Brakes failed, no money for repairs, any chance its drivable?

Car is a 1999 Honda Civic.

I’m in dire straits, literally no money left. I had just gotten a job delivering phone books, which pays by the route. I had almost completed my first route when I had to go back for more supplies. I put my emergency brake (is that the right term?) on because the car was on an incline at the loading dock. Once it was loaded with more phone books, I drove away - forgetting to take off the emergency brake. It was hard to accelerate, but I thought it was because of the weight of all the phone books. Several miles later, I went to brake for a red light, and there was no resistance when I pushed down on the brake. The second time, it braked. Next red light, same thing. I managed to pull off into a parking lot. Even after coming to a stop, turning off the ignition, waiting a minute and turning it back on to park it in a parking space, the brakes weren’t working. There was a smell of burning, like burning rubber.

I called AAA, and when the tow truck arrived an hour later, the brakes worked fine for the tow truck guy. But I was afraid to drive it without having it checked, so he towed it to a Pep Boys (auto service place).

Pep Boys says these repairs are needed:
replace left and right rear wheel cylinders
brake line to one
brake fluid exchange package (whatever that is)

They say I cannot drive the car without the repairs, which they estimate to cost $649.

This doesn’t even include replacing the read brake pads, which were at the minimum to pass inspection last year, which need replacing for inspection next month (July). Last year, I still had some savings and took the car in to a Honda place to have all the brakes replaced. The mechanic there only replaced the front brakes, saying the car really doesn’t even use the rear brakes, that I don’t even need them.

I don’t want to risk my life (or anyone else’s), but if I could just finish that one route, I’d have at least a little money (only $70, but when you have $0, it’s a lot.) I figure I’ll lose the car soon anyway, as repairs needed for inspection will cost more than the car is worth (the rear brakes, rusted-out, busted exhaust pipes, something needed to open the hood, plus it’s time to replace the timing belt).

So is there any chance I could drive it? Or does anyone have any advice?

(No, I don’t have anyone who will drive me to finish the route or anyone to help in any way. Losing my car is like losing my last lifeline. I had to walk half a mile to a place with wifi to post this. Losing my place to live in less than a month. Feel like I’m losing my last chance to survive.)

Get a second opinion from a good independent mechanic. I wouldn’t trust Pep Boys to tell me my windshield wiper fluid was low. They may be right but they are usually wrong so a second opinion is warranted here.

Get another opinion. If you drove that long with the E brake applied you overheated your rear brakes… if you have wheel cylinders that means you have rear drum brakes.

If after everything cooled back down you have brakes… you still have brakes. When you drove with the e brake on you heated your rear drums probably cherry red… which would make your brake pedal have severe softness in it…due to over heated over expanded brake drums and boiling out the water in your dirty brake fluid which has never been changed before as well.

Get in the car and test the brakes…If you have brakes…then you have brakes. Test drive it in a safe location for about 15 min doing normal stops…see if the brakes function. If they pass a 15 min test with at least 10 -20 stops then the brakes are working.

The situation you found yourself in was due to overheated brake components. If you damaged something…you will feel it in the brake pedal.

See what you have… and let us know. It would also be a great idea to get a second opinion and have your car looked at. It costs money to own and drive a car…they need maintenance for your safety as well as ours. Might be time to use public transportation…lol seriously go test your car out…let us know


I sympathize with the situation you are in, but the first thing to do is to go check on your car as everyone has said. I wouldn’t trust a chain repair shop either.

As explained by the others test drive in the lot for 15-20 good stops and you should be able to recognize weather the brakes are working as they did before this overheating. Just be sure that there is ample room so no one or other cars are in danger.

Then it may be time to start canvasing near your home for a job…any job with a routine paycheck. I have a nephew that kept applying everywhere but near his home for a better job.
I finally talked him into stopping into every business, on every street near his home, and asking if there were any openings. When I talked to him later he mentioned that he had skipped the big business office complex, because he figured that everyone working there were professionals. I talked him into stopping by and asking. He was hired on the spot to be a custodian in the evenings at $17/hr for emptying waste baskets and vacuuming.
Beats his last job at $10/hour flipping burgers where his grandma had to take him every day.

Good luck


I suspect Honda was right… you seriously overheated your brakes fluid and the surrounding components.

This level of overheating can critically damage the rubbery bits, the seals that keep the fluid in the calipers and/or cylinders when you pressurize the system (step on the brakes) as well as the flexible lines that connect your calipers to the metal “hard lines”. It can also cause the rear discs to warp, damage the grease seals in the bearing assembly, boil out the grease, and even damage the binder that holds the brake pad material together.

My recommendation is that you not drive the car until you have the system thoroughly checked out. You are in very real danger of losing your brakes suddenly and completely. And, since your brake system’s redundancy is built in by having each of the master cylinder pistons operate one front and the opposing rear, and since you overheated both rears, you’re in danger of losing the entire system… both legs.

I wish I could be more optimistic, but when discussing brakes being optimistic can cost a life. Better safe than sorry.

Sorry you are having these difficulties. I hope you understand I don’t intend to disrespect you, but my reading of your concerns and situation, it seems like maybe owning a car isn’t the right solution for you at this time. I realize delivering the phone books requires a car, but there’s other jobs in this world you could do that don’t require you own a car. My suggestion is to sell this car, pocket the dough and use it to keep your current living arrangements, save money on insurance and license fees, and inspections, gas and maintenance, traffic tickets, etc.

Instead find a job you can get to using public transportation. Car ownership isn’t for everyone. Lots of folks, even some that could easily afford it, they don’t own a car.


Several miles later, I went to brake for a red light, and there was no resistance when I pushed down on the brake.

So how did you stop?

Last year, I still had some savings and took the car in to a Honda place to have all the brakes replaced. The mechanic there only replaced the front brakes, saying the car really doesn’t even use the rear brakes, that I don’t even need them.

You mean a certified Honda mechanic actually said that?

Based on the rest of your story, I’d say you need to find a way to live without a car.
Good luck man.

FWD cars generally split the dual braking systems diagonally rf-lr and lf-rr. That is, if the left front brake springs a leak the right rear won’t work but the opposite pair does. When you left the parking brake on you overheated the brake fluid and caused it to boil. Boiled fluid makes vapor and vapor won’t apply the brakes. You boiled both rears so you lost both diagonal circuits and ALL your brakes. Once they cooled, the brakes came back as you said. The car can be driven, if not too hard, as long as that heat didn’t melt a seal and the system isn’t currently leaking. It needs service badly but not immediately. Ignore Pep Boys, they aren’t very good mechanics.


“There is absolutely no way that leaving the parking brake on is going to boil off enough brake fluid to completely loose effective breaking in both circuits. It is probably not going to boil off any fluid as the brake is actuated by a cable, not a hydraulic system.”

It’s not about boiling off enough fluid or any fluid. It’s about boiling and vaporizing moisture and creating air bubbles in the fluid. The P-brake is mechanical, but the shoes are in contact with the drums and hydraulic wheel cylinders and transfer high temperatures to them through conduction and convection. Air bubbles in brake fluid is what bleeding brakes is all about. Air in the hydraulic system causes a spongy pedal if at a minimum and no brakes if in greater quantities.

A car’s braking system remarkably and drastically looses its breaking ability…"
I believe you meant braking ability, right? Any car has breaking ability at any time.

I believe you owe Honda Blackbird and Mustangman a second consideration and perhaps an apology for telling them they don’t know more than you do using Wikipedia as your source.


If Brake Fade Caused The Rear Brakes To Lose Braking Power And Since You Say It Has Nothing To Do With The Hydraulic System, Only The Mechanical P-Brake System (Rear), Why Would The Front Brakes Not Still Function And Stop The Car?

OP lost all braking power, both rear and front. This negates your fade theory. Brake fade is usually experienced when stopping from high speeds and causes diminished braking and the need for greater pedal pressure, not a pedal sinking to the floorboards and “no brakes”.



I am again wondering how to factor for dramatic hyperbole in the OP. While it is possible that someone would totally ignore the failure of the transmission to shift out of second while the engine screams at 5,000 rpm to hold 45 mph with smoke billowing out from under the rear wheels due to the parking brake being set it does seem unlikely. But if that is the case the poster truly does need to look to public transit for transportation to another job.

An ethical, experienced professional independent mechanic might find that the critical needs are significantly less than the quote posted here. But maybe not. @Inmytimeofdying’s post is out there at the limits of credibility.

I along with Auto-Owner and Rod Knox suspect this thread to be a work of fiction.

I’m having a hard time seeing how driving with the park brake on would have wiped the brakes out. I could see the rear shoes and drums glazing badly and old brake fluid becoming pure crud.
Get another opinion besides Pep Boys…

Just for the heck of it you could try a brake fluid exchange and see what happens.

Your ID “InMyTimeOfDying” must mean you’re worried. That’s an old Gospel song from the early 20th century about meeting Jesus on your death bed.
Surely it’s not that bad…

Pep boys? I wouldn’t trust them. I too think you over heated the brakes and had fading. I would get it out of there, try them or get it to a different shop. For the cyl and brake line, just check for leakage, but be careful.

We’re talking here about a 1999 that the OP clearly describes as needing a great deal of work, and as I understand the description the breaks were clearly badly overheated to the point of boiling the fluid. The work being recommended by PepBoys is IMHO not at all inconsistent with the OP’s descriptions. We’re talking about a new rear flex line, new rear brakes, new rear brake cylinders, and a fluid flush. Heating the brakes to the point of boiling could easily leave the seals on 16 year old cylinders questionable. Personally, I wouldn’t trust my life to them.

I honestly don’t understand what the controversy is about. It sounds to me like the work that PepBoys is recommending is perfectly reasonable and prudent based on the descriptions of the incident and of the vehicle.

Exactly When the rear shoes were engaged they overheated the drums. Several things happened at that time. Obviously he super heated those rear drums. He also transferred a lot of that heat to the brake fluid…(Which Im guessing has not even been looked at since the car was new…and has a lot of water in it) Once the drums expanded…and the moisture laden fluid was super heated… He would experience a LOT of brake fade. Both from the drums being enlarged and now further away from the shoes and the brake fluid which probably boiled out some water during this heating up party.

Many reasons for why he experienced severe brake fade… He would ALSO lose most all braking power and pedal feel because when the drums expand so much they will steal away braking ability and power from the FRONT brakes as well…because all the pedal travel will be used to try and seat those rear shoes…until the shoes are seated, the front brake calipers will not even begin to move…upon the second pump of the brake pedal the shoes would finally find purchase on the drum and the fronts would start to work again…and then on the third pump…IF there were enough brake fluid the fronts would have worked normally again. But thats dreaming…

This is basically a severe example of Brake Fade turning into Brake LOSS…and how and why it occurs.

When it all cools down…if no seals have melted… He will have semi normal brakes once again. He will also have a Brake system that needs to be looked at by a professional for sure to see whats what… This vehicle needs new brake fluid and all the pads looked at for thickness. Leaks in those rear wheel cylinders is almost a certainty after a seal or two gets cooked. All rather simple stuff…Simple…but VERY important.

I will also agree with Mtn Bike…as Pep Boys probably got this one correct… I had the same concerns when I read this… It just needs to be looked at when cool to see what really needs done. Somehow, some of these components may have survived but they named the correct components. Who knows? Easy enough to figure out however.


OP . . . was the little red light or indicator illuminated on your dashboard when you were driving with the parking brake on? I can’t see how you could miss that. Also, do you have any brakes at all? How’s the pedal? Any fluid in the master cylinder? Maybe I missed these things, but I cannot imagine how you could drive far enough to ruin all of your brakes without noticing any burnung smell, dash light on, severely impaired ability to move forward and so forth. Also, the parking brake works on the rear wheels, no brakes up front either? Rocketman

It’s also possible that the flex hose and the cylinders needed replacing due to age. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing that. I’d bet that the flex line need is unrelated to the recent events.

My summary thought is that what PepBoys recommended seems perfectly prudent to me.

A suggestion for the OP: there are many things on a car that can safely be ignored and/or lived with as the car reaches the end of its life. Brakes are not one of them.
If the car fails to start in the morning, it’ll ruin your day.
If the car fails to stop, it can ruin the rest of your life. You were lucky this time. But realize that this might have been your one “get out of jail free card”.