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Easiest, most effective, and cheapest way to disable my car

Recently, the brakes on my Honda Civic (2002) completely gave out without warning. The pedal went to the floor. I had had the car inspected just two weeks before. I had the car towed to the dealership and they couldn’t find any obvious explanation for what happened. They replaced the brake fluid, which they said seemed old. Then they “put a lot of miles on the car” and reported that the brakes work “much better than before.” When I asked if the brakes are still soft, I was told (again) only that “they’re better than before.”

Here’s my question: I will never drive this car again. I simply won’t ever feel safe. I also don’t want anyone else driving the car. I want it permanently off the roads. What I’d like to do is hire someone (a mechanic presumably) to make this car useless as a vehicle. Kaput. Then I’d like to donate the car to my local NPR station and let them auction it for parts, scrap metal, etc. Is there an easy way to make the car impossible to run and prohibitively costly to repair?

Thanks for any suggestions. The car has been at the dealership for ten days now, so I need to wrap this up and get it off their lot.

Can I suggest taking it to a different mechanic? Brake failures are frightening, but they’re usually a very simple fix for a competent mechanic (which contrary to popular belief is not always found at a dealership).

Based on your description of the problem, I would guess that your brake master cylinder has gone bad. It’s a cheap part, and replacing it and then properly bleeding the fluid would give you many more years of service.

Otherwise, there’s really no way to permanently disable a vehicle short of crushing it. Whatever you break, I can go to a junkyard and get a replacement part.

Agree with shadowfax. All the car probably needs is a new master cylinder and it will be perfectly safe again.

Discarding the car when it simply needs a new part is like shooting your horse because it lost a shoe.

Yeah, the brakes are a pretty simple system: a master cylinder, four wheel cylinders, and hydraulic lines connecting them. total braking failure is either a blown line or a bad master (a slow leak generally disables only half the system, leaving some braking function).

This could be troubleshot and fixed by a competent mechanic; even an incompetent mechanic could “shotgun repair” most of the system for a better result than scrapping the car.

You didn’t mention how much fluid was found in the system when you took it to the shop. That is a vital clue!

If you MUST disable it, have the master cylinder and all four calipers removed from the vehicle. This would require whoever rebuilds it to put in a new braking system.


What you describe sounds like a classic symptom of a malfunctioning master cylinder. I’m surprised the dealership didn’t know this and replace the master cylinder for you.

Why would you want to destroy a car after one failed attempt to diagnose the problem? Why not get a second opinion?

If you’re dead set against getting another diagnostic opinion, please sell the car as is and disclose the issue. The car can be safe and useful for someone else who is willing to replace the master cylinder. Heck, if you live anywhere in Florida or South Georgia, I’ll take the car off your hands for free and sign a liability waiver agreeing that you aren’t liable for anything that might go wrong with the car.

Perhaps it would help you to know that any car’s brakes can fail at any time. This one isn’t special in some way. So go ahead and disable this one - and then go on to wonder about whatever you are driving next. I don’t want to make you paranoid. This is just a fact of life.

And as noted, the causes for such things are not mysterious.

Thanks for your responses. They checked the master cylinder in their initial look into the problem and the master cylinder was fine. I’m not sure how much brake fluid there was, just that it was apparently old. I’d have to check with my old mechanic to see when it was last changed. I had the car taken to the dealer because they did the recent inspection and because we found their work (surprisingly) cheaper than our other mechanic. What makes me nervous about this car being on the road is that the mechanic at the dealer wouldn’t stay the problem is fixed. I have two small kids and I don’t want to drive a car I can’t trust. People around here tailgate like crazy and the roads are narrow and tree-lined. And my conscience won’t let me sell this car or give it away even with a disclosure. I don’t want anyone getting hurt. That said, you all make it sound like I could replace the entire brake system and have peace of mind. Is that right? As you can see, I know very little about cars. I really appreciate your advice.

Um, how do they check a master cylinder? Look at it? Take it apart to check the seals or for rust? You need a new master cylinder and you have an idiot for a mechanic.

As far as giving the car to NPR, they don’t want a car to auction for parts. They would simply sell it to a junk yard who will either crush it, or dismantle the usable parts. That’s what you should do if you must, and give the money to whoever you want. That’s what junk yards do and they are pretty good at it. NPR is somewhat good at media although a couple of their partners are not so good, but they aren’t much good at dismantling cars and selling the parts, yes?

yeah. you should see another mechanic. brakes should be easily fixable

you could drain the oil and start it up . let run until engine seizes(wear your safety glasses!) and call the salvage yard.

It still sounds fixable although probably not cheaply…so…
If you really must junk the car…then do just that.
Take or drive the whole thing to a salvage yard and sell it to them as is. Tell them the major problems it has so they won’t just flip it.
The more that does work ( don’t sieze the engine ) the more they’ll pay you.

seriously, it sounds like you have a good car that you don t want anymore. a 2002 Honda should have a lot of safe miles on it yet. perhaps you could sell it cheaply to some one who would consider it a blessing to get a dependable car for the price of a brake repair

I agree with the crowd. You’ve overreacting here. Replace the master cylinder at a good local mechanic. Replace the brake lines if it makes you feel better.

As mentioned above, if you replace this car, the master cylinder could fail on that one too. There are no guarantees here.

and it s notnecessarily the master cylinder either.

@wesw: Not a whole lot else that could give zero braking. A blown line might…if in just the right place, but that would leave enough mess that even an incompetent mechanic ought to spot it right off.

A failure in the pedal/MC linkage might…again blazingly obvious. Without a huge mess of fluid or snapped linkages, I see only MC bypassing internally OR the vacuum boost slurping up all the fluid. (Don’t know enough ABS to rule it out…I’d probably pull the fuse until I solved the problem. )

OP, you need a new mechanic who knows what he’s doing!

I expect this problem can be fixed, but it will require some time and money and it seems like you just want the problem to go away and not worry that someone will try driving the car again. That’s your right, since it is your car. hmmm … so what would I do in that situation? I guess I’d remove all the brake components. The MC, booster, brake lines, discs, pads, drums, wheel cylinders, calipers. And I’d probably remove the wheels, then phone up the junkyard and have them bring a flat bed and a loader to take it away. They’ll probably charge you for this. If you were willing to have them come and pick it up as is, with all the brake components still on the car, they’d probably charge less as it would be easier to move onto the truck.

How many miles on this car? ABS brakes? If you want it removed from the road, simply take it to a automotive salvage yard, accept scrap-metal price, and request that the car never be sold as a drivable automobile. Only to be parted out and scrapped…

@Traveling_B, I hate to break it to you, but no visual inspection of your master cylinder can be more definitive than the symptom you experienced. Based on what you’ve told us, this particular dealership you took the car to has demonstrated they are not the consummate professionals you want to have working on your car.

You’re reacting disproportionately out of fear. When people do that, they don’t make clear decisions.

The dirty fluid is why the MC failed. The master cylinder is just a piston with a rubber seal that moves back and forth inside a cylinder. If gunk gets between the seal and the cylinder wall, the rubber can’t seal it properly anymore, and fluid leaks past the seal rather than going where it’s supposed to go in order to press on the brake calipers.

I would urge you to never go back to this mechanic. A professional mechanic not knowing how to diagnose a bad master cylinder is like a chef not knowing how to peel a potato. Any remotely competent mechanic, and in fact most incompetent ones, would know how to fix this.

I also urge you to keep using the car - get it fixed at a real shop, and then keep driving. And thumb through the owner’s manual to find out what maintenance should be done when, because I suspect there’s some other stuff you’ve missed if the brake fluid was that dirty. :wink: