Any way to fix brakes not working in the cold?

I have a 2005 Saturn Ion, and it’s a great car except for driving in the snow. I have to drive about 10mph because any faster if I go to step on the break most of the time it only goes halfway down and I skid to a stop.

I asked a local mechanic, and he said there’s nothing that can be done, just the car run till the brakes are thawed, but even driving 20 or so minutes it still happens.

So, going for a second opinion, is my mechanic right, or is there something I can do to get my breaks to work in freezing cold weather?

If you’re skidding when you apply the brakes, then they’re working.

The skidding itself could be a problem, but you say there’s snow on the ground?

If the brakes are frozen and nothing at all happens when you depress the pedal (which is not what you seem to be describing), then parking under cover, or covering the car with a tarp may help.

OK, just so I am clear on what you think is wrong, You step on the brakes and they work! If your tires are skidding, the brakes are doing their job.

Now may I ASSuME that you mean that the ABS (Automatic Braking System), sometimes called an anti-skid system, is not working properly. If this is what you mean, I agree with you. It needs repaired!

Why is it not working? I have no idea. I do know that one of the main reasons to invent the ABS was for icy conditions. The mechanic who says that they just have to thaw out, is not correct. Find a good shop to fix this. Any brake specialty shop, and many tire shops, should be able to find and fix your problem. Midas, Mineke, Big O, Goodyear and B.F. Goodrich come to mind.

I would even consider the dealer, but since they no longer exist, good luck! I personally like the good local independent shops, but they are hard to find.

IHTH, 48.

You do have GOOD snow tires do you not? They are a good investment if you are in snow and Ice country. They are cheap insurance.

Missed the edit window. Heck, it takes me over five minutes to just write these messages. I know, I know, I am really slow!

Sorry, I think I phrased the problem wrong.

I press on the breaks, they go about halfway down and then it feels like a rock is under the pedal keeping me from pushing it the rest of the way down. There is some pressure applied slowing down the car, but the wheels keep turning a few seconds until the car slows to a stop, so I guess it’s not technically skidding, but that’s what it feels like. I also feel a grinding sensation as I’m trying to push on the break.

I’m not sure about the specifics of my breaks (the owner’s manual doesn’t help) but ABS may be a good possibility. Thank you.

At the moment I don’t need them. And until the weather gets better I’m not driving my car anyway.

The exact same thing happens to my truck (94 Dodge Dakota). I can drive most of the way home from work (over an hour if there’s a bad snow and traffic) and they won’t free up just from driving, so your mechanic’s idea of them “warming up” probably won’t work. If I press on the brakes a lot I can almost feel something break free, and then they work normally, so I’m pretty sure something is freezing up somewhere. I just don’t know what.

For those that don’t experience this, it’s like the brakes become extremely sensitive. They go from being completely off to being full on in maybe a quarter of the usual brake pedal movement, so if you aren’t very careful it’s basically like stamping hard on the brake pedal and slamming your face into the windshield when all you really wanted to do was slow down a little.

For my truck, it only happens when it is very cold and snowing. Once they break free, they are fine. I don’t know if ice is forming between the pads and the rotors (I doubt it, because they sure have a lot of stopping power when this happens) or if there is moisture in the brake lines, in which case the fix would be to completely change out the brake fluid. Or maybe the brake cylinders in the rear are freezing up and forcing all of the brake fluid to the front. Just guesses. I really have no idea what causes it.

My truck usually clears up after a few applications of the brake. When I drove home in a blizzard a few years ago, they would freeze up again after about 10 minutes or so if no use.

This sounds like your ABS working properly. The grinding sensation is the ABS cycling your brakes. You’re not slowing down quickly enough because you have poor tires, the road conditions simply don’t allow it, or your ABS is working poorly.

With ABS the wheels are supposed to turn, not lock up. Your stopping distances may be slightly longer than if you locked up the brakes but you can control the car better.

Try looking for ‘Brakes’

As **Telemark ** says, this sounds like everything’s working great. The “foot massage” effect is an indication that the ABS is operating; every car I’ve ever driven with ABS behaves like this. The pedal only goes halfway down because the roads are very slippery, and this is as far as the ABS will let you push the pedal down before it kicks in. If you were on dry pavement, the ABS would behave the same - it’s just that you would be able to push the pedal harder/closer to the floor before it happens.

So the problem is that you have slippery roads, and possibly crappy tires as well.

I will second 48willy’s recommendation: get some snow tires. They traction they provide isn’t quite as good as all-seasons on dry pavement, but they’re a helluva lot better than all-seasons on snow. ABS will still kick in if you stomp hard enough on the brakes - but you’ll be able to stomp harder (and stop faster) before the ABS activates.

Also seconding Mangetout: They’re brakes, not breaks.

I highly suggest that you find another mechanic.

Grinding could mean that the brake pads or shoes are worn.

A stiff pedal could mean various things such as a bad power brake booster or a flexible brake hose deteriorating internally. It’s even slightly possible that the brake fluid is old and a good old brake fluid flush may help.

Again I highly suggest that you find another mechanic.

I have all brand new tires and he said I’d probably need new brake pads in the spring, although I’m thinking about getting them sooner as soon as I get the money.

Does the pedal feel more or less normal when the car is stopped? If so, that would lend more credence to the theory that this is just the ABS kicking in.

Of course, unless the roads are really bad, the ABS shouldn’t be kicking on every time you brake. You may have a wheel speed sensor that’s starting to go in cold weather, but isn’t reading so far out of spec that it’s tripping an ABS computer code.

It would be really odd for the ABS to malfunction in any significant way without causing an ABS error condition; there should be a warning light on the dashboard if there’s a real problem.

A wheel speed sensor with a borderline weak signal would trigger the warning light well before the signal was weak enough to cause performance problems.

That is good, but it doesn’t mean they are adequate for the snow. If you go to a dry parking garage will you get the same behavior?

You’ve never driven a car that does the thing where the ABS pump kicks on every time just as you’re coming to a stop? IME, the ABS kicking in for no apparent reason during low speed stops is an extremely common problem on older ABS-equipped cars. What’s going on there is you’ve got a wheel sensor that’s just starting to go, but it’s only an issue at lower speeds when the signal-to-noise ratio is lower. But I also drove a mid-90’s Astro van for work for a while where the ABS would kick on damn near every time you touched the brakes but it still didn’t throw a fault code. Eventually the ABS light did come on for a wheel sensor, they changed it and the problem went away, but there was a pretty long period where the brakes were acting up pretty bad with everything (apparently) within spec.

A friend had a pickup that acted like you describe and that was from day 1. Every time he applied the brakes, clear roads or icy, all 4 wheels locked up and a split second after everything worked normal, and I mean every time no matter how lightly he applied the brakes. He had it into the dealer many times and the truck was the same when he traded it off 10 years later.

You talked to a mechanic or had your brakes inspected?
If talked, go SOMEWHERE and get them INSPECTED ASAP!
Driving doesn’t warm up brakes. Braking (while in motion) does. But brakes don’t need to be warmed up (except for extreem circumstances).
You probably don’t need snow tires, but I strongly suggest ‘All season’ tires. I live in WI and couldn’t tell you the last time I bought snow tires for my car.
Are you new to driving in snow?? Stopping in snow, even with snow tires and good brakes is different than stopping on warm, dry pavement. Do you have a friend that could drive your car and tell if it’s working normally?

This. I’ve driven plenty in snowy, WI winters both with snow tires and without. The snow tires help but they aren’t a magic bullet. I don’t have them now and I think my ABS have only kicked on 2-3 times this winter so it definitely isn’t normal for them to be kicking on every time you brake unless you are stomping the pedal.

This sounds like the ABS is working correctly. What it seems is going on is that you expect the car to stop the same way as in the not ice and snow. That ain’t going to happen. You must drive a lot slower in ice and snow to be safe. If you drive the same way you do when it is dry, especially speed, you will be sliding off the road and hitting things.