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Brakes failing after brake fluid exchange, please HELP!

I took my '03 Toyota Avalon (with 175,000 miles) to the local Toyota dealership to get an oil change and tires balanced and rotated. They called to tell me that my car also needed a transmission fluid exchange and a brake fluid exchange. I was told that both of these items were in the red, “critical” stage and so I agreed to both services. My roommate picked-up the car for me because I was unavailable and the first time she applied the brakes they failed and mashed all the way to the floor. She was able to get to an empty parking lot and drove in circles pumping the brakes until they firmed up. She continued on and thought the brakes seemed “a little soft” but they were working. The next day we drove 60 miles to work, went in to work for 8 hours, got in the car to go home and when my roommate applied the brakes to put the car in reverse they failed again. She again pumped the brakes and they firmed up and we then drove the car straight to the Toyota dealership that serviced it. I explained what happened and they did seem to be concerned. The dealership has now had my car for 2 days and they have checked the brake lines and fluid level, both of which they say are fine. They say they are driving it repeatedly and that they need the brakes to fail on them before they can diagnose the problem. They have not - and refuse to - repeated the brake fluid exchange service.

I am terrified to drive my car and am not confident that it will fail on the Toyota technicians and that they will be able to solve the problem. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

They may just need to bleed them again or it could be a bad Master Cylinder. I would bet on bleeding though, since it was the last thing done.

X2 on bleed again. The (tech?) may have allowed the brake fluid level in the M/C reservoir to get too low, allowing air to get in the system.

Did you ever hear the old saying, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? I have never changed the brake fluid in any car I have owned in the last 60 years.

your first mistake was going to the dealership.

I bet they tried to talk you into trading it in…

the fact that they weren t concerned about your brakes not working right should be a clue.
after the warranty expires dealerships are not the place for repairs unless you have a rare car

I have since learned that a “brake fluid exchange” is not a necessary service.

Should I demand that Toyota bleed them again or do you suggest that I get the car and take it to a mechanic who knows what he/she is doing? I am concerned that they could mess up the brake fluid exchange a second time.

I have learned my lesson concerning dealerships but I took it there because of bad experiences at a both a chain tire store and with a local mechanic. I have a good mechanic back in my hometown (2.5 hrs from where I currently live), so considering taking the car to him.

Brake fluid exchange is not unnecessary. Brake fluid is hygroscopic and absorbs water. Water corrodes brake parts from the inside out and also makes your pedal softer. Water compresses more than brake fluid.

More than likely the idiot got distracted and drained out the fluid in the MC and introduced air into the system. How do I know? I’ve done it when the wife asks me what I want for dinner. It’s a man thing! One thought and one thought only.

When I have asked Toyota if they have repeated the fluid exchange service and suggested that there may be air in the lines the response that I get is “if there was air in the lines the brakes would be failing more frequently”. Is that accurate?

a trusted mechanic is a treasure. if you can afford to take the loss I d avoid that dealership. you should be able to find a good mechanic closer tho. check the mechanic files on the top of the cartalk homepage or ask neighbors and friends.

there are many factors that could effect when the brakes get soft. what they said is probably usually accurate but it could happen infrequently like it is for you in certain situations.

these guys don t seem to be too concerned about your problem, just covering their butts, from your description. if you have a bad feeling about them, trust it.

They need to bleed the system again, but this time they need to follow the procedures for bleeding the ABS. I think they did it wrong the first time and have gotten air into the ABS.

They may even damaged the ABS through improper bleeding procedures. Time to look up that customer service number for Toyota in your owners manual and give them a call.

Your other option is to find a brake specialist to repair the system and document everything that was damaged, then take the dealer to court, but the court will probably cost more than you will recover unless you are in a state with a good small claims court.

I strongly suggest that you get Toyota customer service involved quickly.

Did the dealership separate the master cylinder from the booster and check for brake fluid? Fluid there would indicate a failing master cylinder which could be failing regardless of the brake fluid service. If there is no leak I would agree that the problem could be the result of improper bleeding damaging the anti lock braking system.

And how often do Toyota dealerships dismiss customer complaints of brake failure when there is a great likelihood that they are responsible for the problem directly due to poor procedures or indirectly due to not making a close inspection of the entire system and testing the brakes after their service?

Thank you all so much for your helpful comments (and keep them coming). I plan to print this out and take it with me to the dealership so that I know precisely what questions to ask. Toyota’s plan has been to drive my car around whenever they can to see if the brakes fail again, that seems to be the extent of their problem-solving abilities so far.

I did contact the service department manager so perhaps having her involved will help my cause. I will contact Toyota customer service as well.

What area are you in? This is absolutely related to the flush not being done correctly and worse off the car was never driven after it was done. When using the flush machines sometimes air gets trapped in the brake lines. The car should have never left the shop. Speak to the service manager directly, if you feel unsafe driving ask to have the car towed at the dealers expense. I would also ask for a refund this is a situation where the tech did not drive the car after repairs as he should have. I am a MDT for Toyota and s#@! like this infuriates me to no end. If the dealer us unwilling to fix this at no cost to you contact the agency that regulates auto shops in your state. Worse case senario is they left one of the bleed screws loose, check your brake fluid before you drive the car again and ensure the fluid level is correct.


I’ll be the pessimist here . . .

It’s possible the guys at the dealer actually damaged the master cylinder seals . . . especially if they did the brake flush using the old school 2 man method, where one guy pumps the brake pedal, and the other guy cracks the line

When doing this, the pistons in the master cylinder travel much further than they normally do, and it could compromise the seals

it sounds like the master cylinder could be bypassing

You should go back to the dealer and ask the manager what method . . . and what tools . . . they used to perform the brake flush. If they don’t mention the word diaphragm brake bleeder or power brake bleeder, I’d be worried

What SteveC76 said. If the Toyota corporate folks are anything like the ones at Subaru of America, they would be very interested in solving your problem.

I called Toyota customer service yesterday and spoke with a nice gentleman who seemed to be taking this situation very seriously. I have a case number and was assured that Toyota customer service will contact the dealership that worked on my car and likely send over a Toyota master mechanic to resolve this issue. So, I am - somewhat hesitantly - hopeful that this problem will get resolved. I still intend to ask all of the questions that you have been posed in response to my quandary.

In response to SteveC76 - I am in southern Indiana and the Toyota dealership is in Clarksville, IN. My car is currently at the dealership. As soon as the brakes failed the 2nd time (this was the day after the service was performed) I drove it straight there. After they couldn’t locate or re-create the problem they said I could pick it up but I refused as I do not feel safe driving it. I will also ask for a refund and I certainly hope they don’t expect for me to pay for any of the repairs that will likely be required to fix whatever they messed up.

All of your comments have been so helpful. I know nothing about these sorts of things but your responses have given me a good idea of what could have gone wrong and what questions I need to ask. The suggestions that I call Toyota customer service were spot on. I never would have done that as I would have assumed I would be calling a switchboard in India (nothing against India) and that my concerns would have gone into a black-hole, but that was not the case.

Good to see it is being handled. If they still say they are unable to duplicate the issue ask to have the brakes bled again and drive the car for 50 miles before returning it to you. Where I work we have a vallet drive the car if it is an extended test drive. Hopefully this all works out well for you.

Good luck @Turnep. Please keep us posted.

I just heard back from Toyota concerning the status of my car. Here is what they have done to repair the problem …

  1. examined the system
  2. performed the brake fluid exchange service again (I was assured that this was not done by the same tech that did it the first time)
  3. bled each of the brake lines separately on all 4 lines (not sure what that means really but that is what I was told, I would have just assumed you would always do it separately on all lines)
  4. to check the condition of the master cylinder they pumped the brakes with the car off to build up pressure in the system, I was told that if the problem was the master cylinder then the pedal wouldn’t have firmed up
  5. examined all brake components and found no fluid leaks

I told them I would pick it up in a few days (I am currently out of town).

What do you think? Does this sound sufficient or do you think there is something else that should be checked before I can trust my brakes again?

When you get there to pick up the car, it should have been sitting in the same parking space for those few days, the first thing to do is to step on the brakes before starting the engine. If the pedal is firm, you should be good. If it goes to the floor, let up and go get the service manager immediately. Do not pump up the brakes.