So, as will become quite clear, I know nothing about cars–
My beautiful blue 100,000+ mile '93 Ford Escort [sub]shut up[/sub] has served me faithfully for many years, but it has now started to worry me.
The idiot light that seems to exist to remind me that I have BRAKEs lights up. Not all the time-- just when I accelerate. I hit the brakes, and it turns off. This just seems, I dunno, sort of backwards, ya know?
My (probably wrong) guess is that I’m running low on brake fluid.
Or am I gonna die in a fiery crash on my way to Wal*Mart for more fluid?
It could be that the sensor for fluid is to the front so when you accelerate it flows away from the sensor and when you brake it flows back. If that’s right, you’ll be fine getting to somewhere you can buy some fluid. But why not pop the hood and take the lid off the brake fluid reservoir and take a look if it’s below the mark?
Surely there’s someone around who can at least show you how to do that.
Not certain about Fords, but some of the cars I’ve owned simply had an idiot light that would say “Brake” if the parking brake was engaged. One of these cars had an overly sensitive sensor coupled with an aging parking brake spring. The “Brake” light would come on and remain on until I nudge the parking brake foot pedal up a bit.
From the description in the OP, I am guessing that the Brake warning light is a fluid level warning light.* As the brakes wear, more fluid is transferred from the brake master cylinder to the calipers. When the fluid gets too low the brake warning light comes on. On the cars I work on just after the light started to flash (from fluid movement as has been described) the brake pads were worn to the point of needing replacement.
So may I suggest rather than just adding brake fluid you visit your friendly local mechanic and have the brakes checked for wear. It is much cheaper and easier to replace pads BEFORE they start digging large groves in your rotors from being 100% worn out. The mechanic can also eyeball the system for leaks while the car is in the air (the other reason the fluid might be low)
When the new pads are installed the pistons in the calipers are retracted and the fluid is transferred back to the master cylinder and the light will be out.
*A quick read of your owner’s manual will verify this RTFM
If you have 100K miles on the original pads you might be close to needing pad replacement. As Rick said the fluid level gets lower as brake material is worn away from the pads and that might cause the light to come on. If the fluid level is low in one cylinder of the dual brake system the light will also come in. If you begin to hear a scraping or grinding noise when you use the brakes it’s time to take it in for brakes. It is much better to take it in before you hear the noise because after you hear it the disks will have to be resurfaced for sure.
At 100k miles it might be a good idea to get a brake job anyway and the shop can check for why the light comes on.
[pet peeve #1035861]In the cars I’ve owned the light is a sign that the parking brake is set or partly set. Many people don’t apply it full on and might drive that way wearing out brake shoes and generating a lot of heat and smoke. When you set the hand or foot parking brake set the damned thing full on so that you know the damned thing is set if you try to drive.[/[pet peeve #1035861]
What Rick said. If the light is on because the fluid is at or near the minimum level, adding fluid will alleviate the symptom but won’t address the problem. Whatever the problem is, if it’s ignored it will almost certainly develop into something worse. It’s time for a brake system inspection.
Let me second (third? fourth?) a suggestion that you take the car to a good brake shop for an end-to-end inspection. There are a lot of rubber parts in a brake system, and 11 year old rubber tends to get brittle - don’t be surprised to find you need a collection of seals and hoses replaced. You may also wind up needing new rotors/drums - these things wear down with use and have minimum safe thicknesses.
Another thing nobody mentioned is ABS - if your car has ABS, there’s a collection of doo-dads that talk amongst themselves and the car’s computer, and one of them getting flaky is certainly a possiblity. Sadly, ABS parts are pricey, so hope they’re OK.
100,000 miles on the original pads? Wow. You must not stop much.
For a *very * rough ballpark figure, plan on spending $500 on this if all you need is pads and a couple rotors, and maybe a hose or two. If it’s more, just call it the price of deferred maintenance.
I had the dealer (“premium” brand) do all four of my brakes (new rotors in the front, turned drums in the back) for only $300. The parts are all fairly inexpensive, and labor’s typically at competetive rates.
Darth Nader, aside from your local brake shop, consider your local Ford dealer as well. Sometimes they have a reputation as being more expensive, but for “common” things, they’re often competetive – brakes, tires, oil changes, and other normal wear items.
For the sake of your personal safety I would get that checked as soon as possible by a mechanic. Best case scenario- just a little low on fluid. Worst case- your brakes fail when you really need them. But get a second opinion. Our daughter’s Pontiac dealer recommended like $600 worth of brake repairs- she went to another mechanic who told her he couldn’t take her money because her brakes were fine.
Yeah my old 70,000 mile '93 Ford Escort ate tires and washed 'em down with brake fluid. I always had a container in my trunk and every few months would top it off. It did it for probably the last 4 years that I had the car (from '98 to '02). I don’t want to prevent you from getting a full brake line inspection but I went that route and never got an answer. Certainly if you are on original parts, get them replaced (IIRC I did it twice for that car over 10 years) and get the system checked out. Just letting you know that I have been down the same road.
BTW, I sold the car to a FOAF and he still has it and it runs perfectly with well over 100,000 miles on it. The chassis and engine IIRC is all Mazda, though, so it doesn’t really qualify as a Ford. Although, my dad had an Explorer from the same year with well over 100,000 miles on it. Ran perfectly until he sold it last year.
What year? I can tell you definitively. For all you Ford bashers: suffice it to say that there’s really nothing that “qualifies” as a Ford these days. Yeah, trucks (even that bad Escape transmission that’s here on SDMB) are still pure American design, but Ford trucks are, well, the best. When people say that Fords suck, they mean Ford cars. So, given every Ford car that exists these days, consider that other than the Mustang (yeah, pure 100% American adrenelin [built in a Mazda/Ford partnership plant in the USA]), every Ford car is a carry-over from some other design, mostly Volvo and Mazda. I hate to say it, but this is a good thing. When you think of Ford, think of Mazda and Volvo.
Yeah, the EN/FN (Crown Vic/Grand Marquis/Town Car/Marauder) are still American design, but the platform is 20+ years old, all of the bugs are out of it, and you can’t go wrong. Always a Consumer Reports pick. If you like a good ride, silence, and a bit of luxury, nothing wrong with this last American design. I think it’s the last body-on-frame car of all manufacturers. If you compare the $25k price to a $40k price of a Lexus, you get a better car, with plenty of money to buy the hat you need to drive it.