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Major Intrepid ABS Problem

Q. Dear Sir, 1997 Dodge Intrepid ES, 71,000 miles. I have gone through HUGE disappointment and frustration related to a unknown root of a brake malfunction (and also poor Dodge service to my brakes). The main problem is that I still don't know what is wrong with my car.

I have paid almost $5,000.00 in repair work and parts trying to completely eliminate the brake problemsI had with a 1997 Dodge Intrepid ES. To no avail. The problems seems similar to a 1995 Dodge Intrepid "Hot wheels" complaint at a "All Data" site.

Briefly the problem is: front wheels (i.e rims) get very hot while driving; the car stumbles on smooth acceleration from a stand still, upshifts with difficulty, runs like it constantly works against a brake drag. After a while of driving the brakes begin to feel spongy, not responding too well, with increased braking distance and a feeling of lack of safety (the car feels hard to stop even at low speed or parking maneuvers).

My car used to run exceptionally well until the brake started to seem to get sticking, binding at the beginning of June 2002. The car has now 71,000 miles on it.

In the mean time, I took the car to three service centers, two of them being highly rated Chrysler/Dodge service dealer shops.

First they said I had to change the master cylinder since it was leaking and that the brake fluid looked "contaminated", very dark. They also recommended to change the front pads. The front disks were blue from overheating, and they acknowledged that was not normal. They recommended to resurface the front rotors.

The car was at this dealer for about a week. When taking the car back from them, first I looked at the brake pads: they were pretty distant from the disk, not making contact and that is how I thought they should be, (it turns out that is not true after all). But I was happy at that point that the pads were not tightly applying to the disks like before.

Immediately after starting the car I heard a clicking noise coming from the front wheels: the pads were now stuck to the disks. The car ran incredibly poor: stumbled, with a much more serious brake drag than before. Soon the new pads were smoking. I took the car to another service shop: they found that the calipers were completely stuck, with the sliders not working at all. They changed the calipers, put new pads, and recommended to put new (refurbished) rotors in the front because they were already too thin.

After all this work, the car had the same problem: hot wheels in the front, stumbled, poor acceleration etc. (running with some degree of braking on all the time).

I took the car to a third dealer: Suburban Dodge Metuchen, NJ.

They said: the whole brake system was probably contaminated and a lot of parts, units and hoses had to be replaced: ABS module and pump/motor; main hydraulic control unit (HCU), hoses etc. Total: around $2,800.00.

I was stunned but they guaranteed that the problem will disappear after changing all that.

It occurred to me then that they did not really know what they were doing (except ripping me off) and what the problem was actually. (if they wanted to basically replace everything that was left unreplaced up to that point).

Well, they did all this work and guess what? The problem was and still is there. Not to mention that they also did a poor job in bleeding the brakes properly and they actually gave me first time a car with no brakes almost.

After all this I returned the car to them saying that my front wheels are still getting too hot, excessively hot! that this is not normal and something is wrong with this car that they fail to diagnose (not to mention to fix). They said that "nothing is wrong with the car now"! but the car had the same problem which they performed all the repair for! in the beginning.

After trying to negotiate and reach a deal with them, they said is nothing more they could do, that everything was in normal parameters and that is normal for the front wheels to get hot after braking. But I know this car from personal experience and I know something is very wrong. This wheel overheating happens only in connection with the obvious brake drag, stumbled acceleration etc.

The temperature of the rims (NOT ROTORS) can get up to 220° F after a short-medium drive with moderate braking.

I asked them deliberately to change the ABS wheel sensors since I read in several places/manuals they could be worn/demagnetized easily and readily begin to send erroneous signals; while it was against their advice they did it anyway. It was the only repair that had an effect on how my car was running. The acceleration is much better and overall the ride is smoother, like the car has better performance overall.

This pointed to (in my thinking at least) an ABS related problem, some kind of a glitch, electronic command failure or proper signaling in the control "department" which regulates ABS and the pressure applied to the brakes.

It happened recently that I left a light on inside the car and my battery went almost dead. I called AAA they gave me a jump start, and at that point the ABS and Traction control warning lights were on (they were from the beginning when I tried to start the car with a dead battery).

Probably because there was not enough voltage in the circuits, so the computer disconnected the ABS module (and the traction control which is off when ABS is off). Since I had to keep my engine running after that (for recharging the battery); then I took off after 15 minutes for a 50 mile ride to Brooklyn (from central New Jersey).

During this drive, the ABS and traction control warning lights were on (these systems off). But, that was one of the best rides with my car in the past three months!

There was NO brake drag, nice and fine responsive brakes, and the front wheels were not getting hot (just a little bit warm) after this drive through a lot of traffic. The car was flying! compared to how it ran with the ABS on. (At the next key, after the 50 mile drive, the lights were not lit anymore).

To repeat/confirm the experiment, I made another test. I disabled the ABS module by removing its fuse (#6 at Dodge Intrepid ES 1997) (which also controls speed sensitive steering).

I can tell definitely that the car runs definitely better without the ABS! (although it is a little harder to steer in this conditions with the speed sensitive steering off, this was just for the test).

So, after this immense story, my questions to you dear Sir, are:

Do you know of problems with ABS electronics (solenoids?) controls that may put to much pressure on the brakes at all times, causing a brake drag, making it hard to drive, giving poor performance, causing the front wheels to heat up excessively? etc.

(As another confirmation of excessive pad friction, the new pads installed on July 2002 are now sounding like they need to be replaced. The specific indicative sound of wear is now heard without pushing the brakes, at turns or at slow speed).

Particularly, is this a common problem to Dodge Intrepid or Chrysler models?

What is wrong in this ABS vicious circle? Which component is out of wack? burned etc.?

How should I prove to a dealer that the malfunction lies within the ABS system (the dead battery incident and "taking out the fuse" were enlightening occurrences to me, but are they acceptable to be presented as arguments?) i.e they might say: we are not responsible for what happens if you take out the fuse or if the battery is out etc. (you know THAT type of line, when they attempt to shift responsibility to you as a owner). What would be the solution?

Thank you very much.

A. WOW!! I'm glad you put it briefly. I can't imagine how long it would have been if you left in all the details.

First off, I hope that someone somewhere along the line checked all the fuses, including the fuses in the junction block. I'd hate to think that $5,000.00 in repairs and a major documentary came as a result of a blown 10 amp fuse.

It would seem that since everything was replaced, including the ABS Control Module that the problem is not a component, but rather a wiring problem. There is also the possibility that the traction control is causing the problem.

I would take this information to the dealer. It will help them in finding the problem. Maybe they put in a defective ABS Control Module. New does not always mean good. They will probably try a new control module and see if that takes care of it.

You got a tough nut to crack here and beyond what was already done, there is not much more I can add.

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