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How Long for Contaminate in Brake System to Damage

Took my Element to the dealer for service at 120k miles. Dealer has completed 100% of the service from time vehicle was new in 2005. Every oil change, filter change, rotation, fluid change, etc. 100%. Told dealer to do the reccommended maintenance of coolant flush, brake flush, oil, etc on this particular trip.

4k miles later I notice that right rear caliper was sticking and grinding on rotor. Immediately took to Firestone within a few hundred yards of my home (dealer is 30 miles). Had it not been a brake issue I would have gone to dealer but I do not mess around with bad brakes.

Firestone called and said the caliper was sticking. I told them to replace the caliper, put new pads on both back sides, put new rotors on both sides and hoses as well. They told me I could get by with one side and turning the rotors would be cheaper but I insisted on new rotors and both backs being done. They called me 2 hours later and said they needed to flush the system and I told them not to worry about that. I got it done 7 weeks and 4k miles ago. They told me there was contaminate in the system and I told them I would be right there. I walked the short several blocks from my home within a few minutes of talking to them on the phone. They showed me the reservoir and it did have what appeared to be a level of red fluid (like one fluid was seperated from another fluid and on different levels) and also showed me the rubber seal for the top of the reservoir. The seal was really thin, flimsy and clearly not natural OEM feeling.

I immediately called the dealership who quickly came and picked up the Element and gave me a loaner. I was not worried at all as I knew the dealer would make this right. After having the Element for a week and not hearing from them I called and they gave me the news that this was not their doing and that they could and would not have done this and that Firestone had to do it. And oh, by the way, the repair bill will be $4k as we have to replace the entire brake assembly and ABS system.

It comes down to a couple of questions to me. 1) how long could (would) it take if only a little bit of power steering or ATF were put in the reservoir to make it all the way to the rear calipar in order for it to stick? 2) how long does it take in order to make the rubber on the seal of the reservoir to turn all mushy and nasty? Could Firestone had made it feel this way in just the few short minutes (5 minutes at most) it took for me to walk there and look?

I am not a novice at car maintenance and getting my way around mechanically but I have limited knowledge on brake systems and the effects of contaminates. I can rebuild carbs and do some mechanical work around the car if that gives you some idea but I have never done any work on the Element as I have always let the dealer do the work on it.

Hang on. How do you know that power steering / ATF fluid is in the brake lines? Have you had the fluid identified, or is this just someone guessing? What did the dealership tell you was the reason that the ENTIRE brake system has to be replaced? That seems excessive unless something really traumatic happened.

As to how long it would take. . .How much does Zimbabwe? It’s not really a question that’s answerable as it’s dependent on a whole host of factors.

What color was each layer of fluid? And when you say red, are you talking kind of a rusty color, or red like the borders of this forum?

Power steering and transmissions also use rubber seals, so I doubt those fluids would have made the seal of the reservoir mushy and nasty. Have you actually inspected this seal? Sometimes it can appear “mushy and nasty” because gunk has built up on it. That’s normal and is not indicative of the need for a brake system replacement.

I further suspect that the dealership isn’t playing straight with you. That they didn’t bother to contact you for a week is very suspect. A good shop will promptly diagnose a problem and then get back to you within a day, unless they tell you otherwise up front (due to heavy workloads). Keeping a car for a week without contacting you is not excusable.

Someone is guessing at the ATF / Power steering as there were no lab tests to determine the “contaminate”. It was more of a rust color when I looked at it. I did inspect the reservoir seal and it just did not feel normal to me at all. No gunk on the seal it just felt deteriorated. I compared to another reservoir seal from another auto and the Element seal just felt like a paper towel compared to others that held shape and were firmer.

I will say that the dealer is hanging their hat on the fact it was 4k miles ago when the service was completed and for it to take this long to show up is proof it was not them. They said it would have shown up much earlier as a problem. The dealer also said that during the week they had the Element in their posession the fluid in the reservoir turned BLUE. This they said further exhonerated them from any liability and proof it was not them. They said they were going to send off the fluid to a lab to be tested, however, it appears they never even intended to do that as they have yet to come back with any results or even offered more information on that.

The dealer told me the reason for the ENTIRE brake system replacement is the fact that this contaminate could compromise the brake system and for liability purposes the only service they would do is all of it or none of it. They stated that the seals of the ABS as well as the hoses and all were now rendered “totaled”.

Well, rust color is pretty normal for brake fluid. If it’s really old and gunky it’ll turn kind of a greenish-brown. I flat out don’t believe that the fluid magically turned blue while sitting in their parking lot. This isn’t the Smurfs. It sounds to me like they want to pump some money out of you. Were I you, I’d have it towed to a good independent mechanic for inspection and replacement of what needs to be replaced.

And assuming the independent mechanic confirms my suspicions, I’d report the dealership to the attorney general and Honda corporate.

This situation will degrade into a he said, she said, we said, nobody knows anything kind of a deal and you will be left holding the bag…

Readers need to learn that many dealership lube-racks are no better than the quick-lube places, the same skill levels employed, and mix-ups like this happen every day…Proving who contaminated your brake fluid will be impossible if indeed it IS contaminated…All you are going to get here are peoples OPINIONS, not FACTS…At 120K miles, this Buds on you…