The brakes went out on my new Dodge Intrepid after only 400 miles!

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 1994

Dear Tom and Ray:

I picked up a new Dodge Intrepid on Tuesday, and on Saturday, with 400 miles driven, the brakes went out. Of course, when the dealer picked up the car and checked the brake system, nothing was wrong, and no problems could be found. Is this car safe to drive? If they could find no problem, why did the brakes go out and will it happen again? There did seem to be some braking action, but the pedal went all the way to the floor with no resistance. The service manager all but said it was my imagination and that the pedal couldn't go all the way to the floor, but it did! In fact, even when I stopped and put the car in Park, the pedal continued to go to the floor. What do I do now?

TOM: This is one of the most frightening things in the world, Marianne. It's up there with looking across the dinner table and seeing my brother sitting there.

RAY: We believe that it happened, Marianne. And it probably IS a defect of some kind. But before we go insulting the Chrysler Corporation, we have to rule out the possibility of "operator error." Because there is one thing you could have done to cause this.

TOM: Since the car was new to you, you may have accidentally driven with the parking brake applied. That would be the equivalent of riding the brakes. And when you ride the brakes, they heat up and make the brake fluid boil. And when the fluid boils, your pedal goes right to the floor!

RAY: Once the brakes cool off and fluid liquifies again, the brakes return to normal. So if the tow truck driver arrived half an hour later, released the parking brake, and towed the car, that would explain why the dealer couldn't find anything wrong.

TOM: So if you think it's possible that you left the parking brake on (or partially on) by accident, then the car may be fine, and this won't happen again.

RAY: However, if you didn't leave the parking brake on, then we don't know what could have caused the brake failure. It could be that somehow, the hydraulics or the anti-lock brake system (ABS) is doing the same thing that an applied parking brake would do; that is, applying some pressure to the brakes while you're driving and causing the brake fluid to boil. But it's going to be very difficult to diagnose.

TOM: So if you're sure the parking brake was off, then I'd insist that the dealership replace the entire hydraulic brake system and the ABS. If they're decent guys (or if they have good legal advice), they'll do it for you without whining too much.

RAY: If they refuse, I'd just drive the car back and forth across their lot for the next 400 miles. That way, when the brakes fail again, you can carom off seven or eight new Intrepids in order to stop the car. And then you can tell them that you would have done a more careful job parking, but your brakes failed....again.

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