The brake system of your vehicle is a vital safety feature. Every vehicle on the road should have working brakes to ensure the safety of its drivers and passengers as well as pedestrians, bikers and the passengers in the other vehicles on the road. There are many components that make up the braking system, from the brake pad to the brake lines and hoses as well as the calipers and pistons.
The main braking components tend to be evaluated at standard checks however there are other parts that can become neglected and are equally important. It is important to have your brakes routinely checked over according to your owner’s manual. In addition there are signs you can look out for as an owner that will tell you if your braking system is having issues. You can find those signs here.
One of the necessary parts of a healthy braking system is brake fluid. Without this hydraulic fluid, the physical braking mechanisms would fail to work at all.
What Is Brake Fluid?
Brake fluid is the hydraulic fluid found in all braking systems that allows the transfer of pressure from the brake pedal to be applied to the brake pads and the wheels. When brake fluid is added to a vehicle, the entire system must be pressurized to allow the brake fluid to move throughout the system and facilitate the slowing of the vehicle.
Why Does Brake Fluid Need To Be Replaced?
The braking system is sealed to maintain the pressure needed to keep the brakes working. It is also effective at preventing fluid leaks and keeping outside contaminants from disrupting the quality of the brake fluid. However, over time as the brakes become worn and used, the integrity of the seal can deteriorate. When this happens, water, mud, dust, dirt, and metal pieces can end up in the brake fluid making it less effective. Even without outside contaminants, brake fluid needs to be routinely replaced because it will eventually break down itself.
How Often Does Brake Fluid Need To Be Replaced?
With most car repairs, it will vary from vehicle make and model as well as the particular fluid being used. However the industry standard is that braking fluid needs to be replaced every 2 years or 30,000 miles whichever comes first. It is important to follow this timeline as brake fluid is prone to pulling in moisture which will eventually corrode expensive components of the braking system.
The main reason that brake fluid needs to be frequently replaced is that as the fluid breaks down the chemical properties change, lowering the fluids boiling point. A boiling liquid cannot absorb any more heat and your brakes get HOT when they slow your vehicle down.
A Brief Summary Of The Braking System In A Vehicle
A moving car has a lot of kinetic energy, to slow down the car, that kinetic energy must be reduced. The brake system of your car does that by converting that energy into heat using friction.
When you are driving and need to slow your car down, you apply pressure to the brake pedal. At this time your car will amplify the pressure you place on the brake pedal into the following process.
Pressure to the brake pedal signals your car to insert a piston into the master cylinder. The master cylinder is filled with hydraulic fluid which is applied to a system of cylinders which are positioned next to your brakes. Essentially this hydraulic system amplifies the force of your foot on the brake pedal into enough force to stop the car.
This video on standard car brakes is informative if you would like a more in depth synopsis.
Symptoms Of Bad Brake Fluid
Your car will tell you when there is an issue, all you have to do is look out for the signs that the brake fluid is going bad. They are easy to spot. Here are the most efficient ways to know your brake fluid is bad without ever stepping foot in your mechanics building.
Your Car Is Telling You So- Your ABS Light Is On
This one should be a Duh! The computer systems of our vehicles are constantly testing and running data on how well the vehicle is working. When any of the vehicle cluster lights come on in your car, you should get the issue the car is alerting you to looked at. This will always be your first line of defense. The Anti-Lock Braking System Light, usually referred to as the ABS light will come on when the brake fluid is compromised.
Unresponsive Brake Pedal
If the brake pedal really has to be pressed hard to get the car to stop, you probably need to replace the brake fluid. If you’ve seen a slow deterioration in the braking system of your vehicle you need to have it looked over by someone who knows what they are doing. A brake pedal typically feels firm and pressurized when you press down on it. If the pedal doesn’t have that firm pressurized feeling and is easy to press down, it is likely that the fluid levels are either low or the fluid is compromised.
Noises When Braking
If you don’t have enough brake fluid or the brake fluid isn’t chemically sound, you will likely hear your vehicle making noise when slowing down. Ear piercing noises such as screeching, squealing, grinding and rubbing generally mean that your brake pads or shoes require some form of maintenance, but it can also signal that the brake fluid may need replacing. Take your vehicle to the mechanic immediately to prevent this minor issue from escalating into something more major.
Uneven Brake Pad Wearing
When the brake fluid becomes contaminated or has a leak, it effects how the brake pads are able to function. They won’t be utilized efficiently. What this looks like physically is uneven brake pad wearing. This is the main reason that brakes will make the noises we listed above.
If your car is emitting burning or other pungent odors from your tires, know that this is abnormal and could be a sign of a very serious issue, brake overheating. You need to get your car to a mechanic shop immediately. Brake fluid overheating is a major problem that can lead to full blown brake failure. If you smell any odors, pull over and allow the braking system to cool down completely.
How To Add Brake Fluid To A Vehicle
You are capable of changing out your own brake fluid with enough information and experience. Here are the standard steps to follow when replacing brake fluid. For more detailed information on your vehicle’s recommended brake fluid replacement process please refer to manufacturer information that can be found in your owner’s manual.
Step 1: Park The Vehicle In A Level Location
You want the vehicle to be parked on an even surface to properly read current fluid levels. Park the vehicle in a level area – Make sure the vehicle is stationary and on a level surface.
Step 2: Depress The Brake Pedal
Most Anti- Lock brakes need to be depressed before repairs can be made to them. You should depress the brake pedal about 30 times.
Step 3: Find The Brake Fluid Reservoir Using The Owners Manual
This fluid compartment is typically located under the hood, on the driver’s side of the car. It is typically found against the back of the engine compartment or somewhere around the bottom of the windshield. For exact info on where the brake fluid reservoir is located, check the owner’s manual your car came with.
Step 4: Current Fluid Examination
Like most of the fluid compartments in your car, the brake fluid compartment will be made of a clear plastic that allows you to physically see how much fluid is in the vehicle.
Checking The Volume Of the Brake Fluid
There should also be a maximum and minimum mark on the plastic that shows you what a full brake fluid level looks like. If the level of the brake fluid is below the minimum then the fluid needs to be replaced or topped off.
Checking The Color Of the Brake Fluid
You can determine the integrity of the brake fluid by checking the color. Over time the brake fluid will become compromised and the color will change. Proper braking fluid is generally a light and golden yellow coloration. When the fluid becomes any darker than an amber, it needs to be replaced.
Step 5: Open The Brake Fluid Compartment And Clean
Remove the cap to the brake fluid compartment by unscrewing, or pulling straight up on the car. Different car models will vary in this. Take a rag or paper towel and carefully take away any contaminants like dirt that have accumulated. Disassemble any electrical components that may measure the integrity of the brake fluid, but make sure your battery is turned off first.
Step 6: Adding Brake Fluid
Using a funnel, add the recommended brand of brake fluid to your vehicle. You should continue filling until the volume is just below the maximum fill line. If you are unsure of what fluid to use, your vehicle will recommend one in the owner’s manual. Be sure to use a fluid that is approved by your car manufacturer.
Step 7: Replace The Cap And Sensors
Reinstall the cap to the compartment the same way that it came off.
Step 8: Pump The Brakes
This isn’t just a figure of speech! You HAVE TO pump the brakes to push the fluid back through the system when you have finished. What you are doing is priming the brakes to be ready to stop the car by allowing them to pressurize. You should pump the brakes about 30 times to prime them properly. You should feel the pedal engage.
Do You Have To Bleed The Compartment Before Replacing?
Bleeding the compartment is a fancy way of saying draining it. Bleeding should be done if the brake fluid is an amber color or darker. If your brake fluid looks normal, but is just low, you can top it off without draining the compartment. If the fluid is contaminated, it should be removed and the compartment cleaned before adding fresh brake fluid.
Do You Have To Pump The Brakes After Adding Fluid
YES. You HAVE TO pump the brakes to push the fluid back through the system when you have finished. What you are doing is priming the brakes to be ready to stop the car by allowing them to pressurize. You should pump the brakes about 30 times to prime them properly. You should feel the pedal engage.
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