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Need Solution (Help) on My Brakes

I have just purchased a 1996 Geo Prizm with 185,000 miles on it. It ran fine until a couple weeks ago when a problem arose. My initial thought was transmission, then a clogged fuel filter, but when I got out of the car and smelled something today, I knew right then what was causing the problem…all the symptoms clicked. The brakes!

When I’m driving, either up hill, down hill, or straight, all of a sudden the car loses power, almost like it dies, but it never does. I stomp the accelerator to the floor and nothing happens. It keeps going down to about 20-35 miles per hour before it starts back up. However, when it does, the engines revs about as much as it can (accelerator still to the floor) and yet the car goes no faster than 40. Most of the time, stopping solves the problem temporarily. I also noticed that the brakes were hard to pump immediately after this was over.

I asked a friend of mine who has mechanic friends and got two possibilities. One: the flexible brake line could be stopped up or bent, not allowing the brake fluid to get back. Two: a caliper. But they said that most likely the problem would be with only one brake, not both.

When I got out of the car immediately after it happened today and noticed the smell, a touch of both of the front wheels was scalding, while the back wheels were normal.

Any advice? Do you know what the solution is?

This needs to be fixed. I finally got a car where I wasn’t afraid to get too far away from home in, and it acts up too. I still have my 1991 Geo Prizm (375,000 miles). A wonderful car! I was hoping that the newer model would last just as long but who knows?

You may have a master cylinder piston problem.

If your handy mechs can’t fix it, take it to a brake specialist. Brakes are not to be fooled with.

With a master cylinder problem, wouldn’t the brake pedal sink to the floor? Actually, when this problem happens, the pedal gets firmer.

All I can gather is that the brakes are coming on while driving. It’s happened at speeds of 30 MPH and 55 MPH.


I strongly suspect you have a bad brake booster.

The booster is a vacuum assist device, a diaphragm that uses the engine vacuum to help apply the brakes. Normally, both sides of the diaphragm are under equal vacuum from the engine, and when you apply the brakes the rear dise is vented such that the vacuum in the front side pulls the brake rod (from the pedal to the master cylinder) and helps apply the brakes. If it’s defective or perhaps even thr rod misadjusted the fore surface of the diaphragm will always be under more vacuum than the aft surface and the engine’s vacuum will apply the brakes for you.

Since you’ve heated the brake fluid up so much so regularly, you might also want to change out the fluid.

I vote for an intermittent sticking caliper, wheels can get very hot with disk brakes under normal circumstances.

Thanks everyone for replying. I took it to a high-priced mechanic yesterday and got a high-priced estimate. Instead of fixing the problem, they suggested to replace everything at a cost of $563. Too much for my budget. I plan on taking it to a “shade tree” later on today, but I still don’t know for sure. The mechanic said it was the master cylinder (without looking at it).

Dig through this URL and find Mechanics Files, I think it’s called. This is a place where people can post good experiences with mechanics. If they have high rated mechanics in your area, try one of them.

My son’s wife had a car that wouldn’t turn over a couple years ago. A shop said the motor was frozen, and said a used motor would be $1500. I found a high rated mechanic in his town, who discovered the a/c compressor was frozen. That car could run without that belt, and they are still driving it.