Camry Untraceable Brake failure

Hi. I drive a 2007 toyota camry. This winter the brake light has come on twice - each time after driving for at least 30 minutes on very slushy, cold conditions. The first time, the brakes were still working fine - I pulled into work, topped off the fluid and the light went off. Flash forward two months later. Same conditions, the light came on and as I was looking for parking, the brakes went out. Pedal was soft, emergency lights went on the car said to “CHECK VSC”. I pulled into a parking lot and the brakes were once again working, but the lights were still on. I had the car towed to a Firestone where they were unable to determine a problem. The next day, all the lights were out on the dash. I had the car towed to the Toyota dealership and not only can they not recreate the issue, but when they pull the numbers from the car, there is no indication that anything has ever been wrong with any system in the vehicle. They told me they’ve called Toyota Tech and there has never been a report of this issue. They want to release the car back to me, but I do not feel safe driving this car. Any ideas?

When the brake light cam on the first time, what brake light was it? Other than Check VSC, what other warning lights did you get? Has an ABS light ever come on?

If its always about slushy, cold conditions then the first thing I would suspect is icy/slushy stuff interfering with wheel speed sensors. Whatever condition this might produce could easily not exist anymore by the time it made it someplace.

Speaking of “someplace,” while corporate chain shops do vary, as a general rule don’t expect any great diagnosis, service, or repair out of a place like Firestone. You can actually say the same thing about dealers. Some of those are great. Some not so much. The other options would involve locally owned, independent shops. Some of those will have specialties, including Toyota.

Anyway, I don’t know the wheel speed sensor set up on this car. But sometimes there are really simple things that can create problems. For instance, you might have a cracked/broken splash shield that is allowing water & slushy stuff up where it doesn’t belong, thus making a mess of one or more of the speed sensors. You might also have an intermittent fault someplace in the ABS/VSC system including one or more of the sensors, wires, or connections.

The brake light is red and in all caps “BRAKE”; the check engine, tire pressure, emergency brake, check oil, ABS, all came on - it was as if my car restarted or something. Other than that fleeting moment, the ABS light has never come on. Firestone was the closest place which is why I had it towed there - I know that they can’t do specific repairs and generally can only do routine maintenance.

Thanks for the suggestions!

A bad sensor shouldn’t cause the brakes to get mushy. I’d more suspect that you need to exchange your brake fluid. There could be too much moisture accumulated in there, and when it gets cold it’s freezing and blocking lines.

+1 with Shadowfax.
Under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t need to add any significant amount of brake fluid. At pads wear down, the fluid in your reservoir will go down as well to where you periodically need to add some, just to keep it topped off. You don’t want it to run down too far.
Since your brake light came on, it must have been down significantly and it may now has air in the line, causing the mushy brake pedal. That’s a dangerous condition, as you’ve already experienced.

I’d imagine that the stealership checked your brakes with the brake light being on but they may have assumed the fluid is just fine. I’d have your brakes re-checked and your brake fluid bled.
Clearly there’s an issue there, if you have to add fluid. You could even have a leak in that system somewhere.
Get it checked soon.

I didn’t need fluid - I just added like a quarter of an inch. The reservoir is still above the min, even when the brakes went out completely. My car isn’t leaking anything.

Was your brake fluid low the first time the light came on? How low? If it was then it probably means that you are due for new brake pads. That’s how it works - the fluid level drops as the pads wear down.

Changing the brake fluid is never a bad idea but this most recent episode sounds to me like a momentary stall of the engine. This would come with a feeling that you had no brakes since you would lose the vacuum assist from the engine. I’m not sure why you picked the “Check VSC” out of all of those lights that came on. My guess is that your dash looked just the way it does if you turn the key to the “On” position without cranking/starting the car. With the ignition on & the car not running, your whole dash lights up like a Christmas tree.

So at this point I can’t sort out whether this last episode was a brake issue or something else entirely. However, one thing that can be said with confidence is that if your brake fluid was ever low enough to trigger the red brake light, then you probably do need to new pads. This won’t address whatever else happened while parking.

Brake pads are completely fine as are the rotors. Mechanincally there are no issues with the vehicle according to both of the places that have looked at my car. The brake fluid was right at “min” so i added a bit more. I have a little monitor on my dash and it said Check VSC - it wasn’t my brain selecting something arbitrarily. I didn’t restart the car after the brakes went out - it just looked exactly like it does when it starts up as far as all the dash lights on. Brake fluid never got below the min line.

You won’t always be able to tell whether a car is leaking brake fluid.
The brakes ‘going out’ could be that the engine stalled, as cigroller suggested. Even with the engine not running, your brake pedal still pushes fluid to each wheel’s brake caliper, albeit it will take more ‘stomping on the brake’ to make it happen. That may feel like you lost your brakes. Could that be it?
In other words, did your brake pedal feel mushy and did it go all the way to the floor or did it just take a lot more foot power to stop?

"I have a little monitor on my dash and it said Check VSC - it wasn’t my brain selecting something arbitrarily. I didn’t restart the car after the brakes went out - it just looked exactly like it does when it starts up as far as all the dash lights on.

Sorry, but you’re saying that your whole dash board lit up yet you are picking out the VSC light. So there must be something about your story that you’re not describing clearly. Either that or you are picking that one out for some reason - perhaps not arbitrarily, but that’s what is unclear.

It is quite possible for a car to do a momentary/near stall, have the dash lights all come on momentarily, and then have the car recover without you having to restart it.

If your brake fluid hit the min mark, then I find it implausible that your pads aren’t near to needing replacement - unless you’ve had the brakes done before and the fluid wasn’t left at or near the max mark at that time.

I think your comment about the brake light unintentionally misled us. Your later post saying the all the warning lights came at once was the better indicator of what might have happened.

I’m betting that the problem is actually in your battery or alternator, or perhaps even a simple corroded or loose battery cable. It sounds to me from your follow up posts like all the dash lights are responding together, and that’d be typical of a failing alternator or battery or poor connection.

Another typical cause of these symptoms is an engine that momentarily stalls. That also affects the feel of the brakes, because your vacuum is temporarily lost and when you’re looking for a parking space and constantly using the brakes the residual vacuum in the booster disapppears almost instantly.

Bottom line: it sound to me like the brakes aren’t the problem. It sounds to me like possible intermittant stalling. In the absence of codes, I’d want to look at areas like the Idle Air Control.

I guess I don’t know how to explain it except that some lights are static and can only turn off or on like the check engine light - its an icon that’s either on or off, but I also have a screen that says things like “key not detected” “headlights on” etc and it said “check vsc” which led me to believe that something was wrong with the stability control. It was spelled out for me and not just an icon like the traction control one which is why I’m mentioning it. I have no idea if its relevant. The pads do not need replacing. Not only have they been checked three or four times in two months from various places, but my car has several features in place to alert me when the pads are thin, such as warning lights, a squeal, etc.

The BRAKE light came on which is why I went to find a parking spot. Before I was able to stop, all the lights flashed and the brakes went out simultaneously. If it is a stalling issue, why would the BRAKE light turn on preemptively?

Your brake light comes on when the engine stalls. For instance, when you first turn the key without starting it, all your dash lights up like a xmas tree. The same happens when a car stalls. Some lights come on sooner than others (like maybe your brake and alternator light) so it may have lead you down the path thinking that the brakes were at fault.

Did your pedal go to the floor when you lost your brakes?

I drove for about 5 mins with the Brake light on - I was in heavy traffic and trying to find a parking spot to stop and look under the hood - before any of the other lights came on. Yes the pedal went soft, but only for a moment. The brakes came back but the lights remained on for about 12 hours and then they all turned off.

I guess you could have some sort of vacuum leak because you’re both stalling and are having brake problems. Vacuum is used to help you brake (ie. brake booster) but a lack of vacuum could cause the brakes to feel like they’ve failed. A significant leak could cause an engine to stall or run like crap.
With the car running normal most of the time, that leak must be intermittent but it must be a fairly large leak when it happens. Note I’m not saying this is a definitive cause, because I’m assuming the two problems are related but would have a careful look at all vacuum lines on your car. One could be cracked or damaged.

I think Remco has a good theory.

“that leak must be intermittent but it must be a fairly large leak”

An intermittent brake booster issue might just fit that bill.

However, Susanna recently reported that all of her dash lights remained lit up for 12 hours - at least that’s what I think she meant. That is a whole different kind of Gremlin.

Gizmo or Stripe? :slight_smile: Thank you all for your help! Please keep the theories coming!

That’s a good point, a bad brake booster. It is part of that vacuum system, after all.

Yeah, them lights being on for 12 hours is throwing me for a loop as well.
Were those all lights, Susanna? Or just some?
In other words, did the car run normally, the brakes stopped normally, yet the dash was lit like a Christmas tree? I’m surprised that the tech didn’t see a code, if that is the case.