Brake Fluid Change; Everything You Need to Know

Have you ever wondered what keeps your car’s braking system running smoothly? The answer lies in a key component that often goes unnoticed – brake fluid. But, just like any other part of your vehicle, it requires routine maintenance, specifically, a brake fluid change. 

In this guide, we’re going to shed light on the mystery behind a brake fluid change. We’ll start by defining what a brake fluid change is and then delve into its significance for your car’s overall performance and safety. 

Understanding these elements will underline why a brake fluid change is not just another item on your car maintenance checklist but a crucial aspect that ensures your vehicle operates optimally. So, let’s get started and dive into everything you need to know about brake fluid changes.

What is Brake Fluid Change?

Brake fluid change is a procedure that involves replacing the old or contaminated brake fluid in a vehicle’s braking system with fresh fluid. 

A brake fluid is a hydraulic fluid that transmits the force from the brake pedal to the brake components, allowing for effective braking. Over time, brake fluid can deteriorate and become contaminated with moisture, dirt, and debris. This can lead to reduced braking performance and potential damage to the braking system. 

Brake fluid change is important for your car as it helps maintain proper brake function, ensures reliable stopping power, and enhances overall safety on the road.

Why Change Brake Fluid?

Neglecting to change brake fluid regularly can lead to various risks and consequences for your vehicle’s braking system. Here are some safety concerns associated with not changing your brake fluid:

  • Decreased Braking Performance: Contaminated or degraded brake fluid reduces braking power and increases stopping distances, compromising safe braking, especially in emergencies.
  • Brake System Failures: Moisture and contaminants in the old brake fluid can corrode critical brake components, leading to brake system failures and potential accidents.
  • Brake Fade: Moisture-contaminated brake fluid causes vapor bubbles and brake fade, resulting in a soft brake pedal, reduced stopping power, and longer stopping distances.
  • Reduced Responsiveness: Outdated brake fluid leads to delayed or less responsive braking, impairing vehicle control, particularly in critical situations.
  • Increased Risk of Accidents: Neglecting brake fluid maintenance raises the overall risk of accidents, including brake failures and compromised braking performance.

Maintaining fresh and properly functioning brake fluid is crucial for reliable stopping power and ensuring your safety on the road. Regular brake fluid changes are an essential part of vehicle maintenance to prevent these risks and maintain optimal brake performance.

How Often Should You Get Your Brake Fluid Changed?

The recommended frequency for brake fluid changes is typically every two years or 24,000 miles. However, it’s important to consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s specific guidelines, as they may vary. Following the manufacturer’s recommendations is crucial for maintaining optimal brake fluid performance and safety. 

In addition to the time and mileage intervals, there are certain signs that indicate your brake fluid may need to be changed sooner. These signs include:

  • Discoloration: Brake fluid should have a clear or slightly yellowish color. If you notice that your brake fluid has turned dark or has a brownish appearance, it may be an indication that it needs to be changed.
  • Contamination: If you observe any debris or particles in the brake fluid, it’s a clear sign that it has become contaminated and should be replaced.
  • Reduced Brake Performance: If you experience a spongy or soft brake pedal, longer stopping distances, or a noticeable decrease in braking power, it could be an indication that your brake fluid needs to be changed.
  • Strange Odor: If you detect a burnt or foul odor coming from your brake system, it may be a sign of overheated or degraded brake fluid. This indicates the need for a fluid change.
  • Low Brake Fluid Level: If you consistently find that your brake fluid level is decreasing, it may be due to a leak or evaporation. In such cases, it’s important to have the brake fluid checked and topped up or replaced accordingly.

There are a few ways to determine if your brake fluid needs to be changed sooner than the recommended interval:

  • Visual Inspection: Start by visually inspecting the brake fluid reservoir. The reservoir is typically located near the firewall on the driver’s side of the engine compartment. Check the color of the brake fluid. Fresh brake fluid is usually clear or slightly yellowish. If the fluid appears dark, dirty or has a brownish color, it is likely contaminated and should be changed.
  • Fluid Level Check: Check the brake fluid level in the reservoir. There should be a “minimum” and “maximum” marking on the reservoir. If the brake fluid level is below the “minimum” mark, it may indicate a potential leak in the brake system or excessive wear of brake pads. In such cases, it’s important to have the brake fluid inspected and topped up or changed accordingly.
  • Brake Performance: Pay attention to your vehicle’s braking performance. If you notice any changes in the braking system’s responsiveness, such as a spongy or soft brake pedal, longer stopping distances, or reduced braking power, it could be an indication that the brake fluid needs to be changed. Contaminated or deteriorated brake fluid can affect the hydraulic pressure and compromise the effectiveness of the brakes.
  • Odor: If you detect a burnt or foul odor coming from your brake system, it may be a sign of overheated or degraded brake fluid. The presence of such odor indicates that the brake fluid has reached its boiling point or has become contaminated. In such cases, it’s advisable to have the brake fluid inspected and changed as necessary.

It’s important to note that these signs may vary depending on the specific vehicle and driving conditions. If you’re unsure about the condition of your brake fluid or if you observe any of these signs, it is recommended to have it inspected by a qualified mechanic or technician. They can assess the fluid’s condition and determine if a brake fluid change is necessary. Regular maintenance and timely brake fluid changes contribute to optimizing braking performance and ensuring your safety on the road.

How to Change Brake Fluid?

Changing brake fluid involves several steps and requires certain tools and equipment. Here is a general overview of the process:

1. Gather the necessary tools and equipment:

  • New brake fluid of the recommended type specified in your vehicle’s owner’s manual.
  • A turkey baster or a brake fluid syringe for removing the old fluid from the reservoir.
  • A wrench or socket set to remove the bleeder screws if bleeding the brake system is necessary.
  • A clear plastic hose that fits snugly over the brake bleeder screw.
  • A container to collect the old brake fluid.
  • Safety gloves and goggles to protect your hands and eyes.

2. Locate the brake fluid reservoir:

  • The reservoir is typically located near the firewall on the driver’s side of the engine compartment.
  • Clean the area around the reservoir to prevent any dirt or debris from entering the system.

3. Remove the old brake fluid:

  • Use a turkey baster or brake fluid syringe to remove as much old brake fluid as possible from the reservoir.
  • Dispose of the old fluid properly according to local regulations.

4. Refill the reservoir with fresh brake fluid:

  • Pour the new brake fluid into the reservoir, ensuring that you use the correct type and fill it to the recommended level.

5. Bleed the brake system if necessary:

  • If air has entered the brake lines or if you’re changing the brake fluid as part of a complete system flush, you may need to bleed the brakes.
  • Attach a clear plastic hose to the brake bleeder screw on each wheel and have a helper pump the brake pedal while you loosen and tighten the bleeder screw to release any trapped air and old fluid.
  • Start with the brake furthest from the master cylinder and work your way to the closest one.
  • Repeat the bleeding process for each wheel until you have a firm brake pedal and clear fluid flowing without any air bubbles.

The time it takes to change brake fluid can vary depending on factors such as the vehicle’s make and model, the condition of the brake system, and whether bleeding the brakes is required. On average, a brake fluid change can take around 15 minutes to 1 hour. However, the technicians at HEART Auto Care recommend that you follow the specific instructions outlined in your vehicle’s owner’s manual and exercise caution throughout the process to ensure proper maintenance and optimal braking performance. If you’re not confident in performing this task yourself, it’s recommended to consult a qualified mechanic or technician for assistance.

Cost of Brake Fluid Change Cost?

The cost of a brake fluid change can vary depending on several factors such as the location, the type of vehicle, the type of brake fluid used, and whether the service is performed by a professional or done yourself. On average, the cost of a brake fluid change is around $100.

Factors that can affect the cost of a brake fluid change include:

  • Professional service: If you choose to have a professional mechanic or technician perform the brake fluid change, the cost will typically include labor charges, parts, and any additional services or inspections they may provide.
  • DIY vs. professional: If you decide to change the brake fluid yourself, the cost will primarily involve the purchase of new brake fluid and any tools or equipment you may need. However, it’s important to note that DIY brake fluid changes require proper knowledge, skills, and tools. Improper fluid replacement can lead to air in the brake lines or other issues that can compromise braking performance and safety.

While performing a brake fluid change yourself may seem like a cost-saving option, it’s essential to consider your own expertise and experience. Brake systems are critical for safety, and any mistakes during the fluid change process can have severe consequences. If you’re not confident in your ability to perform the task correctly, it is recommended to have a professional handle the brake fluid change to ensure it is done properly and to avoid potential safety risks.

What Type of Brake Fluid Should You Use?

When it comes to choosing the type of brake fluid for your car, it is important to refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual or consult with a professional mechanic. The manufacturer’s specifications and recommendations outlined in the manual will specify the appropriate type of brake fluid for your specific vehicle. 

There are several types of brake fluid available, each with its own characteristics and applications:

  • DOT 3: This is a glycol-based brake fluid commonly used in most passenger vehicles. It has a moderate boiling point and provides reliable performance under normal driving conditions. DOT 3 brake fluid absorbs moisture over time and requires periodic replacement.
  • DOT 4: Similar to DOT 3, DOT 4 is also a glycol-based fluid. However, it has a higher boiling point, making it suitable for vehicles that may experience higher braking temperatures or more demanding driving conditions. DOT 4 brake fluid is compatible with DOT 3 and can be used as an upgrade in most vehicles.
  • DOT 5: Unlike DOT 3 and DOT 4, DOT 5 brake fluid is silicone-based. It is less common and generally used in specialized applications or performance vehicles. DOT 5 brake fluid is known for its moisture resistance and high-temperature stability. It should never be mixed with DOT 3 or DOT 4 brake fluid and is typically used in systems designed specifically for it.
  • DOT 5.1: DOT 5.1 brake fluid is a glycol-based fluid with a higher boiling point than DOT 3 and DOT 4. It offers similar benefits as DOT 4 in terms of performance and compatibility but with an even higher temperature rating.

For conventional passenger vehicles, DOT 3 or DOT 4 brake fluid is widely used and suitable. These glycol-based fluids provide reliable performance and meet safety standards. DOT 4 has a higher boiling point, making it ideal for vehicles with higher braking temperatures. DOT 5 is silicone-based and less common, used in specialized or performance applications. It offers moisture resistance but is incompatible with DOT 3 or DOT 4. Mixing brake fluid types should be avoided, especially with DOT 5.

Factors that can affect your choice of brake fluid include:

  • Vehicle manufacturer’s recommendation: Always follow the recommendations provided in your vehicle’s owner’s manual or consult with a professional mechanic to ensure you select the appropriate brake fluid type.
  • Driving conditions: If you frequently drive in areas with steep hills, encounter heavy traffic, or engage in towing or hauling, you may benefit from using a brake fluid with a higher boiling point, such as DOT 4.
  • Specialty systems: Some vehicles may have specialized braking systems that require specific brake fluid formulations. It’s important to adhere to the manufacturer’s guidelines in these cases.
  • Maintenance requirements: If you plan to perform brake fluid changes yourself, consider the availability and compatibility of the brake fluid type you choose.

Brake Fluid Change vs. Brake Fluid Flush

Brake fluid flush is a more extensive procedure than a simple brake fluid change. While a brake fluid change involves draining and replacing a portion of the brake fluid, a brake fluid flush aims to remove all the old fluid from the system and replace it with new fluid.

A brake fluid flush is relative to a brake fluid change in the sense that it goes beyond the basic fluid replacement. It is considered a more thorough maintenance procedure that helps remove any contaminants, moisture, or degraded fluid that may be present in the system.

The decision to perform a brake fluid change or a brake fluid flush depends on factors such as the level of contamination, age of the fluid, driving conditions, and manufacturer recommendations. 

When to do a Brake Fluid Change:

  • Level of Contamination: If the brake fluid appears dark, dirty, or contaminated, a Brake Fluid Change is recommended to ensure optimal braking performance and safety.
  • Age of Brake Fluid: If the brake fluid has been in the system for an extended period, typically every 2 to 3 years, a Brake Fluid Change is advisable to maintain the fluid’s effectiveness.
  • Driving Conditions: If you frequently drive in demanding conditions such as towing heavy loads, mountainous terrains, or stop-and-go traffic, a Brake Fluid Change may be necessary to compensate for the increased stress on the braking system.
  • Vehicle Manufacturer Recommendations: Following the manufacturer’s recommendations outlined in the owner’s manual is crucial. If the manufacturer specifies a specific interval or recommends a Brake Fluid Change, it should be followed to ensure warranty compliance and optimal performance.

When to do a Brake Fluid Flush:

  • Level of Contamination: If the brake fluid is severely contaminated, discolored, or shows signs of degradation, a Brake Fluid Flush is recommended to thoroughly clean the entire system.
  • Age of Brake Fluid: If the brake fluid has not been changed for an extended period or its age exceeds the recommended interval, a Brake Fluid Flush can remove all the old fluid and replace it with fresh fluid.
  • Driving Conditions: Intense driving conditions, such as track racing or heavy-duty applications, can result in higher brake fluid temperatures and increased stress. A Brake Fluid Flush may be necessary to maintain optimal performance and ensure the braking system’s reliability under extreme conditions.
  • Vehicle Manufacturer Recommendations: Some manufacturers may specifically recommend a Brake Fluid Flush at certain intervals. Following these guidelines will help maintain the vehicle’s warranty and ensure the proper functioning of the braking system.

The cost of a Brake Fluid Change is generally lower than that of a Brake Fluid Flush. A Brake Fluid Change involves draining and refilling a portion of the fluid, while a Brake Fluid Flush requires a more thorough cleaning of the entire system. The cost may vary depending on factors such as the vehicle’s make and model, location, and the service provider.

It is also important to consult with a qualified mechanic or follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to determine the appropriate time for a Brake Fluid Change or Flush. Regular maintenance and proper fluid replacement contribute to the longevity and reliable performance of your vehicle’s braking system.

The Final Takeaways on Brake Fluid Change

Regular brake fluid changes are essential for maintaining optimal performance and safety in your vehicle’s braking system. Neglecting brake fluid maintenance can lead to contamination, impaired braking performance, component wear, and corrosion. By adhering to recommended intervals and following manufacturer guidelines, you can mitigate these risks and ensure the longevity of your braking system.

Make brake fluid maintenance a priority to prioritize your safety on the road. By consulting with a qualified mechanic and following the manufacturer’s recommendations, you can ensure optimal braking performance, extend the lifespan of your braking system, and promote safer driving experiences. Don’t overlook the significance of regular brake fluid changes to keep your vehicle operating at its best.