Should I spend $726 to fix the ABS on my Buick when the car still brakes just fine?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 1997

Dear Tom and Ray:

Before my husband passed away, he purchased a new Buick LeSabre in 1992 for
us. We have taken good care of the car, and have had it repaired and
serviced when necessary. Now it has almost 76,000 miles on it, and the
antilock brakes have gone out. I know I can drive without the system
working, but when I took the car in, they wanted $726 to fix them. I
decided not to have them fixed. Is this normal for antilock brakes to give
out at this mileage? And should I fix them? Also, the paint is peeling. --

TOM: You should fix the brakes, Joan. The antilock braking system (ABS) is
a safety feature, and allows you to keep steering the car effectively in an
emergency stop. You and your husband obviously thought it was worth having
in 1992, and it's still worth having today, even on an older car.

RAY: And the truth is we don't know how long the average ABS lasts. Within
the last five years or so, many manufacturers rushed to get ABS on their
cars because they perceived that customers wanted them. So those early ABS
cars are just getting to the age where things like that are starting to
fail. And while 76,000 does sound early to me, we haven't seen enough ABS
systems last 150,000 miles to say that definitively.

TOM: It's also possible that in their rush to install ABS, General Motors -
- and perhaps other manufacturers -- used systems that need to be improved
upon. After all, if they can't keep the paint from peeling, how can we be
sure they can keep the ABS working?

RAY: If you want to help get that ABS information collected, you can report
your ABS problem to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHTSA). They have an Auto Safety Hotline which collects data about safety
related defects. And if NHTSA notices a pattern with a certain vehicle or
manufacturer, they can open an investigation which could lead to a safety

RAY: There are two ways to report your problem. One is to call the Auto
Safety Hotline at 1-800-424-9393. The other is to visit our web site (http:
// and click on "Virtually Useful Data," and then select
"Complain to NHTSA."

TOM: And while you're there, you might also get a "Car Talk Car Report,"
which will list any recalls already put out on the '92 LeSabre that you may
not have heard about, plus complaints from other owners that have not yet
turned into recalls. Good luck, Joan., Riverton, NJ 08077-6420.

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