Brake Pedal Softness

We just moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles and I swear the brake pedal on my Focus feels softer. Now I could be imagining this or it could be reality. So maybe the lines need to be bled.

How soft is too soft? Braking power seems to be ok though perhaps I need to depress the pedal a bit more before getting the same braking power.

I have automotive hypochondria and sometimes don’t know if what I am experiencing is real.

Thanks much.

Have you checked the brake fluid?

Bleeding the lines is easy. Just get down under the car with a wrench. You need a helper on the brake pedal. Helper pushes the pedal at the same time you open the wrench, a spurt of fluid comes out, close it quickly.

If this isn’t it, it might be the master cylinder. Leaks in the o-rings can cause it to slowly descend to the floor. Just stomp on the pedal and see how long it holds down. If the master is leaking (or there is a leak somewhere else), the pedal will not remain where it is and will slowly slide down.

If it’s the master, you can get a replacement for less than $100 and swap it with a few wrenches. Or, you can pay a shop about $300 for the swap. Automotive hypochondria can be expensive if you don’t fix anything yourself…

Fluid level is ok.

How far down should I need to press the brakes before feeling braking?

Any odd chance that its cause we are now at sea level? Just a thought. :slight_smile:

Brake pedal feel can be subjective. A slightly loose wheel bearing can cause the calipers to open up a bit giving it a softer feel. Maybe jack up the front end and feel if there is any play in the wheel. Once you come to a stop recheck the pedal to see if it feels harder than before you stopped the first time. If so this might point to something mechanical.

The odd things is I’m sure this has happened before.

I may be losing my mind.

Have you got 4 wheel disk brakes, if you have drums on the rear they may need adjustment, self adjusters don’t always keep up.

rear drums.

Get the shop manual for your car. There’s some pedal adjustments you can make. I don’t think it’s because of the air pressure change.

On many cars, braking when reversing will adjust your rear shoes. Sometimes a person’s daily driving situation will not require backing up often enough to adjust them. Also, setting the parking brake will also adjust the rear brakes on many cars. So, a car with an automatic transmission that doesn’t get backed up regularly and never has its parking brake used might well have rear drum brakes out of adjustment.

Possibly. A previous poster covered the method. I’ll just add 3 things: 1) Make sure your assistant is coordinated and can follow directions (like press and hold until you tell them to release). Otherwise you’ll be pulling air back into the system, and 2) Brake fluid is rather nasty stuff. It will dissolve most paint finishes as well as attacking other substances, and 3) Clean brake fluid is normally a clear amber or gold color. What you get out of the bleed screws will likely be much darker in color. Keep bleeding until you see the same color that’s in the reservoir. Note that you definitely don’t want to run out of fluid in the reservoir while doing this. So top it up with a compatible type if it starts running low. It makes sense to have this on hand, as otherwise you have a car with at least one wheel off and insufficient brake fluid to drive somewhere safely.

My main concern would be that after you have the pedal down to the point where it stops (do this while parked, please), keep pressure on the pedal. If it slowly sinks to the floor under constant pressure, you have a LEAK, not air in the lines. Proceed directly to a mechanic.

In that case, for peace of mind, just take it to either a dealer (expect quality service, higher prices) or an independent (could be a lot worse or a lot better quality than the dealer, lower prices). Since you’re new to the area, check with co-workers, etc. to find out who they trust. If you’re a member of AAA, call the local office and ask them for their list of independent shops. They may not be the very top quality or lowest prices, but should have consistently satisfied customers.

You’ll all (you said “we” in your OP, so I assume there’s more than one of you in there) rest easier knowing that a professional has looked at it, even if there isn’t anything really wrong with it.

No problem. One other piece of advice - you probably arrived in CA with a car with out-of-state plates. California REALLY would like you to have your car inspected and new CA license plates/registration issued as soon as possible. This can sometimes be a pain depending on the age of the car and whether it was compliant with CARB (the CA pollution regulations) when it was built. If you run into any grief with this process, particularly the smog check part, you can contact your local BAR Referee for assistance. They’re a bit more flexible than the people reading from scripts in the DMV offices and regular inspection stations.

So I took it in this morning and the situation is bad. I need a new master cylinder, new rear bearings and basically new rear drums. I also had them check the head gasket as I’ve been smelling a lot of oil and they found the plugs covered in oil. So that needs to be fixed.

This is an expensive fix for a old car but it’s all I can really do now as I cannot afford a damn car payment and hopefully this will get me a car for a couple more years.


I would get a second opinion. Your diagnosis just doesn’t sound right. How many miles are on the car and what kind of car is it? Some cars will leak external oil from the head gaskets and re torquing will take care of it. How did he diagnose the rear wheel bearings? How did he diagnose a bad master cyl. A slightly low pedal does not point to a bad master cyl necessarily.

Ford Focus. 156,000.

I knew there were some oil issues as lately I’ve been smelling a lot of burning oil. The back drums have been sounding bad too. Lots of grinding. Gas mileage went to shit lately also. Lots of stuff just hasn’t been right.

I first noticed issues with brakes while descending a moderate hill. I got to the bottom and almost had to put the pedal to the floor to stop. It didn’t do that again but it was mushy.

I just need to get another year or two out of this vehicle.

Your rear brakes being worn out would account for the low mushy pedal. I would use a lower gear on hills an not touch the brakes going down, very hard on brakes. Valve cover gaskets are the most common culprit for oil getting on the sparkplugs. I seriously doubt your rear bearings are bad but they could be of course.

So they basically redid the drums and now the brakes feel even more spongy. The mechanic said that would go away after a while.

Why is that?

It’s been a while since I worked on drum brakes, but as mentioned earlier there are self-adjusters there that, well, adjust the brakes when backing up.

It’s easier for the mechanic to put the drum on when the brake shoes are backed off by a considerable amount. Go to an empty parking lot, or equivalent, and drive fairly quickly in reverse and brake hard a few times.

If it’s the brake adjustment then that should firm things up. If that doesn’t work then I don’t know what the issue would be, unless he left air in the brake lines, in which case they’ll need to be bled.

When they turn the drums they don’t usually arc the lining to match the drums. They will seat in pretty quickly.

Because he did a piss poor job.

There’s no excuse to deliver a car back to the customer with the job not completed. It also raises the question of whether it actually will get better or has some other flaw in the workmanship. I can’t believe he had the nerve to do that.

I’d go back and insist that the brakes be made right. And take it from an auto repair pro with over 40 years experience, it being worse than when you brought it in is absolutely not right. They should be ashamed.

That’s a minor detail that won’t cause a poor pedal in a job done properly.