ABS + Brake lights lit - is my Windstar safe to drive?
July 12, 2008 2:14 PM   Subscribe

Is my car safe to drive? My 2003 Ford Windstar's ABS + Brake lights intermittently go on. Searching yields lot of noise but I'm not sure what to make of it.

Most of the search results are either 44-page forum threads, unanswered questions, or just things I don't understand. Of course, its a weekend and no service places around are open. We are planning on taking a 2hr drive this afternoon - I'd like to know if my van is safe to drive. Or at least, is there a definitive site I should be reading? I'm overwhelmed by the number of auto-repair sites/forums.

Additionally, the lights are not always lit - my most recent 4-mile drive yielded no lights at all. My brake fluid was on the lower-end of the acceptable range, but I just added more(haven't driven since). However, the manual says that low fluid would light just the brake light and not the ABS light.

According to search results, a common issue seems to be heat; we're having a scorching July in Utah.

I'm not sure if fordwindstarrecall.info is relevant, i have the brake + abs light issues but not the fuse/speedometer/cruise control issues.

A local Autozone said there are no error codes reported by the car's computer, but i'm not sure if that would include brake codes. The common code getting kicked around is c1185.
posted by neilkod to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total)
When was your emergency brake adjusted last?
posted by loiseau at 2:35 PM on July 12, 2008

loiseau, I've never hard it adjusted.

I've spent the last hour or so poring over that long thread and there doesn't seem to be a unanimous fix to this issue. People are getting this and that replaced and the lamps are still lit. According to fordwindstarrecall.info, a NHTSA investigation is now underway.
posted by neilkod at 2:41 PM on July 12, 2008

Our Windstar ABS light is basically permanently on, and has been for probably a year or so. Haven't had any problems, YMMV.
posted by niles at 4:17 PM on July 12, 2008

* How do the brakes feel? Do they still seem to work the same, or are they losing their power?
* Do you hear any noise when applying the brakes? Grinding, squealing, etc?
* Does the brake pedal stiffen upon a hard brake?
* Does the emergency brake pedal engage the same way it always has, or does it seem to not want to catch the same way it always has?

Any or all of the above would typically indicate a mechanical problem that would correspond to the lights coming on. If you don't have any of these things happening, it's probably safe to drive until such time you can get it looked at.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:59 PM on July 12, 2008

Low brake fluid can happen as a result of normal brake wear; as the friction lining elements (disk pads and/or drum shoes) wear, it takes more brake fluid to fill the caliper/brake cylinder devices that actuate the brake on each wheel, and that fluid remains out in the caliper/brake cylinder until you replace the worn elements with new ones, forcing the fluid back into the master cylinder. (Of course, during that procedure, you should also evenly bleed out the old brake fluid to each wheel, and replace with new, as brake fluid is hygroscopic).

But the conditions detailed on your fordwindstarrecall.info site, and other sites (page down for message from ScottM, 11/23/07, who reported a fire in his vehicle, and his procedure for repair and disabling the ABS, which is expanded by him on the fordwindstarrecall.info site), where some people are reporting leaky brake pressure differential switches in ABS equipped vehicles, which allow brake fluid to wick down to the ECM (Engine Control Module), are plausibly applicable to your vehicle. Only an inspection and disassembly of the brake pressure differential switch could disclose whether the unit has failed on your vehicle. This could also account for brake fluid loss over time, and worse, represents a means by which the ECM module can be damaged, and a low risk of fire (brake fluid being flammable).

The best advice is to have your vehicle checked soon. They will need a scanner with SRS (level 2 and 3 code retrieval) capability to read ABS module codes, as the common OBD II scanners read only ECM codes. Note that you can have the brake pressure differential switch problem even without blown fuses or ABS module error codes.

I don't advise driving a vehicle with ABS disabled. The brake proportioning force between front and rear axles can be intentionally biased on ABS vehicles for greater braking force to the rear axle, than would be common on non-ABS vehicles, making the brakes on an ABS disabled vehicle touchy in the rain or other slippery conditions.
posted by paulsc at 5:04 PM on July 12, 2008

My 1999 Opel Omega (so no relation to your for minivan at all, but what the hell) had exactly the same problem - my break light would literally flash, especially when I was pulling Gs (tight turns, hard acceleration). I bought some brake fluid, topped it off and... everything was fine.

Now, that was about half a year ago. Turns out that my clutch pump was failing and leaking a bit. Got that replaced, cost me much less than a new clutch ($200 for everything vs $300 for just the clutch) and now my car is as good as gold.
posted by jedrek at 6:18 PM on July 12, 2008

I had a Bronco with the same problem. All it needed was a sensor replaced, about the size of a car cigarette lighter. Quick, easy, and relatively painless.
posted by Goofyy at 4:56 AM on July 14, 2008

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