Brake fluid is a vital part of the braking system and helps transfer brake pedal pressure into braking power. Sometimes brake fluid can get contaminated rendering the system less effective. A brake fluid change can help remedy braking issues, we will guide you through how, when and how often you need to change your brake fluid.
Does brake fluid need to be changed?
Yes, brake fluid does need to be changed periodically, it is one of the most vital elements of the brake system that helps keep you safe. Over time the car’s brake system absorbs water and other dirt and debris that will impact braking efficiency.
How often does brake fluid need to be changed?
You should normally replace your brake fluid about every 2 years. This will vary depending on the make and model of your car, but most vehicle manufacturers will recommend that the fluid is changed around every 2 years to ensure optimal brake effectiveness. At the very least you should get it replaced every 5 years.
When do I need to check my brake fluid?
Brake fluid level will normally be checked during a yearly service, however, the fluid itself would not always be replaced during these services. Be wary if the mechanic advises you to change brake fluid relatively close to the last time you had it changed. Check your owner’s manual to make sure you know about the recommended time frame to replace the brake fluid.
If you experience braking issues, then it’s important to get this checked out as soon as possible. It could be that the brake fluid needs replacing, a professional mechanic will be able to advise on this.
What happens during a brake fluid change?
A brake fluid change needs to be conducted in order to help keep refresh the brake fluid. A trained mechanic will normally drain the braking system of old fluid, refill with fresh fluid and bleed the system to ensure that there are no air pockets or moisture that would disrupt slowing down the vehicle.
Many mechanics these days would use a pressure bleeder system, which would pump new fluid through the system under pressure and the old fluid out of the system. This helps avoid air from entering the system during the procedure.
Along with the mechanical procedure, on newer vehicles, a mechanic will need to plug in a diagnostic tool to initiate the brake bleed mode on the ABS system to help ensure old fluid and any air bubbles are pushed out of the system.
How to check brake fluid level
The procedure will vary by make and model so it’s important to check your owner’s handbook for the correct procedure. Usually, there are a number of steps to consider when it comes to checking the brake fluid level:
- Open the bonnet and locate the brake master cylinder.
- Clean the area around it with a microfiber rag or towel. Small amounts of dirt or debris entering the brake system can compromise safety.
- The master cylinder is usually situated in the engine bay on the driver’s side, close to where the driver would sit.
- Open the reservoir by hand or use a tool recommended by the manufacturer.
- Examine the level of the fluid, it should come up within half an inch of the cap. However, normally there should also be a marking on the reservoir indicating where the appropriate level should be. If the fluid is too low you will need to add more. Note that, in some cases, it may be needed to bleed the brakes to ensure there are no air bubbles in the system.
- Check the colour of the fluid. If it looks like it has turned a dark colour instead of the normal yellow colour it will normally need replacing.
How to change your brake fluid?
The way to change your brake fluid will depend on the make and model of your vehicle. For that reason changing the brake fluid level is best left to a professional mechanic, especially if the vehicle has an ABS system (which is fitted to most cars these days). Ultimately make sure that the guidelines set by your car’s manufacturer are followed when replacing the brake fluid (eg. Ford’s brake fluid change procedure). Here’s the basic procedure to drain and change the brake fluid:
- Make sure your vehicle is on a level surface and take precautions to ensure it cannot move through the procedure, put the vehicle in gear and use wheel chocks
- Locate the brake master cylinder, remove the cap and remove any brake fluid by using a vacuum pump.
- Top the reservoir up with new brake fluid.
- Use a brake bleeder to bleed each of the wheels. There is a manufacturer-specific order to bleed the brake calipers, usually starting with the one furthest away from the master cylinder
- Jack up the vehicle safely, to enable you to remove the wheel you need to work on. Again taking precautions to ensure the vehicle cannot move.
- Locate the brake bleeder screws on the wheel, they’re usually fitted on the brake caliper or on the wheel cylinder, and attach the brake bleeder’s hose.
- Use the brake bleeder to pump the air and any old residual fluid out of the system. Pump until there’s no air bubbles or dark-coloured and contaminated fluid in the brake fluid line.
- Repeat this process on the remaining brake calipers on all corners of the vehicle.
- During the process make sure that the fluid in the reservoir never drops below the minimum line. You’ll risk ending with air bubbles in the system again.
- Once done, top up the fluid reservoir to max, test brake pedal pressure, and secure all wheels before test driving the vehicle.
Brake fluid is a toxic substance, and is also corrosive, so make sure you don’t spill it on yourself or on the paintwork in the process. Remove and clean any spillage as soon as possible.