2003 Ford Taurus (SES) "anti-lock" brakes freezing up

[note: my car probably has 37,000 miles on it & i am not at all rough on brakes…they work fine except for during these conditions:]

i’m in northeast wisconsin, where it can get very cold. so far it’s been a very messy (dare i say UGLY) winter with lots of snow & cold weather.

anyway, the other day when i was driving in town & the roads were all wet with slush & snow, & it was starting to turn colder (although at this particular time I don’t remember it being that far below freezing)…

i had an extremely hard time stopping at several corners, to the point where i thought i was gonna slam into a car in front of me & also across another street. i could tell that these wonderful (?) “anti-lock” brakes were indeed locking up or freezing up, & they just were not working! i remember this happening before in the same type of weather conditions - it’s like ice must get in somewhere & start freezing between something.

my brakes are freaking me out during that weather - especially since it’s happened a couple or few times before. it’s nothing you think about until all of a sudden you’re sliding & you pushing on the pedal does nothing. i know it’s related to the weather, but there’s nothing i can do about that! (i do park in a garage, btw, but that’s the most i can do - i cannot have some repair done to put something better on the vehicle when it’s unnecessary for 90% of the time)

also… i had to have the shift cable changed on this vehicle a bunch of months back - at this early in the game? has anyone heard of that happening to such a new vehicle? (i found one other instance online by googling the problem)

thanks for your help

You MAY have condensation in the brake fluid, possibly due to being out in the cold all day then inside a (heated?) garage at night.

You can siphon the brake fluid from the reservoir and replace it with fresh fluid. Do not overfill and you may find you have to do this a few times until all the
water is removed.

IF this is the fault I mean.

What exactly happens and how does the brake pedal feel when you push down on it?

As Roadrunner wrote, it sounds like you are past due for replacing the brake fluid. Your owner’s manual likely list it as a standard maintenance item every two or three years.

Be sure to answer his question as he is trying to make sure that is the only problem or if there is a different problem.

when i push down on the brake pedal, it seemed to make a weird noise but it like didn’t do anything… i could push it down as far as i could push it, & basically that wasn’t very far. it was almost like having NO brakes. (my garage isn’t heated, but next to the house)

i went out today for a short while & had no problem… brakes worked great w/little pressure. so it’s definitely a weather/precipitation/freezing problems… all conditions seem to have to be right for it to happen, but this isn’t the 1st time.

We need to back up a sec here… when you are stopping and this issue occurs, are you doing so on a slippery surface? One where, say, your wheels might lock up if you were to be driving a different car and apply the brakes?

Your anti-lock brakes were working fine, and preventing the wheels from locking up on a slippery surface. This still gives you steering control.

ABS is NOT a magic traction improving device. In fact, on really slippery surfaces, it can increase the stopping distance. ABS is to prevent the brakes from locking up the wheels and sending you into a skid. But, YOU MUST STILL SLOW DOWN AND INCREASE YOUR DISTANCE TO CARS IN FRONT OF YOU WHEN YOU KNOW THE PAVEMENT IS COMPROMISED! ABS WILL NOT COUNTERACT ICE! And ABS will not prevent hydroplaning. You must still plan on starting to stop a lot sooner than normal if the roads are icey. Plain and simple.

what are you talking about? i was going about 20-25 mph… i certainly wasn’t going fast at all, & the roads were half slippery/half not slippery. it’s not like i was trying to stop on a patch of black ice. i was going slow, but my brakes were NOT working at all but in fact locking up!

as i said below, it was just a regular small city street with sorta slippery but not extremely slippery surface. other cars were stopping, but mine was going almost out of control becuz of the fact that the brakes weren’t working normally. i give myself plenty of time to stop at a corner, but when you press on your brakes & basically nothing happens, it kinda changes things. you expect your brakes to work, especially when you’re not even going fast.

Your post read ‘freezing up’ no locking up, and your description sounds like ABS doing their job, ie ‘weird noise but it like didn’t do anything… i could push it down as far as i could push it, & basically that wasn’t very far. it was almost like having NO brakes.’ This sounds exactly like trying to brake on ice with ABS. If the brakes were locking up, ie wheels skidding, then your ABS does not work, and the ABS light should be on. Please elaborate more.

Are you getting an SES or CEL light on the dash when this happens? Any other brake system warning lights?

As BK said, if the brakes ARE locking up your ABS system isn’t working and thus SHOULD show an ABS warning light on the dash.

When you described a problem pushing the brake pedal down I thought of a possible brake booster fault.

Have you experienced this for a long time or just recently?

Are you the original owner? Have you had any brake associated work done on this vehicle since you bought it?

This is beginning to sound like ‘20 questions’.

Alright, I would strongly advise against driving this vehicle further until your faulty brake system is corrected.

The vehicle is not under warranty so I would recommend you have it towed either to a brake specialty shop or to a reputable independent tech/shop. (likely cheaper and won’t sell you stuff you don’t need)

You certainly do not want to be unable to stop safely and quickly to prevent running over someone.

We need to get the terminology down here… when you say the brakes are “locking up”, you mean to say that the pedal is hard and the brakes aren’t applying, correct? Because usually when someone says that their brakes are locking up, they mean that the wheels lock and skid (hence, “anti-lock brakes”).

It sounds to me like you could have one or more faulty wheel speed sensors that are telling the ABS system that the car is skidding when it really isn’t. I think Roadrunner is right, I think you should plan to take this car in and have the brake system diagnosed before driving any more.

now it’s hard for me to remember exactly since it was yesterday… they just seem to get iced up or something during weird wet-to-frozen weather (i live in wisconsin, remember), & can push on the pedal but it doesn’t seem to go down very far at all, & in fact i can push it no further down at all & they just don’t seem to work for that moment. it’s like i could open my door & stick my foot out on the ground like fred flintstone & that would have a better effect. sorry but i don’t know how to describe it any better than that. as i keep saying, it appears that something is getting iced up & preventing the brakes from performing in the right way. i don’t know if the wheels are turning or not at that moment - i can’t remember… all i remember is panicking cuz there was a car fairly close (& i’d tried braking a block before i was getting to the car…short blocks of course). it seemed there was some noise involved which i cannot remember or describe.

unfortunately i cannot afford ANY repair, as i’m not working & i need to pay for heat first. like i said, this rarely happens, but i’ve had this car since 2004 & it’s happened 2-3 times since then at least… it’s a freak thing when moisture/freezing conditions are just right… i think it’s less the road being slick & more something in the whole brake mechanism getting a sheet of ice on it that’s preventing something from connecting. i don’t exactly know how it all works, so that’s my lame description anyway. i’ve already had enough repairs on this vehicle which isn’t very old, & there’s no way i can go have anything done…

ROADRUNNER: nope, no warning lights. it’s a strange flukey situation… only happened yesterday (or was it the day before?) when our weather was turning from slushy snow to more frozen snow, & there was icy slush around (which gets up into car parts from being sloshed around on the road). it was fine today. there’s no way i can take it somewhere or not drive it… if it happens again, it happens again. that’s the way it goes when you’re poor!

The next time this happens try to use your emergency brake. Apply it slowly and see if it will slow you down. If it does slow you down then I would think it is in your hydralic brake system some wheres.