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Old car dilemma

We own a 1993 Chrysler New Yorker, Fifth Avenue, which now has 106 K miles. It runs very smoothly and feels very comfortable. We love it very much. It served us for many trouble-free years, however it’s old now and problems started to occur. We tried to fix it, but encountered a very frustrating problem: it is hard to find replacement parts; the dealer had to search nationwide to find rebuilt parts, and even the seemingly very common and simple parts were obscenely expensive. I would like to know whether or not parts, for example a power-brake sensor, of later models can be used for replacement and, if they can, where to find a mechanic for service. Now that heart-transplant is quite a common practice for humans, similar treatment should be available for old cars. Otherwise many very drivable good old cars have to be junked, which we find economically and emotionally very disturbing. My fellow faithful Car Talk listeners, we would very much appreciate your thoughts and advices on this dilemma.

@StudentSam what is a power-brake sensor?

Do you perhaps mean the power brake booster?
Rock hard brake pedal?

It is a sensor that monitors the level of power-brake fluid and sends a warning when it is low.

While it is nice to have a sensor for the level of the brake fluid, it really can be dispensed with.
From the inception to hydraulic brakes (about 75 years ago) to just a few decades ago when these sensors became commonplace, people managed to survive by checking the level of their brake fluid visually, and that can still be done.

While that task used to require removal of the filler cap on the master cylinder, modern cars have a translucent master cylinder, thus allowing you to “eyeball” the brake fluid level every time that you lift the hood. And, with a 20 year old car, you should be lifting that hood weekly in order to check ALL of the fluids.

Is it possible to have catastrophic brake fluid loss while driving?
Yes, but this is extremely rare, and modern dual-circuit master cylinders allow you to retain braking on two wheels in the event of a leak from one of the brake fluid circuits, so any risk from not having a brake fluid sensor is…truly minimal.

I can understand your concern about a shortage of parts if they are parts that are truly essential to the operation of a car, but the lack of a brake fluid sensor should not prevent you from driving your car.

I actually take a different view on the value of the brake fluid sensor (and the light it triggers).

There are too many people out there who would continue to drive their car if half of the braking system lost hydraulic pressure (leak) and the only symptom was a low brake pedal. As long as the car stops, then just keep driving it.

At least the light is another indication to report that something is really wrong.

The part might not be available locally, but could well be available as an aftermarket item by mail from an internet Auto Parts site. Google “Auto Parts” and try a couple of those places, see if any of them have it. You also might phone up a Chrysler dealership parts dept and ask them if they have any ideas for a source.

For future car purchase purposes, to avoid this problem, its best to purchase a car with a very high sales volume. The higher the better. I think the Toyota Corolla currently has the highest, with Honda Civic close to the same.

I have one vehicle that is 40 years old, and another that is 20, but both were big sellers, and I’ve never had a problem finding locally available parts for either in all those years. In fact one time I went to the auto parts store to get a fuel pump for my 40 year old car, and the parts guy, he was sitting down at the time, and to get the part I asked for, he didn’t even have to leave his seat, he just turned around and pulled it from the shelf and plopped it on the counter. The bill: $17.49.

This sound like another Bendix 10 antilock brake system problem, accumulator pressure sensor failure. I don’t believe the standard brake system on the New Yorker had a fluid level sensor.

It would be best to remove this problematic ABS system and replace it with a conventional master cylinder and vacuum booster. Brake lines will have to be replaced or modified and proportioning valve replaced. Don’t ask the dealer to do this, find a brake specialist.

Chrysler, and other manufacturers only carry parts for 10 years, minimum. BMW may be the exception but you will pay BIG bucks for, say, a '72 2002 tail light. If the brake fluid level sensor was commonly used in other cars, there would be an aftermarket part available for it. Maybe this part is not available but most other mechanical parts are still covered. The bigger problem you will face is crash damage. You may have to walk away from the car. Unless you have a '65 Mustang, '69 Camaro or '57 Chevy, the aftermarket won’t bother to tool up replacement body parts. Sad fact of life for those that like “vintage” cars that have no following.

@Mustangman If you got the $, the Benz dealer will get you those old parts, also.

They even have a classic car division.

I understood the sensor to be the one that detects when one of the two halves of the braking system looses pressure - as both halves must have equal pressure when braking.

I am not aware of any brake fluid level sensor or power brake sensor.

The following is a web-site of parts available at junk yards nationwide. I have bought from several salvage yards and never had a problem. I even bought a 450SEL door cheap and it was in great shape:

A piece of black tape over the light will fix you right up. A similar model by Dodge probably didn’t have this feature.

The black electrical tape fix is easy cheap and it will do as advertised. However it is there for a reason. A working problem indicator may save your life. While it likely you will never need that light, are you sure you want to risk it. (BTW remember that your decision also call kill me, if you are the unlucky one)

Will the junk yards see cars hauled in for a failed low brake fluid level sensor? Imagine that. And I was amazed when farmers pulled tractors and combines out of the field when the AC quit working. Will heated seat failure put cars in the crusher soon?