Many people don’t know how often brake fluid should be changed, which can lead to incredibly dangerous situations.
Driving with low or dirty brake fluid endangers you and everyone around you by reducing the functionality of your breaks.
In this article, we’ll be breaking down everything you need to know about brake fluid, Its types, importance, how often you should change it, and the signs that it needs to be changed.
What is Brake Fluid?
Brake fluid is the type of hydraulic fluid that helps in the function of your vehicle's hydraulic brake and clutch system.
It transfers force into pressure and amplifies your car’s braking force.
You see this effect when you put your foot on your brake pedal, transferring the pressure and force to your breaks, effectively stopping your car.
What Does Brake Fluid Do For Your Car?
Alongside helping your car to stop and slow down, brake fluid lubricates the moving parts in your vehicle’s brake system and protects the parts from rust and corrosion.
What Are Types of Brake Fluid?
There are four types of brake fluid.
DOT 3 is a gycol-based fluid.
It absorbs water.
You should open your car’s brake fluid reservoir as little as possible because it can absorb fluid from the air.
205 degrees Celsius is the dry boiling point and 140 degrees celsius is the wet boiling point.
DOT 4 is also glycol-based.
230 degrees celsius its the dry boiling point is and the wet boiling point is 155 degrees celsius.
DOT 5 is a silicon-based fluid.
It does not absorb water, so you should prevent water from entering your reservoir tank.
It has a dry boiling point of 260 degrees celsius and a wet boiling point of 180 degrees celsius.
DOT 5.1 is a glycol-based fluid that should not be confused with DOT 5.
Its dry boiling point is 270 degrees celsius and a wet boiling point of 190 degrees celsius.
You should never mix glycol-based brake fluid with silicone-based brake fluid.
What You Need to Know About Brake Fluid
Here are some things you need to know about brake fluid.
- Brake Fluid is in Almost All Vehicles: Most types of vehicles use brake fluid. That includes trucks, cars, motorcycles, ATVs, and even some bicycles.
- Low or Dirty Brake Fluid Can Cause a Brake Failure: If your brake fluid is low or dirty, it limits how well it can function, leading to serious brake problems.
What Happens to Brake Fluid Over Time?
As with many other products, brake fluid has an expiration date.
It stops being as effective.
The water from the fluid increases its air bubble proportion, and the brakes can feel spongy.
How Long Can Brake Fluid Last?
A new bottle of brake fluid can last for two years if the conditions are great.
However, once brake fluid is exposed to moisture, its life cycle immediately decreases.
You should not open a bottle of brake fluid unless you’re going to use it, and you should not use a bottle of brake fluid that has been open for more than 12 months.
Once in your car, it’s a bit harder to give an exact number.
Conditions such as car models and your environment can affect how long your brake fluid lasts.
What Happens if You Don’t Change Brake Fluid?
In a nutshell, your brakes will have a poor performance which can be reflected in your brakes not responding to your pedal.
Signs You Need to Change Your Brake Fluid
There are several ways you can tell that your brake fluid needs to be changed.
These are the most common signs that there is an issue you need to get checked out.
Issues With Your Pedals
If you notice that your brake pads start feeling strange or are responding strangely, it could be a sign that your brake fluid is not being pushed through your vehicle’s system correctly.
The two main causes for this issue are low brake fluid or a brake fluid leak.
If you suspect that you’re experiencing a brake fluid leak, check under your car near the wheels for a brown or light yellow fluid.
You should check out issues with your brake pad as soon as possible because if your pedals are not working properly, it puts you in danger.
Your ABS (anti lock braking system) is a safety feature that prevents your tires from locking while you drive, which allows you to steer your car safely in an emergency.
The ABS Light is a yellow, amber, or orange light on your dashboard that indicates an issue with your ABS.
If the ABS light doesn’t turn off, it means that your brake fluid is low, and you need to get your car’s brakes checked out immediately.
Brake Pad Issues
If you realize that your brake pads are vibrating or making odd sounds, it can indicate that your brake fluid is old or dirty.
Another thing that can happen is that your brakes may take longer to respond.
You should immediately check any issue you experience with your brake pads for safety.
If you experience a burning smell while you’re braking, it could mean that your break is overheating, which can lead to your brakes failing.
Failed breaks mean you’ll be unable to stop your car, so if you notice any burning smells, you need to pull over immediately and allow your brakes to cool down.
How Often Should Brake Fluid Be Changed?
How frequently you’ll need to change your brake fluid depends on factors such as the type of vehicle you have, the conditions you drive in, and what your car’s manufacturers recommend.
Frequency by Type of Car and Driving Conditions
The general recommendation is to have your brake fluid changed every two years or every 24,000 miles.
Some brands have different recommendations.
Here are the recommendations from some of the most popular car brands.
- Chevrolet – Every 45,000 miles
- Honda – Every three years
- Volkswagens – Every three years
- Mercedes-Benz – Every two years, or 20,000 miles
- Toyota – Every two years, or 20,000 miles
Other brands such as Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Camry, and Ford Escape don’t have any specific recommendations.
We recommend you check your vehicle’s handbook to ensure you get the right information.
Driving conditions can also influence how often you need to change your brake fluid.
If you constantly drive on bumpy roads, through adverse weather conditions, or in situations that may cause you to brake suddenly, you may need to replace your brake fluid more frequently.
Check During Oil Changes
As aforementioned, there is no general timeframe for how often you need to change your brake fluid.
As it can be risky to drive with low, old, or dirty brake fluid, you need to ensure that your brake fluid is always in top condition.
Due to this, it’s recommended that you have your brake fluid checked during every oil change.
Having a professional check your brakes and brake fluid during each oil change allows you to find out the moisture content in your brake fluid and if your brake system is fully functional.
You’ll also receive tips on how to keep yourself safe.
Expect a Change Every Four or Five Years
Regardless of the brand of your vehicle, or the conditions you drive in, you should prepare yourself for an oil change every four or five years in all circumstances.
You may need more frequent changes, but you should never change it less frequently than this timeframe.
How to Check Your Brake Fluid
Unlike your engine oil, brake fluid is not something you want to check every week.
Because you want to avoid getting any oxygen, moisture, or contaminants in your brake fluid reservoir, it’s important not to frequently expose the fluid.
However, it’s still recommended to check the reservoir once every 6,000 miles to ensure everything is in good shape.
To do so properly:
- Park your vehicle, making sure the ground is level, and turn off your car engine.
- Pop open the hood of your car and find the brake fluid reservoir, which is usually located on the upper right hand corner (driver’s side).
- Using a clean cloth, clean off the top of your brake fluid reservoir cap. This acts as an extra precaution to prevent nearby contaminants from falling in.
- Open up your brake fluid reservoir and check the brake fluid color to ensure it’s still healthy.
- Take a look at your brake fluid level. If it sits on or below the minimum or “add” line and there are no signs of a brake fluid change being needed, fill up your brake fluid reservoir about 3/4 of the way to the maximum fill line (to prevent overfilling the reservoir). Note: If you’re constantly noticing brake fluid dropping below the minimum fill line, take your car to your mechanic to ensure worn brake pads or other brake system issues are not at fault.
We recommend wearing gloves and disposing of cloths that come directly into contact with brake fluid.
Brake fluid can be toxic, damaging your car’s paint and your clothing.
How to Change Your Brake Fluid
If you’re experiencing problems with your brake system or the period for a fluid change has passed, here’s what you should do.
Take it to a Professional
A mechanic knows how to handle issues such as leaking brake fluid.
They do a brake fluid flush process, which involves draining old fluid, cleaning your brake fluid reservoir, checking for rust, and refilling your brake fluid.
How Much Does it Cost to Change Your Brake Fluid?
You can expect to spend from $73 to $130 to have your brake fluid professionally changed.
A bottle of brake fluid costs around $5, so most of what you’re paying for is label costs.
It can be more expensive depending on your car’s model.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about Brake fluid.
Is It Necessary To Change Brake Fluid Every Two Years?
Two years is the amount of time that most car manufacturers generally recommend.
Some circumstances may lead to you needing to change your brake fluid more often, and your car model may dictate that it gets changed less often.
We recommended checking your manufacturer’s recommendations and getting your brake fluid checked with every oil change.
Can You Mix Old And New Brake Fluid?
You should avoid mixing old and new brake fluid because it can have devastating consequences for your vehicle.
The older your brake fluid is, the less effective it will be.
You should also never reuse old brake fluid.
Brake fluid is an important element of driving safely.
You need to pay close attention to your brake system to ensure that it’s always in good condition, and paying attention to your brake fluid is a part of this.
You shouldn’t wait until you experience a major issue to start caring.
Regular maintenance should be the norm while you care for your car.