Car advice -brakes on Geo Prism

I won’t go into the long version (which includes getting my child stranded outside the school :mad: ), but:

1996 Geo Prism, could tell brakes were failing. No noises(grinding, squealing, squeeking etc.) just brakes wouldn’t engage at higher speeds (over 35), I could down shift, then brakes would engage, but at higher speeds, depressing the brake pedal felt no different than depressing the clutch.

So, took it in to get it looked at. They found rear brakes needed replacing, and did that. During the after check, they found even less play in the brakes than before, so diagnosed master cylindar. Replaced that. During the after check, the fluid pressure was fine until the car was turned on and then the fluid would drain away and there’d be no play to the pedal again (ie no brakes).

Any theories??? sympathy?
(I mean, what ended up happening is that my son waited outside in the cold for nearly an hour before he was picked up by my boyfriend who had to close up his shop, then we didn’t get home until 9:30 pm, driven there by my boyfriend who again had to close up his shop in order to do this, and then back to town this am with same wonderful boyfriend, 3 of us in the front seat of a truck - very cosy).

Ok, so maybe no one has any ideas?

Three different mechanics at the first place couldn’t fix it.

It’s now at a brake specialty shop, he’s (surprise) trying the master cylindar again, thinking that the first three didn’t do it right.

Help!!! I’ve been without a car for 5 days now.

The fluid would actually drain away when the car was turned on? Like litterally “Dissapear”? that sounds weird. Regardless though, it sounds like your assist is doing something weird…(that is the power brakes. It uses vacuum created by the engine). So, my guesses would be something along these lines:

  1. Power Booster (That big, kinda circular thing the master cylinder is mounted to).

  2. Master Cylinder.

Has your car been running a little “rougher” than usual lately? That may indicate a bad vacuum leak…however I think a competent brake shop should have thought of that first, which I would hope they did…

Other than that, sorry. Too bad for your kid :frowning:

It does sound like a master cylinder problem. But with all the sensors and computer systems, it’s hard to diagnose anything under the hood anymore.

If you haven’t already, take your car to a GEO dealer. You’ll pay more, but it’ll be worth it. Kinda like going to a specialist. They’re fixing Geos all day long. I bet they’re familiar with your problem.

If the dealership’s mechanics can’t fix it, I dunno. Call MacGuyver.

Car has not been running rougher. we’re not completely certain now that the first place was competent (just heard from the guy where it’s at, he says the front brakes were almost worn away, too…) and yes, it does seem to need a master cylinder.

thanks ( and specifically, thanks for the sympathy for the son, who by the way, is 16, and stands 6/1 - I didn’t think the car folks needed THAT piece of info - so he was bummed, but ok - and actually got scared, too, when he saw SO’s car - he knew that meant something had happened to mom)

wring, it’s usually impossible to diagnose a mechanical problem without seeing the problems firsthand. Having not seen the car, I can only guess at the problem.

I don’t know. The only thing in a power brake setup that is dependent on the engine is the vacuum booster (which uses manifold vacuum to amplify the force you apply at the pedal), but if the booster went out or if a line was disconnected, the pedal would be harder to push and the brakes wouldn’t work. At the very least, they wouldn’t work as well.

Downshifting might improve the braking, but the pedal would be hard to push, not easy, like the clutch pedal.

**I’m not sure what is meant by this. If the booster problem was intermittent, they might have noticed it at this point.

This sounds like they might not have completely bled the brakes. There might be some air in the brake lines, which you can’t compress with the engine off, but you can compress it with help from the booster.

The brake linkage might also be too tight. If this were the case, the small ports between the fluid reservoir and the master cylinder could be blocked by the master cylinder pistons, which would keep the brakes from being bled, along with causing a mess of other problems.

Delta-9, what computer systems are you talking about? IIRC, Metros have a fairly basic power steering setup. Except for probably a proportioning valve sensor and maybe a fluid level sensor, there’s no ABS or other electronics attached to the brakes. Personally, I’d place more trust in a local, well-recommended shop than a dealer service department which isn’t as dependent on its reputation in order to stay in business.

FWIW, the GEO line was discontinued a while back. Chevy picked up the Metro, and their dealerships should be able to handle repairs, if you go that route.

…power BRAKE setup. (Hoo-boy!)

We have a 90 Geo in the family & I must ask why the parts for the thing are so expensive? Youre getting a radiator price of $400 before discount, plus labor, alternators, $189 after discount…Let me tell you those parts are really small too.

Back to the OP, visit, find your car, find the forum for it & youll be able to ask the guys there or read similar messages about your situation as it might be a recall & in that case, for you, free.

My friend has ABS on her 89 Volvo. She has to pay $2,800 for a similar situation. Im sure your Geo don’t have ABS but I would be curious to know what you have spent on it so far for this.

" . . .Delta-9, what computer systems are you talking about? IIRC, Metros have a fairly basic power steering setup. Except for probably a proportioning valve sensor and maybe a fluid level sensor, there’s no ABS or other electronics attached to the brakes. Personally, I’d place more trust in a local, well-recommended shop than a dealer service department which isn’t as dependent on its reputation in order to stay in business. . ."

I was speaking in general terms (I know that can get one into trouble around here). I am obviously not a mechanic. As far as a well-recommended shop, the OP tried that with no luck. It’s been my personal experience that I get more satisfactory repairs done at the dealer than I do at Goober’s Place. Plus, wouldn’t the dealer be able to look up the car’s maintenance history? Might provide a clue to the problem.

Small point: The OP was about the Prizm, not the Metro. Two different animals.

Yes, a GEO Prism, and it was the brakes, not the steering.


  1. Car has minimum of ‘frills’ - stick shift, no ABS brakes, (does have A/C), no power steering etc. ( it’s transportation -way to go from point A to point B)

  2. The brake pedal was ‘soft’, ie, went nearly to the floor before you could feel the brakes ‘catch’, and some times, not even then. Since it was a stick, I’d routinely start slowing down significantly before lights/stop signs etc by down shifting and letting off the gas. I’ve noticed this quite a bit since being driven by other people. No other noises. When it happened that they didn’t catch at all (even after pumping), I took it in.

  3. First place replaced rear brakes (about $100), then when it still wouldn’t brake, tried replacing master cylindar. They still couldn’t get it to work after working on it a whole day. Didn’t charge me for this.

  4. Called all the dealers in town, none (including the place I bought it at) would see it for 3 - 4 days.

  5. Took it to a brake specialist ( a recommended one). He bled the system on day one, that didn’t do it. Day two: new master cylindar (said the one in there was damaged- weather it was damaged by place #1 or was the original back again? shrug). Complete new front brakes (calipers etc). Cost $600.

So now it stops. really. I depress the pedal slightly and it catches. Poor kid will go through the windshield I suspect.

Now. Anyone want to float a loan???

Serious thanks to all that answered.

Its been my past experience at least so far, that if the master cylinder is going, you can generally pump the brakes rapidly and get back some of the braking power - enough to get you to the shop. Apparently the cumulation of brake fluid pressure through the pumping overcomes the leak past the cylinder plungers, enough to at least slow down. Keep you hands (or foot) ready with the parking brake though!

I have done a few master cylinders & usually they are low on fluid first. Thats a real hint.

Cost $600? Okay, well as I said, parts for them are not cheap, as to why, no one has said.

A worn master cylinder would cause symptoms that could fit the described problem. If the seals inside the cylinder body are worn, they won’t seal when the pedal is gently applied, but will when the pedal is stomped down (the fluid pressure forces the seals against the cylinder walls when you stomp–it’s a bit like how a parachute opens up when air flows past.)

That first sentence at least partially explains why being a mechanic is a royal PITA. Oftentimes, the customer’s description doesn’t quite fit the failure mechanism, and sometimes the mechanic has to read into what is being said. If a “service advisor” (who may have been hired for his customer relations skills and may or may not have any mechanical experience) is added to the loop, you have a good chance for breakdowns in communication. By means of example, I used to be a motorcycle mechanic, and I can’t count the number of times we had bikes in with “won’t start” written on the ticket which started for us on the first try. Usually a call to the customer would help clear up the confusion, but I saw a few mechanics who would deny that there was a problem, since the bike started for them.

FWIW, Usurer can give you a loan, but you might be able to get better terms elsewhere. :eek:
(Userer, hope you don’t mind that link.)
[sup](and in the mountain out of a molehill department: )[/sup]
Delta-9, A friend once got a job doing test rides for a local dealership because they had a fifty percent comeback rate (half of the jobs done came back on them.) They were only then in danger of losing their service franchise. By comparison, I had about a 90-95% rate when I was a wrench, which I considered fairly good. This wasn’t dependent of where I worked (though I did think a database would have been good for the business.)

If not most, then a lot of the aftermarket guys have their businesses on computers. This gives them a service history, of course, but it also can help drum up business through reminders for scheduled maintenance, along with helping with bookkeeping. I’m still more or less a mechanic, and personally, I’d rather trust my own diagnostic skills and judgement, and would even consider my people and interviewing skills more important than access to a machine’s history. Besides which, a blown or worn out seal can happen almost anytime in a machine’s lifetime and should give fairly clear symptoms.

Believe me, I mean no offense, and I hope I’m not coming across as a jerk. I just don’t think that the dealerships have that much (if anything) over an independent, local shop with good references.
[sup](…and more in the flogging dead horses department: )[/sup]
toadspittle, you’re right. I overlooked the exact model, but the same applies. GM merged Geo into Chevy. The Prizm, Metro and Tracker are all Chevy products (AFAIK, they’re all rebadged Suzukis; at least the Tracker and Metro are made in Ontario by Suzuki.)
[sup](…and in the “holy cow, that’s an expensive Metro” department: )[/sup]
Handy, OUCH!!! Just out of curiousity, I checked the NAPA site, and those prices are more or less in line with theirs (that’s one expensive alternator!) Of course, the mechanic usually gets to choose where to buy the parts…

cornflakes, yep, I went to one of their stores & that was the price quoted to me. sigh. ANother person with a Geo said that her mechanic put in ONE new Macperson (sp) strut for $500.00 ha


No jerkness detected. :slight_smile:

That’s what this board is about-sharing our (admittedly different)experiences so others can benefit.

$500 for one strut? Yikes.