The humble brakes play a vital role in the workings of any car. Yet, we’re often ignorant of its needs when it comes time for maintenance. We worry a lot about how the engine or the transmission is doing whenever servicing is due. But not so much the brakes, as we expect them to just work as-is. That is, until it suddenly doesn’t, and you get involved in a nasty accident. That’s why more people should absolutely pay attention to their brakes, and how much does a brake fluid flush cost.
Brake fluids are one of the many pieces within the entire braking system. As with many other parts that are mechanical, fluids are necessitated to keep them functioning. Motor oil and transmission fluids lubricate your engine and gearbox, respectively. Coolants keep your engine running cool, while power steering fluid hydraulically actuates the steering rack. Brake fluids are like the latter, and we explore more about it in this guide on the brake fluid flush cost that you need to know.
- What Is Brake Fluid?
- Different Types
- Can You Mix Them?
- Why Need A Flush?
- How To Flush?
What Is Brake Fluid, And How Does It Work?
Before we get into discussing more on brake fluid flush cost, we should first unravel what it does. As we mentioned earlier, brake fluids are akin to power steering fluid in that their primary function is hydraulic in nature. Brake fluids are pressurized, non-compressible, and hygroscopic, which makes them efficient at transferring force. Generally, they can either be silicone or glycol-based in their compound, and there are a few different types of brake fluids, which we’ll get into in more detail.
For now, let’s look at the step-by-step process of how it works. When you press down on the brake pedal, the brake fluids inside the braking lines become pressurized. This converts the energy from your foot to convert it into braking pressure. Either mechanically or electronically, this pressurized brake fluid could then push a piston through the brake’s master cylinder. This then rushes fluids to the brake calipers, and compressing them to squeeze down on the brake pads.
This would, in turn, start clamping down on the brake rotors. Now, multiply those brake lines – filled with pressurized brake fluids – to all four corners of your car. The brakes can start to create a lot of friction, which will slow down your car. Brake fluids are designed for more than just their hydraulic purpose, however, as they also need to get through the heat. All that friction causes heat, which may result in lesser fluids to boil or evaporate, which may have an impact on the braking force.
What Are The Different Types Of Brake Fluids?
As we mentioned earlier in our brake fluid flush cost guide, there are a few different types of brake fluids that you can put in your car. Since you will, after all, be reading this in prepping for a flush and replacement of your brake fluids, you must learn the make-up of these different fluids. On the market today, you’ll find four different mixtures of brake fluids. Here’s a rundown of what makes them unique from each other…
DOT 3 – It’s based on a glycol-ether formulation. A key metric in many brake fluids is its boiling point. With DOT 3, the ‘dry’ – or pure brake fluid – boiling point is around 401°F. Meanwhile, ‘wet’ – or mixed with around 4% water – has a lower boiling point of 205°F. DOT 3 brake fluids are highly corrosive, so be careful when you’re doing the flush. Owing to its compound, DOT 3 is the most common brake fluid that you’ll find in most vehicles, as is suited for everyday cars.
DOT 4 – Mostly similar in composition to DOT 3, but with a far higher boiling point of around 446°F on average. As with DOT 3, it’s highly corrosive, and can absorb moisture or water from the air. On this last point, you should be wary about trying to expose DOT 4 (and DOT 3) to the atmosphere too much when you’re doing the flush. DOT4’s higher boiling point makes it the perfect brake fluid for high-performance cars, where they might otherwise exceed the boiling point of DOT 3.
But DOT 3 and 4 aren’t the only brake fluids around. Albeit, they are very commonly found in many road cars and vehicles today. So, it’s very likely that your particular car uses DOT 3 or 4 type brake fluids, depending on the exact specification. It’s worth giving your owner’s manual a quick look, or call up the local dealer to find out what type of brake fluids your car uses. But while we’re at it, here are a couple more mixes of brake fluids that you might not have to worry too much over…
DOT 5 – This is a silicone-based mixture, and has a very high boiling point of 500°F. Other benefits include its ability to not attract water or moisture, and could even prevent rust from building up in the system. However, DOT 5 is also very expensive, and specific only to certain vehicles. Cars fitted with ABS systems aren’t recommended to run DOT 5. In fact, specialized or higher grade DOT 4 brake fluids could sometimes outperform DOT 5. You won’t need to worry about this in most cases.
DOT 5.1 – Oddly, DOT 5.1 has more similarities with DOT 3 and 4 in terms of its chemical mixture, as it is not silicone-based like DOT 5. Yet, DOT 5.1 brake fluids have roughly similar wet and dry boiling points as with DOT 5 (or higher and specialty grade DOT 4) fluids. DOT 5.1 does have lower viscosity, which some vehicles absolutely need. As with DOT 5, though, you probably won’t need to worry about DOT 5.1, as most road-going cars wouldn’t use them.
Could You Mix Different Types of Brake Fluids?
So, here’s the next conundrum that we’re posing for our guide on brake fluid flush cost. You’re just about to change out the old brake fluids, but aren’t bothered to do a full flush on it. Instead, you half-heartedly drain out the old brake fluids, to then top-up some new ones. However, you find that they don’t sell the particular type of brake fluid that you need, so you buy something else and hope that it’ll just work. The question we have here, is whether it’s a good idea to mix brake fluids?
In short, our answer to this is ‘No’. But to elaborate, the answer might turn into a ‘Maybe’ as some brake fluids are indeed compatible with one another. DOT 3, 4, and 5.1 are technically compatible with one another. If you’re in a bit of a bind and are running low on brake fluids, then substituting one for the other is acceptable… So long as you’re only doing this for emergencies. Don’t drive for too long with brake fluids that are incompatible, or weren’t originally intended for your car.
This might cause a brake fluid leak, or the braking pressure not being adequately forceful enough. Once you’ve arrived at a proper workshop, you can then have your brakes flushed, and with the right type of fluids topped up. However, DOT 5 is not compatible with any other mix of brake fluids. Putting DOT 5 in a non-DOT 5 brake system, or mixing non-DOT 5 fluid into a DOT-5 system could have serious consequences. Doing so could damage your brakes quite badly.
Why Should You Need To Worry About Brake Fluid Flush Cost Anyway?
Although, if brake fluids are that important, why should folks be concerned about brake fluid flush cost anyway? Well, there are some factors to consider that would inevitably result in your brake fluids no longer being as effective as it once was. Remember the boiling points that we harped on earlier? Just like motor oil or transmission fluid, the constant exposure to heat – even if it’s manageable – could sooner or later wear down your brake fluids, which become “burnt”.
This will have an effect on the hydraulic properties of the brake fluids, and they might not be able to transfer force as firmly as before. Another variable to think about is the fluids’ exposure to water, moisture, or other debris within the brake lines. DOT 3, 4, and 5.1 fluids are hygroscopic, meaning that they can absorb water from the humidity in the air. This moisture can still seep in or build up even in the most airtight brake reservoir, which will begin to contaminate the brake fluids.
But why is a bit of water bad? Brake fluids are incompressible under pressure. That said, water has a lower boiling point, which allows the contaminated brake fluids to boil a lot sooner than ‘pure’ fluids might. When it boils, it turns into a gas, which is compressible. When this happens, the next time you press down on the brake pedals, instead of your energy being used to compress the brake pads, it’s now wasted on trying to compress that gas. In the end, your braking force is substantially reduced.
What Are The Symptoms That Can Prompt You Towards Brake Fluid Flush Cost?
So far, we’ve uncovered quite a lot in our guide on brake fluid flush cost. We know now what brake fluids are and how they work, as well as the varying types of fluids and why we need to replace them. But how can you know – aside from following your car’s planned servicing schedule – that you should worry about needing a flush? How can you tell that your brake fluids are on their way out in the first place? Thankfully, there are some tell-tale symptoms that you can look out for.
Once you’ve had your first encounter with any of these, it’s worthwhile to consider bearing the brunt of brake fluid flush cost. That is, before you get yourself into a very dangerous scenario of your car not stopping when you want, and need it to…
1. ABS Light Turns On
ABS, or ‘anti-lock braking system’ is a very common feature on most modern cars. It prevents your vehicle’s brakes from locking up, and thus potentially avoiding you from skidding along the road. The ABS has sensors within the braking system to check if everything’s all well and dandy. When the ABS warning light does come on, it might signal that one of many different things is wrong with your brakes. Needing to top-up or replace your brake fluids is one of them, so do pay close attention.
2. Unusual Pedal Feel
You can tell a lot about a car in how it feels, and the sensation you get from the controls. One of the myriads of ways that you interact with your car is through the brake pedals. As you’re putting weight on it to pressurize the brake fluids, you can tell that something is off when the brake pedal feels a bit odd. It might be that you have to press down hard on the brake pedals to make your car stop. Or, the pedal itself feels very spongy and soft. Either way, you might want to check your brake fluids.
3. Odd Noises Under Braking
Your car shouldn’t make any noises while it’s braking, at least under ordinary situations. Some types of brakes – like certain carbon ceramics – may squeal or squeak when you brake. Still, most ordinary cars that we all drive should be fairly quiet. Therefore, hearing those odd high-pitch sounds any time you’re pressing down on the brake pedal might point out that there are problems that abound. If your brake fluids are worn out as they’re getting old, or if there’s not enough of them, this may happen.
4. Poor Braking Performance
There can be many reasons why your brakes aren’t working as well as they used to. Suddenly, you find that you need to put a lot more pressure on the brake pedal to make your car slow down. Or, it may be that you’re taking up a lot more distance in order to come to a complete halt. If you find your car braking very poorly, then you should certainly have it checked right away. One common culprit is brake fluid that is badly burnt, contaminated, or insufficient in quantity to perform as it’s made for.
5. Car Pulling To The Left Or Right While Braking
One very dangerous sign that you need to contemplate brake fluid flush cost is what happens you press down on the brake pedal. Do you notice your car pulling to the left or right? Well in that case, then you certainly need to check your brakes and their fluids. When you have a low quantity of brake fluids, it won’t be able to distribute adequate braking pressure to all four wheels. Thus causing one wheel to brake more than the other, resulting in your car veering from side to side.
6. Dirty Brake Fluid
You could check the quality of the brake fluids by yourself under the hood. This is where the brake fluid reservoir hides. It should be noted that different brands and types of brake fluids have differing colors. Some of them are blue, purple, or green. However, the vast majority of brake fluids are of a yellow or golden tint. If you notice that this very bright yellow or honey-like gold hue has gone dark, such as a dark brown or black, then you urgently need to flush and replace it.
How Much Does A Brake Fluid Flush Cost?
Right, we’ve gone on long enough. Now, it’s time to get into the meat of our guide here, and discuss more on brake fluid flush cost. On average, most are paying in the neighborhood of $70 to $200 for a full brake fluid flush and replacement. Generally, they tend to be somewhere in the middle, around $100 or $150. At least brake fluid flushes are usually done once every 30,000 miles or 2 years, so you won’t have to worry about brake fluid flush cost all too often.
You’ll have to factor in a few significant variables that affect the final price. A lot of brake fluids can be found for just $30 or so per bottle. For much of the extra expense, it’s mostly to cover the cost of labor. Nonetheless, it’s a price that is absolutely worth paying for, both to ensure your safety and the lifespan of your brakes. Know that poorly brake fluids can prematurely wear out the brakes as a whole. Replacing the pads and rotors could cost you an extra $250 to $500 per axle.
How Could You Flush Your Brake Fluids?
Okay, so let’s say that maybe you’re keen to not pay the extra $100 or so in labor. Perhaps you would like to flush your brake fluids with your lonesome. You have a bottle of brake fluids that are perfect for your car… So what now? The good news here is that flushing your brake fluids is among the easiest forms of maintenance and servicing that you can do on your car DIY-style. You won’t need a lot of tools. Although, just make sure you don’t damage your car’s brakes.
If you’re going to this at home, it’s a good idea to have some goggles and gloves handy, as we noted before that brake fluids can be corrosive.
1. With your car turned off and in ‘park’, open the hood and find the brake fluid reservoir. Now, you’ll need to remove all the standing fluids within the master cylinder reservoir. Carefully, get a turkey baster or a siphon pump to suck out all the old brake fluids. Be careful not to drip this onto the paint, as it will stain and eat away into the paintwork.
2. A tiny bit of the old brake fluids will remain, but that’s fine for now. Once you’ve sucked out most of the old fluids, you can top up with fresh fluids until the reservoir is full. Following this, we can begin with bleeding out the remainder of the old fluids from the brake calipers.
3. Check with your owner’s manual or with the manufacturer as to which brakes you should start bleeding first. Usually, you’ll need to begin with the furthest brake caliper from the reservoir. So, if your master cylinder reservoir is on the driver’s side (front-engine car), then you’ll first need to go through the rear passenger-side caliper. Next, you can move to the rear driver-side caliper, then the front passenger-side caliper, and then the front-driver side.
4. When you already have an order in place, carefully jack up the car and remove the wheel to get better access to the brake caliper bleeder valve. Have some jack stands to safely keep your car in place. It would be helpful to have a hose attached so it doesn’t spill everywhere. Then, direct that to a tray or bucket.
5. With someone to help you, have them pump the brake pedal a few times until it gets stiffer. Now, make sure your partner is holding their foot down on the hardened brake pedal. Pop open the bleeder valve, and the old brake fluids should start squirting out. While the fluid might stop gushing out, it still means that there are some fluids left in that caliper.
6. Keep repeating this process of pumping the brake pedal, and then opening and later closing the bleeder valve until you see the fresh brake fluid appears. You can notice this as the fluids change color from darker (old) to brighter (new).
7. Repeat this process for all four corners of your car. The final step would be to go back to your master cylinder reservoir. Then, top up with fresh fluids until it reaches the maximum marker. Then, put back all your wheels, and test out the brake pedal feel to make sure it’s firm.
So then, that just about sums up brake fluid flush cost. Although a price that you’ll still have to pay, a sum of around $70 to $200 is nevertheless a fairly small one in the grand scheme of things. For this, you get to have your brakes working in tip-top shape. Not only is this a big bonus for your safety and that of your occupants, but it also ensures that your brakes aren’t overworked. The consequence of which is a deeper hole in your bank account, let alone a visit to the hospital.
These tools have been tried and tested by our team, they are ideal for fixing your car at home.