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New brakes very soft

Just got four new brakes from Les Schwab yesterday (Sat.) and I instantly noticed the brake pedal pushes a lot farther than it did before. When driving, it also takes a lot more motion to engage the brakes than it did. Basically, everything is “soft” now. Shouldn’t new brakes be firmer than before?

They replaced pads and calipers.

The job wasn’t finished until after hours and I haven’t been able to get ahold of anyone there. Since the shop is closed on Sundays, I’ll have to wait until Monday, but I wanted to throw out the question to the forum to see if I could get any preliminary information about what might be wrong.

The main sympton is that the brake pedal is much softer than it was, and that change is suspicious to me. The car does stop, so the brakes do work, but something still feels wrong.


They might not have gotten all the air out of the hydraulic system. Yes, new brakes are supposed to fell “firm” as you call it. Take the car back to the shop.

When they replaced the calipers they opened the system and introduced air. It needs to be bled.

If they put new pads on old rotors with surface ripples the pads need to wear in to match the rotor surfaces.
Ten firm slowdowns from ~60mph to ~10mph will do it.
Of course this shouldn’t be done around other traffic.
Many good shops will go out and do this before returning the vehicle.
In this case it sounds like they finished late and gave you the car with “green” brakes.

Were the calipers put on upside down? They have to be oriented so the bleeders are above the brake line. Many calipers can be mounted on either side, but the bleeders will be in the wrong position. They will never bleed correctly. Don’t laugh; even “professional” mechanics make this mistake occasionally.

Sounds like they did a lousy job bleeding the brakes after

A diaphragm brake bleeder and the proper adapters aren’t that expensive. Several hundred dollars. Not a big deal for a professional auto repair shop

If they get paid to work on brakes, they should have the proper tools and actually use them

Sounds like they don’t know what they’re doing, or maybe they just got lazy

One of the most important steps in the repair process is “verify the repair” . . . clearly that was NOT done

Even if there’s no air in the lines, they NEED to drive the car to properly bed in the new brake pads .

Whatever the reason, it’s probably a classic case of incompetence

Yup…I would have to agree with everyone else, including @db4690… Incompetence. Very common… They didn’t bleed the brakes properly… I bet they tried to bleed the calipers while they were fully seated which is they way they come out of the box new or rebuilt. After installation, you need to push the brake pedal a few times before bleeding, so that the caliper piston is moved off of its fully seated position…THEN bleed the brakes.

Now that they have been manipulated…you can bleed them…or rather…THEY SHOULD… But if you don’t want to go back to them…just open the bleeder screws yourself…and let them leak into a short piece of clear rubber tubing. The tubing is so you have a column of solid liquid fluid at the bleed opening…so no air can leak back into the bleeder…the tube ensures that only fluid will go back into the bleeder and not air. If you want to bleed them…just start at the furthest wheel from the brake master…and work your way closer.

Install the short rubber tube onto the bleeder screw about 6 inches…One end on the bleed nipple and a short vertical run…and then allow the other end to leak into a container…let each one leak about 1.5 minutes or till you see no more air…1.5 min is probably too long…then close bleeder…and move to next wheel. Be sure to keep the reservoir topped up during the process…you do not want to run the res dry…You can bleed all 4 in under 30 min …and usually without removing the wheels! You will have a nice firm pedal after this…that is…if there are no loose or leaking brake lines elsewhere… Need to ensure they tightened the lines at the calipers…and used new copper crush washers…

But I see this all the time! Shops THINK they bleed the brakes correctly…and they don’t…most common reason ? A Green “Mechanic”…not their skin color…but just a Noobie Mechanic…or a poorly trained Self Professed “Mechanic”…and boy are there a huge proliferation of BOTH types out there!

They bleed the calipers while the piston is seated…You have to bleed them after you unseat each caliper piston or you cannot get the air out properly… The rubber tube and bleed screw leak method works like a charm…its almost the only method I use anymore…unless the situation dictates a reverse pressure bleed…but those instances are pretty rare… The crack n leak method just works so well. Ive even done this on the fly with no rubber tube…just my finger on top of the bleed nipple to prevent reverse airflow.

I would just do it myself…then again…you paid for this…and they are at fault…so…


@“Honda Blackbird”

it sounds like you’re describing gravity bleeding . . . ?

Since this is a Protege and the possibility that it has rear drum brakes maybe worn or out of adjustment shoes is the cause.

I tend to agree with the air in the lines diagnosis and I would hope that a facility repairing brakes would inspect and repair the entire system as needed.
It has happened (way too many times I would wager) that someone hears a weak brakes complaint and goes right to the obvious (the fronts) without considering the rear and especially if the rear is the drum/shoe type.

Yes Sir @db4690…A Good Ole Gravity Bleed…Been around since Gravity was discovered…LOL. @ok4450 does bring up a very valid point as well…with the rear drum idea. I’ve seen brakes exhibit a soft pedal due to rear drums…but if you pay attention with the out of adjust drum…the pedal is different type of soft…it will harden up if you rapidly pump the pedal in that instance…when the wheel cylinders take up that over spec space…the pedal gets firm…then it comes back …

If they changed the calipers on the OPs car…then that is where my focus would be… I wouldn’t focus on the rears in this particular instance tho…not when some knucklehead was just messing with the calipers during a replacement. But those rears can certainly cause a soft feel pedal…no doubt about it.


I expect by the time they had everything put back together it was the end of the day and the staff — being on unpaid time — just went home rather taking the car on a test drive first. Rather, if they couldn’t finish the job then, they should have just kept the car overnight & finished up the next morning. But all that’s water under the bridge. Except that you might take it into account next time you need brake work.

I agree w/most of my learned colleagues above, there’s air remaining in the brake system. There’s one idea not posted above which I’ll add: If this car as ABS, there may be a special procedure needed to bleed that unit. Sometimes this requires the manufacturer’s scan tool to move the ABS pistons to the correct bleeding position.


Wow! Thank you so much for your replies – y’all know way more about this stuff than I do and I appreciate your putting in your $.02.

About the bleed, while I was waiting, the manager did mention “they had trouble bleeding the brakes,” and that that was one of the reasons the job was still being finished so late.

Also, as far as I know, the tech did not drive the car after finishing.

Thanks again for giving me a sense of what to talk about with them.

Do the brakes harden if you pump them? If so, the problem is definitely air in the system. Brake fluid doesn’t compress (well, technically everything compresses, but not so’s you’d notice), but of there’s air in the system it’ll compress as you pump the brakes and they’ll feel harder.

If it does not harden when you pump it, I’d suspect possible misadjusted rear drum brakes or pads of a softer material. The drums may self adjust when you back up and brake, so try that first.

And remember that you’ve gone from little or no pad to absorb the pressure to 1/4" or so of pad material. If you had metallic or ceramic pads before and they replaced them with organic pads, that can also make them feel softer.

By all means have the shop recheck the work, including perhaps bleeding the system again. But understand that it may already be okay.

Post the results. We do care, but it’s hard to troubleshoot over the internet.

Once you get this problem resolved, I’d advise you to not use that shop for brake work again

Giving the car back after a test drive to verify the repair is inexcusable

Not only don’t they know the concept of “verify the repair” . . . they also don’t believe it’s important to bed in the brakes

bad all around

And I really don’t see what is so difficult in bleeding the brakes on your car . . . unless they don’t have the proper tools and/or knowledge

If you’re missing one or the other . . . or both . . . you have absolutely NO business taking the customer’s money and working on the brakes

RDGEEK: I have been a LS customer for over 30 years and have experienced 100% excellent work and customer service. I recently had an alignment done that wasn’t finished until 30 minutes past the 6:00 PM closing time but it was finished. The car was test driven and the manager stayed to ensure the job was properly completed. This was on a Thursday. I’m going to make a wild guess regarding what happened to your brake job. Saturday, after closing time, and tech with somewhere else they were wanting to be. You posted that the manager told you there was a problem bleeding the brakes so I will assume they stayed. The tech having successfully completed this type of job many time and finding no problems during final checks and test drive decided they could skip it. The manager trusting their tech would properly complete and test the job was in their office catching up on paperwork or something. There is no excuse for this happening on any type of job performed by the shop. This being a brake job makes it 100 times worse. When you are having the job re-done at their expense you should privately tell the manager that they must make sure it never happens again.


You were right: air in the lines. They re-bled everything and now it’s at least back to the same “feel” as it was before the new brakes. I still think the brakes should “grab” more, but the manager insisted that because of the combination of new pads and new calipers, things would be “spongy” (her term) for the first 1K miles. I’m willing to move forward and just keep an eye on it for the time being.

@sgtrock21, I’ve also been satisfied with LS for years, and this doesn’t really change that. It always pays to know more about the mechanics of cars, so this experience has helped me in that regard.

Looking at the LS job requirements for a Brake and Alignment Technician, I see:


Les Schwab offers opportunities for a variety of skills, and provides on-the job training for Brake & Alignment Technicians.
A High School diploma or equivalent required; valid driver’s license; excellent customer service skills and the ability to work in a rapid pace environment; frequent lifting up to 35 pounds, with occasional lifting up to 75 pounds; frequent bending, twisting, kneeling and continuous squatting, reaching, walking and standing.

@JoeMario, are you complaining that they don’t require experience? Places like Les Schwab are where mechanics start their career, and the newbies are paid accordingly. If the new guys don’t work out, they will be leaving soon. If they do, they will last longer, but leave soon to find a better paying job now that they have training and experience. There are high paid mechanics to oversee the young ones and hopefully, go over the work that was done to make sure it was done right before returning the car.

I understand what you’re saying. Many have learned that way.

However there is also reality where the more experienced mechanics won’t always look over the shoulders of the newbies to make sure repairs are performed correctly.

With the complexity of today’s vehicles, one could argue that learning via OJT is no longer sufficient.

My post was an attempt to show RDGEEK the potential skill level of the person who repaired his brakes.