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1985 Toyota Tercel Wagon

I’ll try to keep this short. However, I need some advice. So, until recently I had a 2000 Ford Focus but it was totaled in an accident not long ago and is long gone now. I was given a 1985 Toyota Tercel Wagon with about 194,000 mi by a family member. However, it has always had a problem whereby the brake pedal goes to the floor now and then and especially when it is cold in the morning. So, I took the car to a mechanic (hwy 64 auto, Raleigh, NC) and they replaced the Master Cylinder yesterday and bled the brake lines through the master cylinder. The mechanic told me that the bleeder valves were too old and corroded to try to bleed them at each wheel and that they might break and then the caliper(s) would then have to replaced. Anyway, long story short, the brakes are WORSE after he changed the master cylinder and bled the lines from the master cylinder. Now EVERY time you first press the brake the pedal goes down then immediately you can “pump” them back up so either air in the lines or still a leak somewhere in the braking system. I do not want to spend anymore money (or at least very little money) on this car as too much has already been spent on other things before I got it and also after I got it.

Did the mechanic screw up or am I looking at a problem you have with some old cars where you start replacing parts in the brake system and then still have the problem or a new problem and then you wind up spending $800 replacing old crappy, worn out parts. What should I do? Did the mechanic screw it up or is it just time to send this old car to the scrap pile and crusher? Remember, I don’t want to keep pouring money into this thing. I’ve already spent some money on it with other stuff lately.

You need to get a second opinion from a good independent mechanic. The vehicle may be too old and rusty to keep putting money into but you won’t know that until you get that second opinion. If the next mechanic tells you the brake system is shot then sell the car for parts or as a “project” vehicle. This vehicle is too dangerous to be on the road right now.

And have them inspect it for rust. If the body is in bad shape there’s no reason to spend money on the brakes.

You can try spraying a bit of PB Blaster or similar on the bleed nipples each day for a week or so to see if you can free them up, but this is not a good car to invest money in. I am surprised that you found parts to install up to this point. I had to retire a beautiful 1981 Toyota Starlett that ran perfectly and had no rust a decade ago because the dealer no longer carried parts for it.

By today’s standards, a 1985 Tercel is not a safe car, even if the brakes work. It looks safe with those big bumpers, but in a high speed collision, it is little safer than a motorcycle.

The immediate problem is that you can’t replace a master cylinder and then fail to bleed the entire brake system. If you do that, then you’'ll get something like the problem that you describe - a pedal that needs to be pumped up before you get any braking out of it. Air compresses and brake fluid doesn’t. The system only works properly if there isn’t any air in it.

What I think in general though is that unless you are going to start working on cars yourself, then this might become a money pit as you suspect. I would take it to a shop that is known to be trustworthy and ask for a once over of major system to see what you’re looking at.

And missileman is right - this car is not safe to drive right now.


I’ll disagree with the idea that the Tercel is “little safer than a motorcycle.” I got T-boned in one of that generation by a speeding Explorer that ran a stop sign 20 years ago, and the car protected me very well. Only minor abrasions from the seat belt and a mild soft tissue injury from whipping around in the impact. Had I been on a motorcycle, I’d have been killed. I agree that it’s not as safe as a modern car, but claiming it’s little better than a bike is a rather hyperbolic.

I’ll agree with the others, @jkeelsnc‌ . Either learn to work on it yourself, or scrap it. You’ll drop a fortune if you have a mechanic fix it. I also agree that the brakes were not bled properly. I don’t really get the problem here. All you have to do is replace the bleeder screws, and the mechanic should have done that. If you even have to do that. You can get a new set of bleeder screws for less than 10 bucks a piece.

Make sure you have a closed-end wrench that matches the size of the bleeder screw nut. Now make what my car club calls "witch’s piss (in homage to Lockheed Skunk Works “Panther Piss):” Mix 50% acetone and 50% automatic transmission fluid. It’s the best penetrant you can’t buy on store shelves. Squirt a little on each bleeder screw 2 or 3 times a day for 3 days (do not get it on the paint, or you, or anything other than the screws for that matter).

Now take your closed-end wrench, put it over the screw and start gently tapping on it with a small hammer in a counter clockwise direction. Slowly increase the force of the taps until it starts to turn. Then you can remove it as normal.

New front calipers with pads are available from Rockauto for $35-$40 each. You’re in a tough spot, I wouldn’t want to sell a car with bad brakes. I would think you could put new calipers, pads, and discs on it and still get your money back, if the rest of it is in GOOD shape.

If you do go as far as new calipers (probably wheel cylinders in the rear) then it would make sense to do the flexible brake lines at each wheel if those are original.

I would also suggest wheel cylinders and the rubber brake lines. A wheel cylinder or caliper that has a leaky seal will allow air into the system and act like a bad master cylinder. The rubber hoses get bad with age and can fail. Sometimes they leak. Sometimes the collapse internally and act as a check valve holding the pressure on the caliper. Should be 2 rubber hoses up front and 1 in the rear.

I agree that there’s still air in the system and the system needs to be checked out by another shop. I also agree that you may need some new flexible line at the calipers, but the evaluation will tell you that. I’ll posit a wild guess that the shop didn’t bench bleed the master cylinder before installation.

I wouldn’t give up on the car based on what’s in your post, however. If the rest of the car is in decent shape, these type of problems can be considered not unusual for a car that age. It’s only unfortunate that the shop you took it to did not do a proper job on the brakes. You should not have had the car returned to you in that condition. Clearly the tech did not functionally check his work before returning the car to you, and that is inexcusable. And on a brake system, I find it appalling.

Did the mechanic at least bench bleed the master cylinder . . . or did he skip that step as well?

You know, even if a caliper bleeder breaks, it’s possible to extract and replace it

But it might be easier to replace all the calipers and wheel cylinders . . . I imagine they aren’t in great shape anyways

Is it AWD? Those have something of a following, might not be too hard to sell once the brakes are fixed.

It is indeed a 4WD model. The rust is right in front of the back wheels under the back doors. Two small spots. And then the edges of the front fenders in the wheels wells are rusted. More so on the driver’s side. I think that at least one cylinder is a bit low on compression but overall runs pretty good considering age and mileage. Ironically, the transmission still shifts as smooth as butter (its an automatic). Also, the 4WD system still works great which is amazing at 30 years. Even the AC still puts out some cool (not cold) air even though it still has the original AC compressor in it. It still has the original alternator though the voltage is slightly low from what it should be (but geez on a 30 year old alternator?). Gas mileage sucks though which is now only about 20mpg! The EGR valve was bypassed because it was stuck wide open. LOL That helped it run a little better. Idle is rough sometimes though esp cold and of course it has the notorious Aisin Carburetor on it (pooh). Accleration is even more poor when cold (will barely move) so I suspect electric choke and maybe also the acclerator pump are not working right. It sure made me appreciate contemporary fuel injection (esp when cold).


That particular generation of Tercels was known for rusting away

Be very aware that there is most likely far more rust than you can currently see

I’d be especially worried about rust in/around the suspension mounts.

I may be wrong, but I seem to remember the Tercels of that generation were prone to losing the front control arms, because the mounting points on the frame would rot away, and the arm would then drop to the ground, resulting in an accident

Well, it already does Wonky things when you drive it anyway. Current mechanic (same one fooling with the brakes) said that the transmission mount is shot and so are the motor mounts. He did not mention anything bad about the control arms in the suspension or the mounting points for struts, control arms, etc.

By wonky, I mean that you step on the gas and it pulls to the left a bit… Let off the gas and it darts to the right. LOL you have to correct all the time. Highway driving is interesting. Quite a bit of work correcting against darty, back and forth, body roll, etc.

It sounds like your entire brakes need to be gone over/replaced . . . front to back

"By wonky, I mean that you step on the gas and it pulls to the left a bit… Let off the gas and it darts to the right. "

Uh-oh. Before you spend $1 more fixing things, you need to find a good mechanic to give this a thorough inspection. Even with the brakes fixed it sounds like there’s lot’s else that might need repair, ASAP.

Or sell it to an auto recycler.