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Old 09-27-2012, 01:28 AM   #1
Rob axel
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03 SE hard break pedal, soft braking

I have been searching without any success, so please excuse me if this has been addressed at one point....I also posted it on the (00-07)first gen thread.
My daughter has a 03 SE (85K), disc front, drum rear brakes....yesterday she complained she could not stop and the brakes were not working....Being the Dad I am, I checked the car out....seemed ok, hard pedal, not to much travel..and the brakes seemed "ok". so I tried a little "hard braking"....I had to literally stand on the pedal...it never reached the floor though...
I replaced the pads and put a non directional surface on the rotors...bled the brakes and it didn't seem much better....
the "assist" seems to be working (hard pedal, start car..pedal moves slightly)... is there a chance the master cylinder may be bad? plunger moving past the front then to rear...no mater how hard I tried I could not get the front to lock (no anti-lock)..
any ideas?


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Old 09-27-2012, 02:43 AM   #2
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I have run into this on the two Foci I own. The brakes will seem to be fine until you need say a sudden hard panic stop, whereupon you will curse them like nobody's business. Absolutely impossible to lock the fronts up over 35-40 mph. Both mine did it when front brakes deep into wear. A new booster does nothing for it at all, new master doesn't help either. I changed both on my first car even though they seemed to be in good working order, no change in the problem at all. New pads and for sure cut the rotors, I think some of it comes from pad material embedding into rotors to allow the problem. Glazed rotor probably not helping either. New parts got rid of a bunch of it, some I think also attributable to the small engine's lack of as much vacuum (100K miles) as when it was new, that would account for a loss in pedal assist even if booster works great. Can't get any more out than what goes in you know. Much better after the work but I was still not 100% satisfied with it. Combination of the factory chosen pad material and rotor I think, never seen a car do that before.

If you really stood down in it, check the plastic covered pivot pin connecting pedal to master cylinder rod. I'm a big guy and not weak, the pin on both my cars had seen so much panic stop force the outside plastic had squished around the metal center to make for looseness and possibly hang the pedal up. I replaced both Ford parts with class 10.6 metal bolts and self locking nuts to have a rock solid pivot point there.

Last edited by amc49; 09-27-2012 at 07:35 PM.
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Old 09-27-2012, 03:48 AM   #3
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Could be the valve in the brake booster vacuum line not working? Which in turn would cause you not to have power assisted brakes. My SVT does this on a cold start up and if I start driving right away. If I wait a minute or two I have no problems. I know how you feel when you go to really get on the brakes and you got plenty of pedal stiffness but no power behind to stop the car. Surprised the hell out of me when it first happened to me.
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Last edited by sleepyboy; 09-27-2012 at 04:51 AM.
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Old 09-27-2012, 04:42 AM   #4
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Nope, a quick check, start car, let it idle for 30 seconds, shutoff. Carefully pay attention while you push down the pedal 2 or 3 times, it will be easy at first, then get harder, also you will hear the slight hiss as vacuum escapes booster until it is no longer there. Clear proof the one way check valve is working. The pedal would be hard and no hiss if it weren't.
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Old 09-27-2012, 04:51 AM   #5
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Never said that could be the problem just a suggestion.
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Old 09-27-2012, 05:32 AM   #6
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Probably a combination of old parts like the pins at the end of the master cylinder, and a loss of vacuum either from a leak or from old engine parts.
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Old 09-27-2012, 11:19 AM   #7
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She has said they are "better" after cutting the rotors, new front pads...but it just amazes me how little power gets to the front brakes! It almost seems like brake fade...
At first I thought maybe it was because of the size of the single piston calipers and brake pads....I have a feeling it has got to be more of a proportioning valve or lack of fluid to the front calipers... I am very familiar around cars, so it just seems strange that these brakes can SUCK this bad from the factory! I'm gonna find a hard dirt road...do about 35-40 try to get them to lock up....at least the road will give me a good indication of what is happening....even if the vacuum was completely shot, I would still have good pressure to the front.
From what I can remember front discs account to 70-80% of braking ....it seems as if i am only getting (heavy) pressure to the rear...Is there a SIMPLE was to eliminate the rear braking system? just to see what exactly is going on?
I will check the pivot pin on the pedal also....
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Old 09-27-2012, 07:33 PM   #8
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Diagonally split system. One front and one rear paired, same for other pair. Opposites, if right front then paired with left rear.

Don't underestimate the value of a brand new motor on vacuum, brand new the brakes are super sensitive and will throw you through the windshield. Older motor vacuum loss figures into a large loss of power assist. You'll never get it stopping as well as brand new I don't care what anyone says. I think they should have used a bigger OD booster for more force, but just look at the amount of space in there..............

You are correct 80% of braking done by the fronts. These have no proportioning valving, only valves that limit pressure buildup to the back, an effort to reduce rear lockup.

I know they used to be much better than that because once I got into the most heart shattering panic stop in my life, the fronts (in fact all 4) locked solidly at about 70 mph, I lost control in a skid and backed off to unlock and got into them hard again to lockup and run onto left shoulder and past car I was behind previously. While looking stupidly at the guy whose neck I just had avoided breaking I realized I was still holding the Coke I had been drinking. I had done all that with one hand on steering wheel. I held up the Coke and tipped it to him like in a toast to his good health, I know, even more stupid...........
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Old 09-27-2012, 08:27 PM   #9
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Gonna throw shoes on the rear this weekend....if there is no proportioning valve to the front and they are a "straight shot" to the front calipers, I may concider changing out the master.....I have done plenty of "brake jobs" on everything from classic mustangs, to new ones...and have never seen a set of brakes not "grab" like they are supposed to.
I mean, I have plenty of strength in my legs and if I can litterally STAND on the pedal, have it not go to the floor (hard pedal), and the car sloooowws to a stop. Straight pressure from the master to the front, with maximum foot pressure should result in the front discs locking up..
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Old 09-28-2012, 02:39 AM   #10
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It's your stuff of course, do as you will. You should understand that if the pedal is solid as a rock that is 100% evidence there is nothing wrong with the M/C. I changed mine too with that thought screaming in my head and lo and behold the new part did absolutely...............NOTHING. No big surprise there. Same thing with a new booster. I further took apart the old M/C, there was nothing wrong with it either, I cleaned it back up and saved it for future use. There is nothing wrong with it.

M/C is either soft and no pressure, or hard as a rock, after that it's all about power assist, booster diaphragm area, and the chosen sizes of M/C diameter versus caliper piston size. Those things are locked in place.

I think there is something design wise not right there. Maybe older car performance not really considered when overall booster size was picked. BOTH my cars did it and both problems did not show until over 100K miles. I've not changed the one way check in brake booster line, even though it seemed fine I wonder if there could be an issue there. Part not expensive.........I wonder as well if there are some sort of high friction pads that grip more. I'd give away pad wear for more grab. Maybe the stock Ford pad was that good huh?

Some of it HAS to be the motor condition, these drop off power quite a bit after 100-125K, that's GOT to affect the power assist.

No proportioning valve per se but the small cylinders screwed into two ports of M/C are pressure limiting valves, they lower pressure to rear brakes to help control lockup in the rear. That's on non-ABS car like mine, sometimes those limiters can be on the ABS unit.

I could not agree with you more, maximum stopping occurs with lockup, I do not like ABS cars because they do not seem to stop hard enough to me.
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