Brake Failure in Subaru Forester

I have a 2003 Subaru Forester, manual transmission, 205,000 miles. A few weeks ago I started hearing a grinding noise when braking-it sounds like it’s coming specifically from the rear passenger side. The brakes never squealed, just a grinding noise when braking that continues once I start driving again until I get up to about 40mph or so. The brakes were still responding fine, though, so I let it go because car repairs are expensive and I wanted to wait until I had the money to take care of it. A friend of mine said he could replace the pads and rotors this weekend, so I bought parts and thought I was in the clear!

Fast forward to today: I was driving home and the pedal became essentially unresponsive. Sinks all the way to the floor and the car still doesn’t really stop completely. The brake light on the dash is on also. Luckily I have a manual and the handbrake still works, so I was able to get myself home by driving slowly and downshifting when I needed to stop. I did check the brake fluid level and it was low, so I added brake fluid, which made the light go off momentarily but pressure didn’t return to the brake pedal and the light came back on shortly after.

Is it possible that I damaged the caliper from waiting to replace the pads and rotors too long? Or is something else going on?

Something else is going on. You have a leak and air in the system. Why? Impossible to say because we don’t know if your friend knows what they are doing or not. Your situation says “not”. Pay an actual mechanic to fix your brakes.

Going is optional, stopping is not.

Unlikely caused by waiting too long, but a caliper of that vintage could be in need of rebuilding or replacement. I’m guessing what happened is the repair process of retracting the caliper pistons to make room to install new pads and rotors damaged the piston’s seals (through no fault of the mechanic), and that has created a brake fluid leak. Inspection of the calipers should show which (or both) are leaking. Failure to properly tighten the caliper bleeding nipples could cause this too, among other things. Don’t drive the vehicle until this is resolved of course. The good thing about brakes is that most everything is accepted to be a wearing part & so is designed to be pretty much replaceable for not a super-big expense.

It is possible that the brake pads and rotor wore to the point that one of the brake pads fell out of the bracket allowing the caliper piston to be ejected from its bore. Plan on replacing one or more brake calipers.

1 Like

First DO NOT DRIVE this vehicle, anywhere, for anything… Not being able to stop is not at all funny and endangers more than just yourself. SO…do not drive until you fix your brakes, or have someone who actually knows what they are doing help you…immediately. You mentioned a friend, a weekend, some brake parts and being in the clear. When you fast forwarded to today was this the first you drove the car after your buddy replaced the pads and rotors? Or were you driving after he worked on it and then suddenly today something changed all of a sudden? I feel we don’t have the timeline correct for what occurred with your Subaru. Can you clarify this for us?

Lots of things could have happened if your bud doesn’t really know whats up, believe me. I am usually the guy who gets to straighten out a lot of brake issues after "a weekend, a buddy, brake parts and being in the clear were involved in other peoples lives. @Mustangman pretty much nailed it with his assessment, so that is really where you are with this. He mentions that there is air in your system, he is correct, why? Is an excellent question that needs answering.


It sounds like the work has not been done yet, today is Wednesday, this weekend begins in about two days.

Oh Crap… @Nevada_545 you may be correct in stating that the work may not have been done yet…I would also agree with you on your ejected pad theory…certainly possible. Remember me saying I was confused with the time line? Well I am still confused, lol. The time line will clarify a lot for me actually.

OK…so if I am to read this as if the work has not been done yet… that changes things, however it does not change the safety factor. So…park this vehicle until you can get hands on it…preferably hands that know what they are doing.

Sorry, I didn’t realize the timeline wasn’t clear. No work has been done yet. The plan was to replace the pads and rotors this upcoming weekend, but that hasn’t happened yet. The brakes have been grinding for probably 3 weeks. The brake light came on and I lost pressure in the brake pedal last night.

Since no work has been done yet, that’s why I was wondering if the loss of brake fluid/pedal pressure could be due to damage to the caliper and/or its component parts.

AH HAH… I see, thank you for clarifying! So in light of this confirmed info the answer to your question is a firm YES.

If your brakes have been grinding for 3 weeks straight… All sorts of mayhem can ensue. Typically when brakes catch you off guard somehow and begin to grind…they should only grind for the first day you hear it… You stop and investigate and do the needed repairs…THAT DAY. You do not pass Go, do not collect 200 dollars…you STOP…and repair. If you do not, you turn a simple brake pad swap into a brake rebuild…easily quadrupling the cost (what you have done here)…so how is that for expensive? You did yourself no favors by continuing to drive and hearing these horrendous noises. Waiting till you have the money while continuing to drive makes absolutely no sense whatsoever because the longer you drive the more its going to cost…so its sort of a circular thing there…

You are most likely going to need a new caliper, new pads, new rotor…basically everything, I can only hope this is isolated to one side…but after 3 weeks you may need to do everything on both sides… I mean its not really difficult stuff, but it was totally avoidable and not to mention dangerous as hell.

I’m sure you will see what is needed once you get a wheel or two off the vehicle…no need to ask us…its going to be plenty obvious.


I’d also inspect the front brakes, given the lack of maintenance.

You can check the brake fluid level right now. Check the reservoir to see how low it is. Also, look under the car for puddles of brake fluid. Certainly at the wheels, but also under the fluid reservoir and along the lines as they go out to the brakes. I suppose it is possible that you let the fluid get too low and that introduced air into the lines. That would cause the soft pedal. Don’t assume this is it, but if it is, the repair is adding fluid and bleeding the brakes. It would make sense to replace all of the fluid while you’re at it.

I agree with Blackbird. I waited too long to replace the rear pads on my 2000 Blazer and instead of just replacing the pads I had to replace both calipers. A $100 repair turned into a $400 repair. I did not have to replace the rotors though.

Ed B.

This excellent advice bears repeating and emphasizing…I accidentally waited a weekend too long to do the brakes on my old Town & Country and the job changed from just pads to pads, rotors, and one caliper.

Judging from your posts, you will need pads and rotors and at least one caliper. I would recommend that you replace both calipers on an axle, in your case that would be both rear calipers, at the same time. They run about $50 each at Autozone.

It sounds like you have one brake where the pad has worn to bare metal and that in turn cut into the rotor so deeply that the piston has gone past the inner seal. That has the potential of damaging the piston and the bore of the caliper. So you will need at least one caliper, but for even braking, replace both or you could well be paying for more repairs sooner than later.