So, you have been experiencing some weak response when you apply the foot on the brakes lately? In this case, this is a serious issue, and you probably need a brake fluid change.
- What Is Brake Fluid?
- How To Check Fluid Level?
- How Brakes Work
- When To Change?
- Choosing The Right Fluid
- DIY Fluid Change
- Fluid Change Cost
- What If I Don’t Change It?
Brake fluid, like all of the fluids in your vehicle, has a lifespan. If you push those fluids to the limit, it may impair your brake distance and possibly involve you in some nasty accidents. Or, other unhappy events on the road.
The braking fluid is a liquid that regulates the braking of the car. When you apply the brakes, the fluid is pumped inside of the brake calipers, and these calipers press against the pads. This pressure then makes your car stop.
Let’s say your car doesn’t stop well, or it has some delay when you apply the brake pedal. It means that there is something wrong with your braking system and this issue requires doing a thorough inspection of the vehicle’s brakes.
A good inspection will guarantee that your braking system is in good shape, and will not let you down when you need it the most.
In this article, we are going to cover everything concerning your brakes, and all the servicing that needs to be done to them in order to deliver a proper braking capability. We are going to discuss more on how often should you do this practice of servicing your brakes, and when should you do brake fluid change. Then, we are going to give you some awesome in-depth DIY of how you can perform this job at home using common tools. So, if you are interested, follow along.
What Is Brake Fluid?
Brake fluid is a special type of hydraulic fluid that is used for hydraulic brakes and hydraulic clutches. This fluid has many applications in cars, trucks, motorcycles. This fluid is used to transfer the force from the master cylinder and turn it into pressure. Then this pressure applies the brake force onto the wheels.
This fluid is usually made out of glycol ether. Although there are some fluids that are made out of mineral oil and there are also fluids that are silicone-based.
Each fluid needs to meet certain requirements in order to be used. In the United States, for example, there are some standards. These are called DOT 3, DOT 4, DOT 5, and DOT 5.1. The name DOT is referring to the US Department of Transportation. Although these are US standards, these standards are used globally.
Most of the brake fluids are colorless, except the DOT 5 which is purple. The DOT 5 is purple because it is made out of silicone and due to this, it must bear a purple color in order to be distinguished.
Vehicles that are using DOT 3 can also use DOT 4 and DOT 5.1. All these fluids are polyglycol ether solutions. The DOT 5 is silicone and that’s why they cannot be mixed.
The DOT 5 brake fluid is known for its stable viscosity and its stability over a wider temperature range. This DOT 5 brake fluid can absorb a small amount of air. So, it needs proper care when the brake system is flushed with new brake fluid.
This is why the DOT 5 is not that well accepted and had to be expanded with a new fluid which is DOT 5.1. The 5.1 is the non-silicone version of the DOT 5.
How To Check Your Brake Fluid?
Checking the brake fluid is an important task to do. If you do not check the level of the brake fluid and its condition, you are putting yourself at a big risk. In the worst-case scenario, you may end up with a low level of fluid and your brakes will not be able to create enough pressure in the master cylinder. This results in a soft brake pedal. In this case, your car will not be able to stop and you may end up crashing your car.
So, the best thing to do is to always check your brake fluid. And how do we perform this task? The first thing you need to do is to locate the brake fluid reservoir. This brake fluid reservoir is located on the firewall, right next to the master cylinder. This master cylinder is what creates pressure when you are applying the foot on the brakes.
Since you have located the master cylinder and the brake fluid reservoir. Now it’s time to check the fluid level. The first thing you need to do is to clean off the top of the reservoir with a rag or a microfiber towel. This will make sure that you don’t end up contaminating the brake fluid.
Once cleaned, now it’s time to open up the brake fluid reservoir. Pop open the cap and inspect the fluid levels. If the fluid level is optimal, then you are good to go. If the fluid level is low, then you have to fill up the reservoir to the max level. As we said, you don’t want to be left with a low level of brake fluid.
If the brake fluid is dirty, then it’s time for a brake fluid change. And later we are going to cover how you can do this.
How Does The Brake System Work?
The brakes are a complex system that incorporates a lot of plumbing inside of the car. Basically, it’s not that complex. You just need someone to break it down for you bit by bit. And in this chapter, we are going to do precisely that. We are going to explain how the brake system works.
The most important aspect of the braking system is the master cylinder. This master cylinder is mounted onto the firewall of your vehicle. This master cylinder creates a vacuum that applies pressure when you apply the brakes. The master cylinder is directly connected to the brake pedal that you are using to provide the brake system the user’s input.
On the top of the master cylinder, there is the brake fluid reservoir. This reservoir holds some of the fluid that is inside of the braking system and gives you an indication of the level of fluid inside of your braking system.
From the master cylinder, there are brake lines going to each wheel. These brake lines are pushing the hydraulic brake fluid which helps to make your car stop.
When you apply your foot on the brake, the master cylinder is sending fluid to each wheel. And this fluid is compressing the pistons of your brake calipers. The more pressure you apply, the harder the braking.
In other words, the more you apply the foot on the brake, the more the piston on the caliper expands. Then, this piston is pressing the brake pad to the rotor. And this friction between the brake pad and the rotor is what makes the car stop.
After you remove the foot from the brake pedal, the caliper is decompressing. This decompression results in the ability of the car to move again.
How Often Should You Do A Brake Fluid Change?
Changing your brake fluid regularly is the best for you and your car. By changing your fluids at regular intervals, you are always going to be sure that your brake system is in perfect working order. You will never have to worry if your brakes are going to let you down when you need them the most.
This is the case in some situations on the road. For example, a deer jumps in front of your car and you need to make an emergency stop. In this situation, if you have not changed your brake fluid for a long time, the brakes will be slow to react. This is so because your brake fluid is thick and dirty. This fluid will only lead you to an accident. Clean fluid, on the other hand, will work perfectly and should make sure that your car will stop.
In these emergency situations, you never know what may come in front of you on the road. The potential damages to your vehicle could be extremely high. If you don’t have insurance, then you are going to have to pay everything out of pocket. So, you don’t want to do that. Do a brake fluid change regularly. And what is the regular interval for your brake fluid change?
The regular interval for a brake fluid change depends on the make and model. However, most modern vehicles require brake fluid change every 30,000 miles, or every 2 years if you haven’t driven 30,000 miles in the span of 2 years.
Brake fluid starts to age and this can cause the fluid to get thicker and fill up with contaminants. These contaminants will impair the proper work of the fluid and will worsen your braking distance.
Choosing A Brake Fluid
When you want to change your brake fluid you also need to do research and find the right brake fluid for your vehicle. You don’t want to mess this up. Why does the type of brake fluid matter? Well, not are brake fluids are the same, as we mentioned there are DOT 3, DOT 4, DOT 5, DOT 5.1. All these fluids are different and you have to use the right fluid for your car.
If you have an older car then you are probably going to be good with DOT 3 or DOT 4. Most modern cars are using DOT 5 and DOT 5.1. These two fluids are completely different, as we said DOT 5 is based on mineral oil and the other DOT 5.1 is silicone-based fluid.
Check your factory specification and get the right fluid for your vehicle. That’s because if you add a DOT 5 in your car which is not made to run on this fluid, it may affect your braking performance. And you don’t want to do that.
Also, never mix DOT 5 with DOT 3, 4, or 5.1. This will ruin your brake fluid and will cause your car’s braking system to malfunction. Mixing fluids is not recommended, even if they are based on the same mineral oil formula. They are not interchangeable.
If you want to replace your fluid with a new one, you have to perform a complete brake fluid change and be sure that there aren’t any old brake fluid left inside of the system.
If you do not know what type of fluid your vehicle is running on, then the best thing to do is to leave the work to your mechanics. They know what’s best and will make sure that your car is in perfect working order.
How To Replace Brake Fluid DIY?
If you are a DIY guy, then you are probably looking for a way to change your brake fluid by yourself. Because that’s what we DIY guys do. We don’t let mechanics mess around with our cars, and we want to fix our problems by ourselves. Sometimes we fail, sometimes we succeed but everything is a learning process and if you don’t succeed in something for the first time, on the second try you will nail it.
In this case, with the brake fluid change, I wouldn’t recommend this work for a total beginner. A rookie will probably mess things up and possibly hurt himself. The braking system is crucial and has to be perfectly sorted in order for you to have a safe vehicle.
So, if you are a beginner, maybe you should leave this work to someone who is more experienced. Anyway, we are going to explain how this work is done, and what are the main steps. The tools that you will need are a wrench, hose, empty bottle, and a big syringe to suck the fluid that is inside of the brake fluid reservoir. So, let’s begin.
Clean your master cylinder with a paper towel and make sure that there are no contaminants that could possibly go inside of the reservoir.
Get a big syringe and start sucking the old brake fluid that is inside the reservoir. Make sure that the reservoir is almost empty when you are finished with removing the fluid from it. Remember, almost empty and not completely empty because you don’t want to get air into the master cylinder.
In this step, you are required to fill up the brake fluid reservoir with new brake fluid. You can even overfill the reservoir because when we bled the brakes, the braking system is going to leak out a lot of fluid.
Get a bottle, and pour this old brake fluid inside of the bottle. Poke a hole at the top of the bottle cap, and put a hose inside of the bottle.
This step involves removing all the wheels and jacking up your car. After this, you need to locate the bleeder valves on each wheel. This bleeder valve is located at the back of each wheel.
Connect the hose to the bleeder valve and open it. After the valve is opened, you will need another person to press on the brake pedal in order to create pressure that will force the fluid out from the bleeder valve. This fluid is now going in the bottle with your old brake fluid and the new fluid that you topped off your master cylinder goes inside of the braking system.
Repeat step 6 for each of the wheels and make sure that you fill the master cylinder tank regularly in order not to be left without brake fluid inside of the master cylinder. Make sure that you bleed the brakes until the old fluid is completely replaced with the new fluid that you added to the master cylinder.
And that’s it! Since there is no old brake fluid left in the hose and all of the fluid that comes out is completely clean, you are good to go.
There is also a one-person method. Although, this is a bit more complicated and I wouldn’t recommend it to a beginner that is still learning about cars. This is one that you can try when you get more advanced knowledge of how brakes work and how you can perform them without making errors.
How Much Does A Brake Fluid Change Cost?
This is the most important part. The cost of a brake fluid change is not that expensive. That’s especially if you perform this job by yourself at your home. With some simple tools, you can flush your brakes and you should not worry if something goes wrong. In this case, you will only have to pay for the fluid, which is relatively inexpensive coming at $20.
If you decide to do this job at a workshop, then you will probably have to pay a bit more since this job requires a few hours of labor. For example, if a mechanic spends 2 hours on your car for $50 per hour you will have to pay $100 plus the parts.
This price is also relative because there are some places that are more expensive than others, and there are places that are cheaper. So, it’s best to go to a place that will offer you the best quality to price ratio.
Should You Perform This Repair Or Should You Leave This Job To A Mechanic?
As we said above, if you are a beginner mechanic that doesn’t know a lot when it comes to brake fluid change. The best idea is to leave this job to someone that has more experience in this field. Remember that brakes are a crucial part of your car. If they are not in proper working order you may end up in an accident and can possibly hurt yourself.
Most importantly, when you are bleeding the brakes, try not to leave any air bubbles inside of the brake system. No air bubbles will guarantee that you performed this job well and you will not have to worry whether or not your brakes are in proper working order.
On the other hand, if you opt for a mechanic, you can pay more. But the end result will be better because mechanics know their job. They have performed this job countless times and they can do it with their eyes closed.
Although, there are some inept mechanics out there. So, keep your eyes peeled before you bring your car to them and leave it all in their hands. Such trust may cause you a lot in the long run.
What If I Keep Driving Like This?
If you are going to keep driving with dirty brake fluid, then you are risking your own safety and the safety of your occupants. Brake fluid needs to be clean in order for the brake system to work very well and always deliver proper performance.
If you are running your car on dirty brake fluid your lines may get clogged with debris and would prevent the fluid from circulating in the brake line. This will prevent your car from stopping or will affect your braking distance.
So, instead of 50 meters for your car to come to a stop, you will need 80 or 100 meters. This means a lot if you are asking me. That’s why you need new brake fluid that will make your brakes and your car completely safe.
Facts about Brake Fluid Maintenance:
- Brake fluid plays a crucial role in ensuring proper brake functioning, but it can become burnt out, depleted, or contaminated over time.
- Soft, spongy, or bouncy brake pedals are a sign that you need a brake fluid change.
- Low brake fluid can cause air to fill the gaps in your brake line, leading to soft brakes.
- The ABS dashboard light indicates an issue with your anti-lock braking system and can turn on automatically when brake fluid levels are low.
- Ineffective braking performance, delays or difficulties while slowing or stopping your vehicle, could be the sign you need a brake fluid flush.
- Strange sounds, such as scraping or grinding noises, or burning smells when braking, could indicate a problem with your brake fluid or another brake system component.
- Burnt-out brake fluid could lead to more serious issues, including brake failure.
- Routine maintenance for brake fluid flushes should be performed every 2 years or 30,000 miles.
- Maintenance schedules can vary based on driving patterns, with shorter routes with frequent braking requiring more frequent brake fluid flushes.
- Checking your vehicle’s owner’s manual can provide specific brake fluid information for your vehicle.
Brake Fluid Change – Conclusion
In this article, we have covered a lot when it comes to brake fluid change. We learned a lot about brake fluid and the types of brake fluid. This is important because you always need the right fluid in your braking system. If you use the wrong fluid your car may not be able to brake as it used to and can potentially get you in dangerous situations.
Then, we have covered the procedure of changing your brake fluid. How you can perform this job at your house with common tools. Bleeding the brake system is a simple procedure that is easy to do.
And lastly, we have covered the cost when it comes to brake fluid change. Moreover, whether or not you should perform this job by yourself, or if you should leave the job to a mechanic.
These tools have been tried and tested by our team, they are ideal for fixing your car at home.
Error in article:
“Most modern cars are using DOT 5 and DOT 5.1. These two fluids are completely different, as we said DOT 5 is based on mineral oil and the other DOT 5.1 is silicone-based fluid.”
It’s the other way around regarding composition of DOT 5 vs DOT 5.1 fluid. Too bad as I would’ve loved to have cited this article for my PhD thesis.