – Maybeth Jul 10 '17 at 23:08
  • 3/ plenty of guys know how to do brake work, the trick is finding a guy who will work for cheap. ($50-100 for skilled labor is cheap). That, or figure out how to do it yourself, I suppose. That's how i learned to fix cars, by doing it... (i admit i did not start as a beginner mechanic, with brake work right away, though). – Maybeth Jul 10 '17 at 23:13

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