spongy brakes & dodgy handbrake

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mildwin | 14:28 Wed 23rd Dec 2009 | Cars
7 Answers
I put my car, Clio 1.2, into garage for winter check. They were very thorough and said that there was a problem with the rear brakes (cylinders I think they said, leaking small amount of fluid) but they were fine for now & to have them checked in 2-3 months. Yesterday, just a day after the check when I put the handbrake on there were no clicks at all & I had to pull it right up. Today, handbrake was intermittent, pulled up with a couple of clicks or none at all. And brakes became 'spongy' for want of a better word. Put my foot on them & they felt slack, not the usual amount of pressure. Only felt secure when pushed right to the floor. Obviously don't want to drive it like that. So, garage said 2 days ago there was a problem but that the brakes were ok for now. Could they have done something to it that has caused them to go sooner (I don't mean deliberately!)? And would what they said cause the handbrake issue too? I must add that I know nothing whatsoever about cars! Thanks


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First, let me say I'm in the U.S. but I think that certain components on all cars have a lot of similarity. I'd state up-front, that you need to take your car back to the garage that serviced it in the beginning.
Having said all that, here's a link to what were talking about:

The diagrams at the top indicate the probable two types of brakes on your car. The left hand picture are the disc brakes installed on both front wheels and the right picture represents those intalled on both rear wheels, called drum and "shoe".
Notice, on the right picture, the part labeled "wheel cylinder". This is the part your serviceman said was leaking. Not uncommon, but on some cars the leak is at the top or bottom of the cylinder, which in many cars is screwed onto the cylinder body. It's possible the service guy tried to tighten this to stop the leaking and in doing so exacerbated the problem. I'd say that's only a possibility.

At any rate, the "sponginess" you describe is caused, usually, by air in the brake hydraulic system. Hydraulic (or brake) fluids do not compress, but air does, hence, when you push on the pedal a bubble or more of air in the system will compress before actually moving the hydraulic fluid to do its job. (By the way, both the front and rear illustrated systems are all one, interconnected system.)
The handbrake is seperate from the pedal brake in that when you pull it on, it is attached to a cable system (under the floor) that engages only one or both of the rear brakes. It's usually adjustable.
My guess is the service center adjusted the rear brake "shoes" to compensate for wear and indoing so may have leaked fluid, added fluid and then didn't "bleed" the brake system to get rid of air bubbles. A simple problem, really. Same with the adjustment on the handbrake... but take it back to them to remedy...
At any rate, best of luck!
Hi, how far does your pedal go down? the handbrake can be adjusted from inside the car below the handbrake lever, this requires the rear wheels to be jacked up the car in 1st gear & a wedge put under the front wheels, there are two adjustable nuts at the end of the cable that is visible when you move the carpet to one side, leave the handbrake down & adjust until the handbrake "CLICKS" about 4 clicks, go to the rear of the car & check that the brakes are just catching the drum if so, that should do it, whilst under the rear & the weather is fine & dry check the brake back plate to see if it's wet!! if so, you need to replace that side cylinder. If the cylinders where leaking the garage would be way out of order to let you take the car away as they could be done if an accident occurred knowing what they stated. " leaking cylinder."
I'm familiar with Renault Clio's. I had a 1.9 diesel version a few years ago.

The handbrake and the brake pedal are different entirely. The handbrake is simply a lever which pulls a cable which in turn locks on your rear brakes.

The pedal, as accurately described by Clannad, is part of the hydraulic braking system.

I don't get why you've got problems with both the handbrake AND the pedal. Sounds like someone at the garage has been tinkering around and hasn't done his job properly. Take it back.
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thank you for all your replies. I have since called the garage who told me the brake & handbrake problem are caused by the weather & road conditions (snow, rain, grit, debris, etc). I took the car out for a short run today & it seemed much better. Garage said that the weather we have had recently has caused a number of people to call them with exactly the same issues as I have had. He explained to me why it was happening, but to be honest I didn't really get it; something to do with the weather/road conditions causing problems somewhere in the brakes & handbrake and that once it has dried out & got rid of the debris the brakes will be back to normal. That is why they felt so much better today & the handbrake was normal, no slack or anything. Mechanic said that the more it is driven the quicker they will return to normal.
As the brakes & handbrake feel better, almost normal, does the garages opinion seem valid? Has anyone heard of this before? Thanks
Practically everything the garage has told you is rubbish, take it to a decent garage and tell them you want your brakes checked thoroughly
I agree with Toureman. I can tell you that I am a fully qualified vehicle technician by trade and that garage is talking utter rubbish. Being encouraged to drive quicker and further on dodgy brakes is a complete 'NO-NO' and they should NOT be recommending you or anyone else to do this.
If they have un-seated the rear shoes from their contact points on the wheel cylinder pistons or put adjustment on worn shoes which ultimately takes them further out, the pedal will be spongy as that end of the system requires more fluid to push the pistons out.
Definitely DO take it elsewhere, but I would personally look at either the good garage guide, put something on here to find a decent garage local to you, or get a recommendation from local word of mouth and report these cowboys to trading standards. The advice that they have given you, is in my professional opinion - DANGEROUS!

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