Brake Failure - Dan J
I had a wonderful weekend. Driving down from Cheshire to London I noticed round Stoke that my brakes felt a little odd. Pulled off the main road, looked underneath the car and could find no obvious leaks - checked the brakes a good few times more and everything seemed okay again. Was careful on the motorway because of the earlier problems but about 100 miles further while on the M1, the traffic braked in front of me and my brake pedal went to the floor. A very frightening experience and I fortunately managed to get the car under control by repeatedly pumping the pedal and applying pressure to the handbreak. It turned out the driver's side rear brake cylinder had failed and by the time I got the car back home, the entire wheel was soaked with brake fluid. Obviously these things do wear out but I have never heard of anything like this before - usually you get a minor leak which is noticed on service/MOT and never causes problems. This has to be a dangerous problem, the car (as some of you know) is a 93 Cavalier - has anyone heard of similar things happening on this or other cars? My local Vauxhall dealer (Grasmere, who I thank very much for managing to squeeze my car in on a very busy day yesterday so I had it for today) said it was an exceptionally bad case. I guess a lot of people would not have realised that pumping the brake pedal would have helped and could have panicked!

I know the car is old now but it only has 67k on it and a FSH - Does anyone think I should take the matter up with Vauxhall, or was it just a one off and I was really unlucky (or lucky I guess, given things could have been much worse)?
Re: Brake Failure - Andrew Bairsto
Does it not have duel circuit braking or was this model not fitted with it.With duel circuit you should have stopped without brake pumping although in a little longer time..All rubber seals go eventually I would say age is as much a killer as mileage in the good old days you could buy seal kits for pence but I suppose now you have to buy the complete piston.
Re: Brake Failure - Dan J
That is the part I do not understand - The AA bloke who came out to me said it was dual circuit so in theory the pedal should a) have not gone down to the floor and b) should not have needed to be pumped a la the Volvo way of doing things like you say. The other 'half' of the braking circuit had no leaks and was thoroughly checked by the Vauxhall garage (I had both rear drum pistons replaced anyway - I am not sure you can just get the seals but I thought I'd be safe and get the lot done) so therefore why did the car not stop? I have been wondering this one myself! Perhaps AA man got it wrong and it is single circuit?
Re: Brake Failure - Andrew Bairsto
If the brake master cylinder has two pipes coming out of it then it is almost certain to have duel circiuts.
Re: Brake Failure - mike harvey
Dan, frightening experience. I had it happen on a Montego, even though on mine,one circuit still worked. I find it dificult to describe how utterly useless one circuit is. The front brake either locked or didn't and the car did not appear to slow down.
I think the problem with yours was probably incorrect adjustment of the rear brakes and handbrake mechanism. I literally see dozens of cars serviced in garages big and small where the answer for long handbrake travel is to adjust the handbrake cable, when it should have the drums stripped and the adjustment checked there first. If not done properly, there will be excessive movement of the brake linings before they hit the drum. This means that when one circuit fails, the pedal hits the floor before the slack is taken up. No brakes! Cavaliers are prone to pulling the handbrake cable bracket out of the floor (NSR Tunnel) giving excess travel and inefficiency, which leads many to adjust the cable up. Also, at least every 2 years change the brake fluid. The water absorbed into it corrodes the wheel cylinders and causes failure.
Re: Brake Failure - honest john
This is obviously not Vauxhall's problem because the car is 8 years old. The same thing happens on much younger Peugeots.

Re: Brake Failure - Dan J
I do appreciate that and is comes as no surprise that the slave cylinders had expired given the age of the car. It was more the fact that rather than them just leaking a bit, it caused the entire brake system to fail and I think that is unacceptable on a modern day car. Then again, although I have all service records, I have not owned the car from new and the cylinder in question may well have been replaced previously with a cheap replacement. Just a bit annoyed about it all - After explaining what happened to my girlfriend and several friends, all said they wouldn't have had a clue what to do (ie pump desperately at the brake pedal) which then creates a very dangerous situation, what would have happened if one of them had been driving it and been approaching a pedestrian crossing etc?

I guess I was sounding off more than anything else and cannot (and do not want to) blame Vauxhall for this at all - just annoyed that it could have happened!
Re: Brake Failure - Michael
same thing happened to a friend of mine on his sdi rover. It was only when we were discussing dual brakes and he rechecked his car that he found that one of the circuits had failed a long time before (probably before he bought the car). There was no tell tale fluid anywhere because one circuit had drained dry. Might be worth thoroughly checking your brakes again to ensure that all is well. On the other hand, the dual circuit may have worked as intended, given the extra pedal travel and the longer stopping distance. It did stop, after all.
Re: Brake Failure - David Woollard

With a single circuit failure, or the servo for that matter, it does feel as if you have lost the brakes completely...there is a massive reduction in stopping ability.

I have grumbled before about the tendancy of some dealers never to remove the drums to inspect the rear linings, they just look through the inspection holes. As rear brake shoes last ages these days it is possible that a 8 year old car has never had the rear drums off.

I regularly remove the drums on cars I look after and also peel back the brake cylinder dust rubbers to spot early signs of leakage. Often this will indicate a problem 12000 miles or so before any serious leakage.

HJ is right that many Peugeots suffer this problem, often by 50,000 miles. First time I see a new customers 306 the rear cylinders always get checked.

Re: Brake Failure - mike harvey
I wholeheartedly agree with David on the lack of a proper sevice inspection. It is verging on dangerous. At least with a failed servo, if you press the pedal hard enough, the car will stop just as fast.
Re: Brake Failure - Andrew Smith
I have seen this problem on a couple of cars belonging to aquantances of mine. One friend had a failed rear brake cylinder. We noticed when taking the back wheel of his car to change the shoes. Needless to say we didn't change the shoes but he ordered a new cylinder which took some weeks to arrive. During this period he drove around in the car but was just careful to top up the brake fluid every so often. I wouldn't feel comfortable doing this myself but he got away with it.
A similar thing happened to my other half only her brakes failed as she was coming up the the toll booths on the dartford tunnel. Thankfully she was able to stop with the handbrake and engine braking but dispite duel circuit brakes she lost all presure through the foot pedal. When I dismantled the drum than was leaking I found that the leak wasn't that bad and that the system could be topped up, bled and pressure restored. The leak was no worse than my other example. (I did change the cylinder before letting her drive the car again)

My only conclusion was that the level in the master had got gradually lower and lower untill air was sucked into the system at which point both circuits failed at the same time. This is consistent with the increased braking that you would have to use whilst slowing down for the toll booths on the M25. I'm guessing this pushed the system over the edge as it were.
In this instance grief could be avoided by checking the fluid levels regularly as you should. That way any leak will show up long before it's a problem.
Re: Brake Failure - Cockle

Frightening experience, but one thing troubling me from all the accounts on this thread of people suffering brake failure is did the brake fluid warning lights not come on?
My wife drives a 1.8i Cavalier and one of the checks I carry out when servicing is to make sure the fluid level warning sensor is working. So quite simply, if brake failure due to fluid loss can occur before the warning light is triggered then why are they fitted and should I just save a little more of my time and not bother checking?
Re: Brake Failure - Dan J
In answer to your question, my brake fluid light did not come on until I had actually reached the Vauxhall garage sometime later and my brakes were unusable (drove the car there very slowly in the early hours on the handbrake). Frightening isn't it?

I don't think it is anything associated with the Cavalier - I just happened to be very unlucky that it occurred.

I agree heartily with David Woollard - The car was fully serviced and MOT'd by a Masterfit in London two months ago. I questionned them as to the condition of the back brakes and was simply told they were "fine". Whilst I am prepared to admit the leak may not have been there at that stage, when the pads came out yesterday when I was having this repaired, they were nearly completely worn away - I refuse to believe that they bothered to look at them properly at the time.

Definitely worth a look yourself every now and then I think you'll agree - I will certainly be keeping an eye on them in future!
Re: Brake Failure - Brian
The brake warning light came on intermitantly (sic, can't remember the spelling) on a 3 mile trip in my Pug 405 on Friday evening.
I checked the fluid level on Saturday and, sure enough, it was low.
So the lights do work and serve a useful function.
Re: Brake Failure - Cockle
Dan, Brian

Thanks for the replies about the fluid warning lights.

I find the fact that brakes can fail before the warning light comes on pretty worrying, just glad that it seems to work on Pugs. The fact remains though, shouldn't they work on all models? Otherwise there must be a lot of people driving around out there thinking that they don't have a brake problem 'because the light hasn't come on' when they could be close to something pretty catastrophic.

Just adds weight to my theory that you should never rely on anything even slightly technological when it comes to brakes. Good old fashioned wheels and drum off inspection with your own eyes or those of someone you can trust seems to be the only sure answer.

Value my car