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Is repairing the rusted brake lines- at $1500- on my '96 Accord worth it?

I have a '96 Honda Accord Station Wagon that recently had brake failure. I took it to a mechanic (found on this website), who told me there is extensive rust damage and that all brake lines and the fuel line must be replaced, at about $1500. This quote was not in writing, and I feel I could talk him down a little.

I want to do this, since my car is beloved, but- the warnings are loud and clear: if the brake lines are this bad, the rest of the undercarriage will need to be replaced in a matter of years, so I’ll be racking up a $1200 + yearly total worth of repairs for years.

What should I do? Cut my losses, and sell the car for scrap, or take the gamble and do these repairs hoping the car will hold up for 5 more years?

Also, what the heck do you people in the midwest do about this all the time? I live on the west coast and got this car from my grandpa in Illinois. If this is happening to a car that was well maintained and is only 20 years old, you must have to trade in your vehicles every few years!

This one is a tough call because it is possible that the inspectors where you live are just not used to seeing corrosion on the lines and believe it to be worse than it actually is. Car inspectors in areas prone to corrosion are used to judging whether specfic corrosion is serious or not.

If it truely needs doing, I don’t think it’s worth it.

As I usually do, I agree with mountainbike, but I just want to add something in regard to the OP’s statement, “if the brake lines are this bad, the rest of the undercarriage will need to be replaced in a matter of years”.

On a practical basis, you can’t “replace the undercarriage” of a car, especially one with unitized body/chassis, like your Honda. Once severe rust of the undercarriage sets in, the vehicle’s overall structure is severely weakened.

If the rust is as severe as I suspect that it is, even if you replace the brake lines and fuel line, the car will soon be unable to absorb an impact, due to the weakening of its unitized structure. For every bit of rust that you can see, there is a lot more that you can’t see, and this compromises the integrity of the vehicle to the point that it will likely soon be unsafe.

I agree with the two above posts - if there’s substantial brake/gas line rust, it would be a miracle for the body not to be affected. Which means you can’t sell this car, except to a junkyard, or to your mechanic for him to fix up.

Was the brake failure due to a burst brake line? Yes, undercarriage and steel brake line corrosion is a fact of life here in snow country even though car bodies don’t rust so fast now where you can see them. When a car gets older than about 10 or 12 years, it’s a good thing to push as hard as you can on the brake pedal to try to burst a line that might fail during a panic stop. Doing that test in the spring each year after the road salt has been washed away by rain might be a good time.

I have not replaced steel brake lines but $1500 sounds a little steep as they are accessible from the underside of the car. I’m just guessing that 1/2 of a day should cover it. Rust can also destroy drum brake internal hardware if your car has rear drum brakes. Handbrake cables are also affected. Are these included?

I agree, the strength of your car’s body may also be compromised regarding energy absorbing capability during a collision but I have not heard anyone here express concern for that, possibly because nobody expects to have a collision. We have no inspection in my state except for the emission check…

On the other hand, once you remove a car from salt country, the rust advancement should pretty much come to a halt unless you live very near the ocean.

Last year, I sent an otherwise serviceable Crown Vic to the scrapper when the brake lines failed. With ABS brakes, there was a bundle of brake lines running front to rear and replacing them all was simply not economically feasible…

I say get a second opinion, I know that may difficult because the shop with the car has you under a barrel because the car is not drivable. But have the shop doing the second opinion checkout the entire cars structure for rust along with the rusted brake and fuel lines. Its possible only the back brakes lines need replaced. In my experience the back brakes rust out first, but its possible they all need replaced. In any case steel brake lines purchased by the foot is dirt cheap, its the labor thats the cost.

I think at $1500 is too much. Get a second opinion for the brake lines, let the fuel line go for now, There will be further repairs, but replacing one or 2 brake lines, probably the rear is where I would start. $300 max estimate.

“because nobody expects to have a collision”

In the immortal words of Monty Python, “Nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition”, yet it happened. Translation: Just because somebody does not expect something to happen, it may still take place, as many things are beyond our control.

It is much better to be prepared, and in the case of an unpredictable collision, it is best to be prepared with a car that will not collapse like a house of cards.

If the brake lines have rusted to the point of failure, many other critical underbody parts have rusted to the same degree…Working on a rust-bucket can be a nightmare…repair costs can spiral out of control…

It may be time to say goodbye to the car because with rust one thing usually leads to another and another…

What do people do in the Rust Belt? Drive rusty cars or trade them. Rusty trades are often dumped at auctions and make their way to car dealers in other parts of the country who may slather some body plastic over the rust, spot the paint in, and then sell it to some unsuspecting soul who never bothered to look underneath.

Cars can rust out in 5 years much less 20. We had a 4 year old Subaru from MInnesota in the shop once and both front fenders were rotted out so badly that while I was servicing the car I could set the can of soda pop I had on top of each front tire - through the holes in the tops of the fenders.
Talk about a death trap.

If you’ve been leaking brake fluid, it will have sped the rusting up - brake fluid is very corrosive.
Once the undercarriage has been compromised by rust, it is time to say goodbye.

Also, what the heck do you people in the midwest do about this all the time?

Most DIY will buy pre-flared, generic sections of brake line, bend them as required and attach them as close to the OEM locations as possible. This is a fraction of the cost and can be done on a weekend.

Before any professional mechanic suggests a $1500 job, it should include an assessment of the overall condition and whether or not it is a wise investment.

Fix it and drive it for a few more years. 5 more years isn’t out of the question. You do realize the car will have to be replaced someday, start saving for a new one.

I have an '03 Civic in snowy PA and it is sad to see rust on it. But, it is part of living where roads are treated for winter driving. My Civic should be ok for about another 10 years then we’ll see if it done for due to rust.

I live near Buffalo NY and before they started building more corrosion resistance into cars , we would see 3 year cars covered in rust, even now 10-12 years is about it for a daily driver. Some people get “winter cars”. $500-$1000 beaters that they drive only when the roads are salted to save their good car.

$1500 for brake lines is frankly insanely overpriced. That’s the quote you get when the shop would prefer you scrap the vehicle. I have to laugh at the OP thinking an 18 yr old car is assumed to be young. Here in southern Ontario most 96 model vehicles already have one foot in the grave. Most domestic models rarely survive 20 years.

Thanks everyone for your valuable advice. Here’s what I’m probably going to do:

I saw my car at the shop yesterday, and looked underneath it with the mechanic. The brake lines look very rusty, for sure, and so do a lot of other parts like the exhaust hanger, and the inside of the rear driver side wheel (I think its called the brake rotor? Or caliper? probably both) is so rusted it’s got holes in it. I touched some of the rust and it definitely flakes off the lines, etc. The mechanic says not to fix anything, that the car is not worth it.

I totally agree that $1500 seems way too much, and I think partly it’s because in California these mechanics don’t often do this repair, so it’s extra labor for them. I’ve also heard that out here they don’t know what kind of rust to look for, where it will do the most damage, so when my mechanic says that it’s a hopeless case I have to wonder whether he knows what he’s talking about. If anyone knows of a midwest mechanic that relocated to the Bay Area, let me know and I’ll go get a second opinion.

So basically it comes down to a gamble- if I scrap the car now, I might be cutting my losses. But if I invest all the money into it and it does fine for 5 more years, without needing any other major repairs, it will have paid for itself.

I drove the car 2 blocks home after they topped off the brake fluid (and charged me $95), and I think my dad might come down from Oregon with his pickup and tow it to my hometown to have other mechanics look at it and potentially piece it out.

Thanks again for all the advice, but I fear the Rust Bucket (formerly known as the Champagne Station Wagon/Laguna Honda) is off to meet its maker.

I have lived and driven in the midwest for 65 years and the only vehicle that I had with rusted out brake lines was a '66 Chevy pickup that was 25 years old. I would never pay someone $1500 to replace them.

+1 nor me. My flare tool has paid for itself many times over, especially if redoing brakes costs $1500.

I agree that $1500 is way too high. But I have to disagree with everyone else about everything else, not because they are wrong, but because no one can give you advice like this without laying eyes on the vehicle for themselves.

The vehicle needs a thorough inspection by a trusted mechanic to determine just how much other damage there is and cost to repair. Along with that, you need to look at the vehicles maintenance history. When was the last time the CV joint boots were replaced ($400-1000, 10 years)? When was the last time the timing belt/water pump service done ($800-900, 6 years)? Tires? Brake pads?

BTW, these are nice cars, very durable and reliable so if it is economically feasible to keep it, I would, but you need to get as clear a view of the whole picture as possible as soon as possible.