Wife's brakes acting up

My wife roused me early this morning to tell me I had to take her to work because her brakes are “out.”

It’s a 96 Sable with 178,000. I haven’t had the chance to drive it since she’s got the keys, but the symptom she describes sounds like the power-assist stuff is not assisting. She said she had to push really hard to get any stopping power at all.

What should I be looking for as a cause for this while the engine is running?

Check the brake fluid level and the vacuum hose going to the booster.

I like the sound of those tips… My biggest fear is that her master cylinder will need replacing.

Considering the mileage that’s highly possible.

I figured. I’m glad there are some other possibilities to check first though. Thankfully, her Dad ha literally been collecting Tauruses so hopefully we can find a donor if it’s something major.

It’s time she had something less flaky, but that’s out of the question for awhile thanks to Uncle Sam.

Don’t get rid of the Sable. I am on an endeavor to encourage people to maintain their older cars, which will ultimately lower the prices of newer cars (supply and demand). This isn’t something Detroit wants to hear, but this is what we need to do for our economy. It will keep the repair shops busier, the aftermarket supply stores busier, their suppliers, etc. Even if you need a new booster for your car, it is a pretty common item and should not be expensive or hard to find, (if your father in law does not have one). We’ve become a “throw away society” and until we start holding onto our cars longer and conserving more, we’re heading in the wrong direction and only going to make things worse for our kids and grandkids.

Hard brakes are from the booster not working. Most likely culpret will be the vacuum line one-way valve sticking or the vacuum line cracked or broken. If the vacuum line is leaking, the engine will run roughly. If the engine is smooth, then the one way valve would be the best bet. After that, the booster itself could be bad.

A Haynes manual is what to look for. It has detailed procedures for checking a brake booster.

My biggest fear is that her master cylinder will need replacing

Why is that a fear? As car repairs go, replacing a master cylinder is usually fairly cheap and straightforward. If you are mechanically inclined and working on the braking system doesn’t make you nervous, you can probably do it yourself for less than $50. Any decent parts store probably has new/rebuilt master cylinders for a 96 Taurus/Sable in stock.

In any case, I think your first guess is likely correct. More likely something in the power assist.

Thanks for the help everyone. It did indeed turn out to be a vacuum problem. Hoses are all perfect. The “vacuum splitter” had broken at the point where one of the hoses attaches. I’ve got no idea if that’s the right term or not. It’s a little box attached to the firewall just above the master cylinder that has 4 vacuum hoses and one tiny vacuum hose coming out of it. I could hear it clearly as soon as I got out with the car running, even before I opened the hood. My father-in-law sent a replacement doohicky from one of his cars up last night with my brother-in-law and I just finished putting it on. Brakes work perfectly normally now.

The only mystery now is how it broke in the first place. It was completely broken off at the “nipple” and the hose was hanging freely. It happened all at once too. She parked Thursday night. Friday morning the brakes were “out.”