When you put pressure on the brake pedal of your car, it should always respond with a consistent and slightly stiff feeling. If you press your foot on the pedal and it feels soft, spongy or really loose, that's a key indication that your car has a brake problem. If you're not overly familiar with the brake system and troubleshooting, here are a few things you'll want to know.
Troubleshooting The Problem
Before you decide if you need a mechanic or not, you should check out a few of the most common trouble spots.
Brake Fluid - One common cause of spongy brakes is low fluid in the brake system. Lift the hood and remove the cover from the master cylinder. Look at the brake fluid level to be sure that it is level with the "FULL" line. If it isn't, add some fluid to the master cylinder and replace the cover.
Air Pockets - Any air pockets in the brake lines will disrupt the hydraulic fluid pressure level. This can lead to soft brake pedals, too. You'll want to bleed the brakes to remove any air pockets. Start at the driver's side rear tire. Jack up the rear of the car so that you can access the bleeder valve behind the wheel. Attach a piece of rubber tubing on the bleeder valve and then put the opposite end of the tube into a clean bottle. Use a box-end wrench to open the bleeder valve. You'll need a small wrench because the valve is small. Open the master cylinder, then have a friend watch the fluid level and top it off as needed while you're working. You'll also want to have someone sitting behind the wheel to press the brake pedal down. He or she should hold the brake pedal down while you open the valve. With the brake pedal on the floor, hold the valve open for about ten seconds. Then, close the valve and have the person in the car release the pedal. Repeat this process until you no longer see air bubbles in the hose. Work your way around the car doing the same with each bleeder valve. Then, once you're done bleeding the brakes, top off the master cylinder and close it.
Damaged Lines - When you've bled the brake lines, any sponginess that remains may be due to a crack or other damage in the brake lines. Cracks, holes or punctures can allow brake fluid to seep out and air to get in, which will cause soft brakes. You'll want to look around under the car for any signs of leaking brake fluid. If you can't spot it, an auto brake repair service technician can. If you do find the line, replace it with a new one, then repeat the bleeding process.
Recognizing the Need for a Mechanic
If you've gone through all of these steps and you're still having trouble with your car's brakes, that may mean that there is a bigger problem at hand. You'll want to reach out to a brake repair technician to have the whole brake system tested.