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Old 01-07-2014, 03:41 AM   #1
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No Brakes Indicator On Old Vans

All you lucky enough to have an owner's manual for your old van feel free to laugh at me. For those of not so endowed, this is posted for safety reasons.

Halfway through my 200+ mile trip home from Austin after picking up my new Penthouse, my brakes went out. Fortunately, I didn't know this until I rudely interrupted a sleeping curb at McDonalds. Brakes stopped van eventually but on with me and six men standing on the pedal. Worked my way to a place I could buy some brake fluid. Added about 1/2". That helped. Decided to proced but only if I could keep a million miles back from the car ahead.

No warning lights of any kind to this point.

Went another 30 mi to a wrench shop open on Sat..Told me I had very little vacuum. No parts available; so, I drove it home, totally amazed at my dumb luck for pulling it off. Only scare was a red light at the bottom of a hill. Got 'er dun, but really learned how heavy these 350 beasts are. I've later learned my pedal was actually operating the master cylinder, but totally wo any power boost function.

There are only two things about a camper van, the good things and the bad things. You get to vote which this was.

POINT OF STORY: I read in wiring manual that I sent off for tonight that there's a "low/lost" vacuum switch and warning light. (For the non wrenches, vacuum produced by a pump is necessary to run brake booster, a/c, & other good stuff.). Now, I'm really PO'd that mine didn't come on. I wouldn't have known what it was; but at least I deserved a chance. However later TONIGHT, I read further in the wiring schematics to learn that my emergency brake light IS that indicator. And, of course, mine came on right after I left the mechanic and stayed on. NOW, they tell me.

So, if your emergency brake signal stays on, the brake may be fine, but your service brakes are about to ruin your day.

JC
1999.5 350 RB cargo 7.3
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Old 01-07-2014, 06:13 AM   #2
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Re: No Brakes Indicator On Old Vans

Any idea or troubleshooting determining why your warning light didn't come on?

This is great advice for anyone with a similar van---thanks for sharing your unfortunate but safe-outcome experience.
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Old 01-07-2014, 07:13 AM   #3
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Re: No Brakes Indicator On Old Vans

I have replaced the vacuum pump on my 7.3L twice (so three pumps so far). They are made in Bulgaria if I remember right. Yes, without vacuum, stopping is accomplished by leveraging your body against the brake pedal by pulling up on the steering wheel and standing on the brake pedal. Not fun.
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Old 01-07-2014, 09:04 AM   #4
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Re: No Brakes Indicator On Old Vans

Huh, good to know in my 98 Ford!
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Old 01-07-2014, 10:54 AM   #5
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Re: No Brakes Indicator On Old Vans

Good to know about the parking brake light function.

Only thing scarier than a 10,000# E350 with normal brakes is one with no brakes at all.
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Old 01-07-2014, 11:30 AM   #6
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Re: No Brakes Indicator On Old Vans

My 06 PSD did the same thing on the way to the Valley of Fire meet when I decided I needed some fuel...guess the gas station guys thought I figured their prices were too high cause I flew past the pumps at about 40 MPH. No idiot lights ever came on until after I was stopped. Got towed to Las Vegas. Vac pump failed. I'd like to have some kind early warning before the pump goes south. If I was on the freeway and needed to stop quickly or if in the backcountry it might have been big trouble.
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Old 01-08-2014, 06:30 AM   #7
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Re: No Brakes Indicator On Old Vans

Not familiar with an engine's vacuum pump failing so if I'm mistaken or out of place don't hesitate to bash me!

Is it possible to plumb a gauge into the vacuum system that would monitor its performance? The direct reading types would be quick and easy but something more sophisticated with a pressure sensor and light and/or siren providing the alert if pressure falls below a set point?
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Old 01-08-2014, 07:07 AM   #8
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Re: No Brakes Indicator On Old Vans

Gasoline engines make their own vacuum. Diesels don't so require a belt driven or electric vacuum pump. The tell tale sign has always been a clanking under hood for me. BTW, my ABS light would flicker on, however, it was never my ABS system which was the problem. It was the vacuum pump.
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Old 01-09-2014, 09:49 PM   #9
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Re: No Brakes Indicator On Old Vans

I'm embarrassed to post this because all the DIY wrenches will think I'm an idiot; but here goes.

I needed to take the van to the dealer for the cruise control and cam shaft sensor recalls. While it was there, I decided I just didn't want to drive w/o full brakes any longer. I kicked that sleeping guard dog just about as much as I dared w/o some serious consequences. So, I hired the Ford dealer to fix my brakes, too. I could have tried it myself; but it's cold and raining outside. I could have waited to get it to cheaper mechanics I know; but it would require driving distances in the rain.

So, in case you, too, get caught up in this breakdown and have to pay a dealer, here's what it cost me north of Dallas: $279.83 incl sales tax for the vacuum pump assembly (these go up to $500+ depending on your VIN) and $309.95 for labor. I didn't notice what this dealers cost-per-hour is; so, I donno how many hours the book says can be billed.

I wished it hadn't gone out; but I'm lucky it did when I could handle it near home and not OTR. Besides, I might have changed it, anyway, on a 14-year-old engine with 182,000 before going OTR. So, I spent $589.78; BUT that's only $89.78 more than my collision deductible if I'd hit something instead.

Y' see, I can justify this huge amount ALLLLL day long, if need be.

JC
1999.5 RB 350 cargo 7.3
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Old 01-09-2014, 11:04 PM   #10
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Re: No Brakes Indicator On Old Vans

That's about list for the part. The labor seems high to me. But you are lucky. The reason I now wrench on my vehicles is the following:

I noticed my brake warning light flickering, that there was a little knocking sound under the hood, and that it was taking more peddle pressure to brake. So, I called "my guy" at the dealer who had been promoted from service writer to service director about 6 months before, explained the concern. His response was "Bring it in, it could be your ABS Control Module." Which I correctly suspected is the single most expensive component in the entire braking system. I.E., he "went" for the $1,800 part first.

I made the appointment. Then canceled it, because I didn't feel completely comfortable with the advice. Then I drove it around a parking lot and braked hard and my ABS felt like it was functioning.

So, I decided to drive it until failure. And the knocking got worse, then I could isolate it to the vacuum pump and I could see the lines running to the braking cannister. Then the lights went on and I knew what to replace and it didn't look like a $1,800 part.

And I have replaced it once again - did I mention the pump is made in Bulgaria?

Since that episode, I have bought the Ford oem Service Manual set off ebay and I either do it myself or with a buddy or at the dealer but only after I am pretty sure I know what needs to be done.
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