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Brake flush leads to two new calipers

Long story. Before asking my esteemed Car Talk experts some questions, here’s the background, pasted from my maintenance records:

27 November 2018, 86845 miles. Tuesday morning. Taking the car (2011 Venza, white paint) to [redacted] Toyota for a brake flush, am told one of the bleeder valves was frozen shut and flush couldn’t be done until tomorrow, when new part will be on hand. (Last flush was done at Pep Boys three years ago. Could it be that valve was never opened then?)
28 November 2018, Wednesday, next day. I come in as scheduled, wait hour and a half, to be told part is on backorder. Will be called in two days to set up new appointment.
30 November 2018, Friday, two days later, no call by 1030, so I call dealer. Am told service manager who was to have called me is out sick. Eventually am called back, told to bring car in Monday morning. We agree on 9am.
3 December 2018, Monday, 9am, I have car at dealership. Hour and a half later, service manager tells me both front bleeder valves broke off and only fix is to replace the calipers. Toyota calipers are $370ea, after-market are $200ea, both have 1-year warranty, I choose after-market. Am given a free loaner car (2019 Corolla that drives well), a pleasant surprise.
4 December 2018, Tuesday, 1:30pm, am called, car is ready. Car has new calipers in front and brake system was flushed. I pay only $393 because am not charged for labor and I had a 10% off coupon. All’s well that ends well.
From ticket: “Customer advised front caliper bleed valves are seized and will not loosen. Special order bleeder valves were ordered for replacement but valves broke when attempting to remove. Customer requests to replace both front calipers with after-market parts. Replaced both front calipers and performed brake fluid flush.”

OK, my questions.

  1. Is it normal for a car that’s spent its life in central Texas (no snow, no ice) to have rusted-tight bleeder valves in seven years?
  2. If the answer to #1 is yes, wouldn’t it be possible to loosen the valves with solvent?
  3. If Pep Boys flushed the brakes three years and less than 12,000 miles ago, would I be correct in thinking the bleeder valves shouldn’t seize so quickly? (I’d just bought the car with 75000 miles and assumed the brakes had never been flushed. Replaced the coolant at that time, too, though at the dealer.)
  4. Or is it likely that the Pep Boys tech doing the brake flush three years ago found the bleeder valves seized and just skipped past them?
  5. Though I came to the dealer expecting to spend $100 on a brake fluid flush and ended up spending $400 on a brake fluid flush and two new calipers, should I still feel good about the transaction considering I was given a free loaner plus free coffee in the waiting room?

I know, you’re thinking I shouldn’t have gone to a dealer for such a routine service. Maybe I’ve got too much money. Maybe I’m thinking brakes are one area of a car not to try to save money. I don’t know.

In my younger years I’d rebuilt calipers (or did I just replace them? it’s been decades) on an old Toyota Corolla. And my wife cherishes the memory of our trusty old 1977 Chevy station wagon giving her a leg cramp pumping the brake pedal three times before I’d yell “HOLD!” from underneath the car. Those days are over. I can now pay a mechanic to do it right.

Did the dealer do it right?

How I wish Tom and Ray were still with us so I could ask them but collectively you guys are pretty good, too. I welcome your thoughts.

$45 at rockauto. $40 core. stuck bleeders does not ruin the core. overnight them. i think your tech should have stopped after he broke off 1 bleeder. and than asked you if he should try and break the 2nd one too?

  1. Yes
  2. Yes
  3. Yes
  4. Oh heck, Yes
  5. Yes

Maybe Pep Boys had too much pep and really cranked the bleeders down. We will never know. Don’t even look at Pep Boys as you drive by. Dealership prices can be competitive. I am purchasing a replacement tire from my dealer today because the price is good and it is in stock.

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Not where I live…not even close. I do recommend to stay away from the national chains like PepBoys. However a good independent is usually far more skilled then places like PepBoys and far cheaper then the dealer. For tires - many local tire shops easily beat dealer prices. Couple of years ago we get a flyer on my local Toyota/Lexus dealer is having a huge tire sale. Best prices ever. So I checked them out sine my wife’s Lexus needed new tires. I was able to buy the EXACT same Michelin tires from a local tire dealer for about $60 less per tire.

Places I have lived, 3 years is plenty of time for a bleeder to go from serviceable to completely seized. Especially with that age and mileage involved. Drilling out and replacing a bleeder is not practical from a professional standpoint. Fine for DIY to save some money but paying a pro to do that? Plus you might as well rebuild it then too so now you’re probably more cost in parts and labor than a brand new one. Why mess around, just replace the caliper and it’s good for another 5-10 years…


I’d say that Pep Boys more than likely overtightened the bleeders. That will cause them to seize in a shorter than normal time. BTW, I live in an area like your’s, very little snow/ice and I recently replaced my calipers because of frozen bleeders. 2007 Silverado.


Chain shops are often caught charging for work and then not even attempting to perform it. The Pep boys goober might not have even tried to open the bleeders because the car never went on the lift.

Depends. Was it good coffee? :wink:


From the Pep Boys waiting area, I could see the car on the lift. Also, when the work was done, the fluid in the reservoir was indeed clear and the brake pedal was indeed more firm.

This isn’t a bad shop. I’d used them for my older 1994 B4000 pickup. Lot depends on which mechanics they’re employing at the time. Would think the better ones go to work for a dealership or open their own shops.

But bleeding brakes isn’t rocket science. A kid right out of high school should be able to handle it. If it weren’t for having to wrestle four 19" tires off, I’d have done it myself, at 72.

Funny, but I’m less than a mile from the Pep Boys. If I’d taken it there for the flush and they’d found two bleeder valves seized, we might have agreed for the car to stay there overnight as solvent worked them loose enough to remove. I could easily have walked home, then walked back the next day. The shop could have removed the old valves and put in new ones. Good to go, and $300 saved.

Or should I feel happy about having new, safer calipers in place of a pair that would have needed to be rebuilt or replaced in a few years (2011 car) anyway?

Brake bleeders are just about the most important place to use anti-seize compound.

There’s no guarantee penetrant would have freed up the bleeders. Been there many times myself. They’re not like regular bolts anyway. They are hollow with a thin wall. It doesn’t take much for them to twist off. Now consider that if the bleeders are frozen, what do you suppose the rest of the caliper condition is like inside? At 72 you know the saying- penny wise and pound foolish?

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Turbo, you’ve made me feel a lot better about this. Thanks much.

It doesn’t have to be rocket science for a chain shop monkey to screw it up. There’s a good example on Jalopnik about idiots at a chain shop who cut a hole in an Audi’s aero shroud instead of removing it to get at the oil drain bolt. I would link to the blog post, but it’s got a swear word in the text block.

That said, I agree with Turbo. They might never have been able to get them out. You have new calipers, and while you didn’t specifically say it, your lack of desperation suggests it wasn’t exactly a budget gut-punch for you, so drive on and be happy that you probably won’t have to mess with that again.

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With ABS, its getting to be rocket science. You need a diagnostic tool with ABS bleed program for new vehicles.


OK, that settles it. Not going to worry about this any longer. Keith’s comment about ABS adds to making me glad I went to the dealer. Yours convinces me to not lose sleep over the calipers.

Thanks to all.

Love CarTalk dot com.


I have a 2012 Toyota Camry, in the rust capital of the us, near Buffalo NY. I bled all my brakes last year and encountered not one frozen bleeder because the rubber caps that Toyota thoughtfully put over each bleeder kept the rust at bay. My guess is that Pep Boys, did not replace those rubber caps.

I can usually get a frozen bleeder out by mounting it in my vise and using heat but if it breaks, I will try an easy out. if all else fails, there is always a rebuilt, for about 1/3 the price the dealer charged you for the part.

The dealership mechanic can’t afford to mess around like that, would you like to pay for an hours labor at dealer prices on top of what you paid if the bleeder still breaks?


I concur. Bleeder screw busting off when trying to undue them is a common thing. Ask me how I know … lol … replacing the calipers, bleeding/flushing was the common-sense fix. And you got a loaner and free coffee? It’s an embarrassment of riches!! :slight_smile:

Oh, you could in theory loosen and tighten the bleeders every six months to minimize this from occurring again. But who’s gonna do that?


I’ve owned vehicles with ABS since 1996 and never needed a diagnostic tool to bleed the brakes.

I live in OK which is not prone to rust issues and have seen frozen bleeders and pretty much everything else even on cars that are comparatively young and comparatively low miles.

Brake fluid is highly hygroscopic (which means it retains moisture) so it’s possible the bleeders could have frozen from the inside out as a lot of the gunk can kind of settle in the lower areas of the brake system and flushing may not remove it all.

I’m sure your area of central TX is prone to high humidity much like here in OK so that does have an effect on the brake components.

The price you paid for calipers installed and a fluid exchange is fair enough.

ok4450, thanks for the feedback and reassurance.