Brake mystery problem

My friend in EU drives an old Fiat Marea from a year 2000 probably. Is is a stick shift.
She has been driving this car for about 10y.
This is what she said happened to her and her brakes.
She was driving her normal daily route of about 10miles. No hills no traffic.

At mile 1 she starts to notice her brake pedal is showing much less resistance and feels softer then usual. Her car still brakes. At mile 3 she notices that her brakes are working less and less, the pedal becomes very soft, shows very little resistance and they are not stopping the car .
She uses an emergency brake, shifts down and pulls over to the side of the road. While waiting for a truck she hits the brake pedal and it seems frozen in the starting position , up position , very difficult the depress it. The town truck guy tries the brakes and they are stuck - frozen.

She tows the car to the mechanic . The car gets down from the truck, he tries it and everything works fine. Brake fluid didn’t leak out, brakes are fine. She keeps driving it and everything works now. Any ideas what happened?

When she took that car on the road the day it happened , it was her first ride of the day so the brakes were cold. Also the brake pads were about 6m old.

Most posters are in the USA so we’ve never seen a Marea but… could be a failing brake booster or master cylinder. This car needs to see the inside of a repair shop as soon as possible to find and fix this serious problem.

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The mechanic told her everything was fine and that he didn’t see anything wrong.
I know that these cars aren’t in usa , but it was just an interesting thing to me, what happened.
So i was just looking for very general ideas of what could that be.

In addition to what Mustangman said, the brake hoses could be bad.

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Even if everything is working fine now?
Mechanic told her basically , that she confused a clutch with brake pedal ,

All the items mentioned as a problem have rubber in them. Booster, master and lines. Rubber can play tricks on you. At least the shop did a once over. The driver should be aware that a 19 year old car with aged rubber components might have a failure at any time.

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Thank you . I am gonna tell her. She’ll just drive it to a junk yard i think . That car is not worth $500 right now and there are many other things wrong with it.

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That suggests it’s the master cylinder. When they leak, you don’t see it because the fluid doesn’t leak out, it leaks past a piston, but stays inside the cylinder.

That suggests the mechanic is a sexist jerk. :wink: You’d have to be pretty braindead, even if temporarily, to mistake the two.


Lets see , person over seas has problem , tries to relate what the problem is plus what the mechanic may have said but not really understood and then relayed by someone to a forum . Could this lead to a bunch of guesses that might not even be close ?

That is basiically what i need and expected.Theories.
I posted this more as of curiosity then a way to actually trouble shoot it .
I ve never hear of such situation where brakes feel soft, fall to the floor, then the padel gets stuck at the top position and in 1h the car is ok .

That reminded me of some problems people who called Cartalk had.

Yep. Mustangman had the most logical solution, especially since there are no leaks.

For pedal pressure being hard, if the e-brake was still on, there would be less pedal travel (the e-brake eliminated rear brake travel).

I believe those use drum rear brakes. (We don’t see that model here, but most Fiats did.) When pads were replaced, maybe they didn’t do the drum brakes? It might be worth a check. If the adjusters aren’t keeping up with the job, the extra play can be problematic. Why it’d come on suddenly, then disappear is odd, unless the e-brake reset (squared) the shoes. If they are not new, a replacement might be in order.

Master cylinders can have similar probs to what you described, but I’ve never heard of one recovering. With no leaks (full of fluid) it would not have sucked air. Maybe the mechanic added fluid? From his comment, he might not have wanted to “confuse” your friend with details.

Those would be my guess.

My theory (actually a guess) is that at least one of the brakes is sticking in the on position, and that’s heating up the brake fluid to the point it boils, which makes the pedal feel soft. Easy enough to test. On the first drive of the day, after about a mile of moderate speed driving, minimal braking, stop and feel all the wheels. Do any of them feel unusually hot?

That’s one I’d forgotten, usually a sticking caliper. If so, wouldn’t it be likely to reoccur?

Yes, I’d expect it to recur.