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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi, I'm tasked with fixing ASAP my partner's 1998 Forester, S model according to body badges. My past repair experience has been mostly with Chrysler products (from a '63 Valiant to an '05 Town & Country) and 105/115 series Alfa Romeos, so I'm looking for some advice before diving in, especially if there might be anything distinctive to Subaru that I've never previously encountered. (God knows Alfa has some things that only they do.)

The problems are two:

1) The ABS light will sometimes come on at start-up. If it doesn't come on, it might come on before she gets to the end of the driveway. It might then go out. Once she gets to her destination and restarts her car, the light may stay out. Or not.

2) More seriously, a couple weeks back, her brake pedal went to the floor without stopping the car; she describes the steering as being slightly out of control, which I interpret as the brakes slightly grabbing in front, but unevenly. Upon pumping the pedal, the brakes returned. All was fine for a couple of weeks after that, but then it happened again. She hasn't driven the car since.

Now, if it was just 1), I'd suspect a dirty or failing ABS wheel sensor. If it was just 2), I'd lean toward the master cylinder failing and that I should replace it. So my question is, are these two separate problems that just happen to be happening at the same time, or might there be a relation and there's something else I should look at? Any other advice?

She loves the car otherwise, despite its age.

Thank you so much for your help.

--Bob

Edit: I should have noted that there is no loss of brake fluid; it remains near the full mark.
 
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How many miles ago were pads replaced? Total miles on odometer?

When were brakes flushed with new fluid last?

Fluid in the reservoir looks dark or more clear like fresh fluid?

Any service records for the brakes?

Have you driven the car? If so, what are your impressions?

Pull a front wheel, or two,,, and check condition of pads, if there's anything left.

Speculating about causes without some background info and some preliminary investigating is kind of pointless.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I haven't had a chance to get into the car since this all came up. Hopefully Saturday. We've had the car for three years, and we were told the pads were new at that point. I had a wheel off maybe a year ago replacing vapor system and fuel filler components, and I would have noticed if the pads were worn, at least on that wheel. My partner uses the car fairly lightly, maybe three days a week on chores around town, and maybe once a month a fifty-mile round trip out of town. The fluid has not been flushed during our ownership. I'll take a closer look as soon as I can, but I think the fluid in the MC is a bit dark, not real dark, but not like new fluid. I'll look again and get the mileage asap. I don't think I've driven the car in many months, certainly not since the brake issue has happened.
 
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Pedal to the floor is fairly indicative of a fluid flush being necessary... every 2-3 years is considered standard maintenance.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Okay, the car has 139,400 miles. There is a note under the hood that the timing belt was replaced at 116k, and that was before we got the car, so figure we've put on maybe 20k at most in the past few years, probably less.

Fluid in the MC appears less dark than iced tea, probably about as dark as an amber beer. Definitely not fresh.

So are you saying that I might need just to flush the fluid and not have to worry about replacing the MC?
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Went to pick up a master cylinder today and they asked me whether it was 2- or 4-wheel ABS. I wasn't aware this was an option. I guess I have to check and see if there are sensors at all four wheels. The spec list on this site says "four channel ABS," so I don't know where NAPA is getting this from. Stuff like this slows me down.
 

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I fought that battle a couple of times, where the braking gets vague.
You may need to bench bleed the MC. Just a procedure - not difficult but will save you frustration.
Also, it can be a bit tricky to get the air out of the ABS system using the standard brake pedal pump method. See if you can rent or borrow a pressure bleeder. When I had a chance to buy a Branic 300 brake bleeder on craigslist, I jumped on that. It will make your repair go smoothly and without ambiguity.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
For the sake of closure, we replaced the master cylinder and bled new fluid through the system. So far so good.
 
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