DIY Brake Service: How To Check and Change Brake Fluid?

Most people love to maintain their cars and check their oil and wiper fluid every few months. But how often do they check their brake fluid? Most people don’t even know what the brake fluid is for or how to check and replace them.

Brake fluid is used in hydraulic systems. It is used to transmit the force exerted on the brake pedal to the front and rear brake pads or on the rear bands if they use drum brakes in order to stop the vehicle.

It is essential to use proper brake fluid and keep them at proper levels to be safe on the roads. Car’s braking system has four brake rotors. Your brake pads clamp down to these four brake rotors to stop your car and you don’t need four legs to press on four brake pedals at the same time. That’s because brake fluid applies that pressure for you. It converts your brake pedal push energy into a force required to squeeze all four brake rotors. This makes your car stop in mere seconds.

That is why you should not wait for the brakes to fail. Checking brake fluid is easier than you think and far more important than you could ever imagine. It is better to be safe than sorry. We recommend that you perform a simple routine check on a monthly basis that you can do yourself.

When to Check Your Car Brake Fluid?

It is important to know when is the time to check your brake fluid. There are three core situations that you must be aware of.

  • Check: If your dashboard brake light is on, then that can point towards braking issues. If the reason behind this is brake fluid leakage under your car, then the spot will probably be clear to brown and slick. Immediately check your owner’s manual to locate your brake fluid reservoir under the hood. Low brake fluid level in the reservoir is well indicated below the “MIN” or “minimum” line.
  • Press: If you find yourself pressing the brake pedal almost all the way down to the floor of your car, then there is a chance that it is because of low brake fluid.
  • Pump: If you are pressing the brake pedal two or more times in order to stop your car, then most likely cause of this is low brake fluid.

If you face any of the above mentioned situation, it’s time to check your brake fluid and stop by for a brake service.

Things Needed To Check Brake Fluid

You would need the following to check and change brake fluid in your car:

1) Dry Cloth

Dry cloth is used to cover areas near brake fluid reservoir. Brake fluid is extremely toxic and any spillage can drastically impact other parts under the hood

2) Funnel

Funnel is necessary to add brake fluid to the brake fluid reservoir and avoid any spillage.

3) Brake Fluid

You might need to refill brake fluid after doing some inspection. It is very important to consult your owner’s manual to understand the right brake fluid for your vehicle. The recommended specification can be DOT 3, DOT 4, DOT 5 (in most cases this is mentioned on the lid of the brake fluid container). It’s not recommended to mix DOT 3 with DOT 4 or DOT 4 with DOT 5 as mixing between degrees can make the brakes not work.

How to Check and Change Brake Fluid Level?

1) Warm Up Your Car

It’s recommended to drive your car around the block to warm it up. No matter what you do, make sure you step on the brakes several times. This will ensure that the braking system is filled and you get a precise reading on the brake fluid level.

2) Secure Your Vehicle and Open The Hood

Park your car in a flat and stable position keeping parking brake or handbrake engaged and raise the hood all the way up.

3) Locate the Brake Fluid Reservoir

Brake fluid reservoir is attached to the brake master cylinder. It is usually mounted near firewall at the back of the engine compartment. Normally the container is small, semi-transparent and is located behind the steering wheel. The lid of the container can be made of rubber or plastic and in some cases, it will carry instructions on it. Check your owner’s manual if you face any trouble trying to find it.

4) Check Fluid Level

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Wipe the top of the reservoir carefully before opening it. A small amount of debris falling into the brake fluid can cause the internal seals of the master cylinder to fail. This could ultimately make your brakes lose effectiveness.

  • Modern Vehicles: These vehicles have a translucent reservoir with a fluid level indicator. You can check the fluid level without removing the screw-off cap if your vehicle has this style reservoir by clearly seeing the “Max” and “Min” markings.
  • Old Vehicles: Older vehicles (models before 1980s) have a metal reservoir with a top held on by a spring-loaded clamp. You’ll need to remove the clamp to one side, then lift off the top to check the level. The “MAX” Level should be clearly marked.

Don’t leave the brake fluid reservoir uncovered for a very long time. Brake fluid has a tendency to soak up moisture that settles in the hydraulic component and corrodes them. If the brake fluid is exposed to moist air for as little as 15 minutes, the fluid is ruined. So don’t delay, and close the lid as soon as possible after use.

5) Add Brake Fluid to the Reservoir

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If the fluid level is low, open the lid of the reservoir and then place the funnel. Use a dry cloth to protect the other surfaces of the brake fluid. Then add the brake fluid until the maximum level allowed by the tank is reached.

Close the tank lid and clean the surfaces around using the dry cloth if there are traces of the brake fluid.

Now close the hood and check the dashboard brake light to confirm successful brake oil

IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not expose the brake fluid to the air by opening it if it is not necessary. Just open it, use it and then close it again. The brake fluid is extremely toxic. Avoid direct contact with any part of your body. If so, wash with plenty of fresh water.

Check out our Car Maintenance Guide that will help you keep your car in the best condition. We’ve collected 20 basic car maintenance tips, both exterior and interior, that will make your life a lot easier if properly followed.


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