You may know that auto makers recommend changing the brake fluid in your car periodically, but do you know why this is or what could happen if you opt to not change your car’s brake fluid? Learn about brake fluid, why it needs to be changed, and what a brake fluid flush involves to keep your car in good working order.
What is a brake fluid flush?
In a brake fluid flush, you remove all the old brake fluid in your car and replace it with clean fluid. There are many benefits to performing a brake fluid flush, including keeping your brakes working smoothly and ensuring that your brakes have full stopping power when it is needed.
Note that a brake fluid flush differs somewhat from another brake procedure that may sound familiar: a brake bleed. In a brake bleed, you or your mechanic remove enough brake fluid to get any air bubbles out of your car’s brake lines. You may top off fluid to return it to the recommended level, but you do not replace all of the fluid when you perform a brake bleed.
When the brake lines get an air bubble, your brakes may feel “spongy” as a result. If you go to brake and there are air bubbles in the brake lines, the brakes will not be able to work effectively and you may fail to stop in time as a result. It is critical to bleed brakes if you suspect there are air bubbles in the brake fluid. However, do not confuse bleeding the brakes with flushing the brake fluid. You may never need to bleed brakes — as long as you do not have air bubbles — yet still need to flush brake fluid on a regular basis.
Why and when should you do a brake flush?
Brake fluid keeps your brakes lubricated and working properly. Over time, however, small bits of your wheel cylinders and your brake calipers can degrade and fall into the brake fluid. If this happens, the fluid will become thick and clogged with all of these particles. As a result, it is not able to perform as well as it could if the brake fluid were clean.
Just as your engine oil ages over time and mileage driven, so too does your brake fluid. All automotive fluids needs to be flushed and replaced over time as part of automotive preventative maintenance. Old, dirty, and worn out brake fluid is an automotive hazard that should be addressed.
Additionally, water can get inside the brake fluid and cause rust and corrosion to develop on the brake parts. This is a safety issue rather than a cosmetic one: Rust inside the brakes system can negatively affect the performance of the brakes. Once rust develops, it exacerbates the problem of buildup in the brake fluid; rust particles will also fall off brake components and clog the brake fluid even further.
If you continue to drive in this case, your car will have less stopping power than it otherwise would have if you had clean brake fluid. Additionally, your brake components will be subject to additional wear and tear and will need to be replaced sooner as a result.
In a brake fluid flush, you (or your mechanic) manually remove the old brake fluid, dispose of it, and fill the brake fluid reservoir with fresh brake fluid to preserve the stopping power and brake effectiveness of your vehicle.
How often should you do a brake fluid flush in your car?
Auto makers differ in their recommendations requiring brake fluid replacement. Volkswagen, for example, recommends brake fluid be changed every two years instead of giving a mileage recommendation. Subaru recommends that you replace old brake fluid every 30,000 miles. When it comes to figuring out how often to replace your brake fluid, your vehicle owner’s manual is the best place to start. See how often your auto maker recommends flushing the brake fluid in the car.
Other automakers — including Ford, Chrysler, and Toyota — do not always mention brake fluid replacement in their vehicle owner’s manuals. If you check your manual for brake fluid recommendations and you do not see a time frame for replacing the brake fluid, you may check in with your mechanic to see what they recommend.
Long-term mechanics have probably seen what can happen to a car if the owner neglects to replace the brake fluid, and can share some of these horror stories with you. Your mechanic might suggest that you replace brake fluid every two to three years or 30,000 miles as a safeguard against brake problems.
Your manual should also list the type of brake fluid your car takes, which is usually given in the form of the letters “DOT” plus a number, such as DOT 3 or DOT 4. When you have brake fluid replaced, always make sure that you (or your mechanic) choose the same type of brake fluid as that recommended in the manual.
Should you do a brake fluid flush or hire a mechanic?
It is always a good idea to perform preventative maintenance when it comes to brakes, since a brake failure could cause you to injure yourself or wreck your car in a motor vehicle accident. Brake fluid is inexpensive, and the task does not take much time if you would like to perform it yourself.
A brake fluid flush is an easy task to complete yourself — and therefore good for beginners to add to their skill set — but if you lack the time or inclination your mechanic can take care of this for you. For the sake of convenience, ask your mechanic to incorporate a brake fluid flush with your next brake pad replacement or other automotive preventative maintenance.
If you decide to replace the brake fluid yourself, you will need replacement brake fluid from a reputable manufacturer, a siphon or turkey baster to remove old brake fluid, a line-free cleaning cloth, and a container for the old brake fluid.
When your car is cool, open the brake fluid reservoir. If you are unsure where it is, consult your vehicle owner’s manual. Use the siphon or the turkey baster to remove old brake fluid from the chamber. Wipe down the chamber with your cloth to get debris out, then pour in the fresh brake fluid only to the fill line on the chamber.
It is far less expensive to replace your brake fluid, even if you are not sure whether or not it is “really necessary,” than to replace brake lines or other brake parts that has become damaged due to dirty brake fluid. If you learn to do a brake fluid flush yourself, the cost is even cheaper. We recommend that you follow the old saying “better safe than sorry” and replace your brake fluid per the manufacturer’s recommendations to enjoy peace of mind and follow preventative maintenance best practices for your vehicle.