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The basic necessities of vehicle maintenance are known by pretty much every driver who makes a living on the road. Oil changes, tire pressure checks, and even wheel alignments may already be at the top of your mind. Still, no matter how diligent you are in your car care routine, there may still be one major piece missing from your schedule. You need to know how often to change brake fluid.
You’re far from alone if you’ve never thought about brake fluid changes before. Many, if not most, drivers in the United States don’t actually realize brake fluid changes are needed. However, changing brake fluid is actually so important that it’s required in many countries worldwide.
In this article, we’ll delve into everything you need to know about brake fluid changes.
- Why Do I Need to Change Brake Fluid?
- How Often to Change Brake Fluid
- Signs You Need a Brake Fluid Change
- How to Add Brake Fluid
- Frequently Asked Questions
Why Do I Need to Change Brake Fluid?
As a rideshare or delivery driver, you’re likely using your brakes far more than the average driver — and an average driver already hits their brake pedals around 75,000 times in one year. This is because you’re frequently tasked with driving short distances in high-traffic areas. Due to this, your driving habits are actually considered “severe driving” by most car manufacturers’ definitions.
So why is this important? The more you drive and use your brakes, the faster moisture and other contaminants can seep into your brake system. Humidity can also increase the speed at which moisture enters. This causes two major problems:
- All the parts in your brake system can begin to rust or corrode.
- The boiling point of your brake fluid will drop, which can have disastrous effects on your ability to stop in time when heat rises within your braking system.
How Often to Change Brake Fluid
The average recommendation for how often to change brake fluid is about once every two to three years. For rideshare drivers, who typically drive far more annually than the average driver, this can be translated to once every 24,000 to 36,000 miles.
While this is the standard brake fluid change interval, it’s important to always consult your owner’s manual before proceeding. This is because different car manufacturers may have different recommendations for how long you can go without a brake fluid flush for your car’s health.
For example, Mercedes-Benz cars recommend a change once every two years or 20,000 miles — whichever comes first — which would likely require you to head to the auto repair shop 4,000 miles earlier than our estimate. On the flip side, checking your owner’s manual may actually save you money. Some automakers may recommend going as much as four years without getting a brake flush.
Don’t be surprised if you open up your owner’s manual and cannot find a recommendation for brake fluid change intervals specific to your vehicle. As we mentioned earlier, this part of car maintenance is often neglected by people throughout the United States, and automakers don’t exactly help turn this around. Toyota Camry and Ford Escape are two popular car models that are known to omit a specific interval. In these cases, simply head to the mechanic to change your brake fluid every 24,000 miles to be safe.
Signs You Need a Brake Fluid Change
While two to three years is a great rule of thumb, there are situations in which you’ll want to get an earlier brake fluid change. Signs that you need to flush and refill your brake fluid reservoir include:
- Improper coloring: Much like engine oil, brake fluid starts as a fairly transparent color and becomes darker over time. If it is still an amber color, your brake fluid is doing just fine. However, if it grows any darker or appears contaminated with dirt or debris, it’s recommended that you go in for a brake fluid change. Never let your brake fluid turn black, as this is bad for your braking system.
- Corrosion: If you notice any corrosion within or around your master cylinder, brake lines, or any part of your brake system, you may be due for a brake fluid change. A good way to determine if your corrosion level is dangerous is by using brake fluid test strips, which measure the amount of copper in your reservoir.
- Your brakes requiring more force: If you’re starting to notice that your brake pedals require far more pressure to slow down or come to a complete stop, your brake fluid may be the culprit. You’ll still want to bring your vehicle into the auto repair shop for a final diagnosis, but continuing to use old fluid can often decrease the effectiveness of your brakes and eventually cause them not to work at all.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Knowing how often to change brake fluid will keep your car healthy, so you don’t risk losing control of your brake system. Here are some frequently asked questions about brake fluid to help you nail your maintenance routine:
1. Can I change brake fluid by myself?
Brake fluid flushes and replacements are fairly easy to complete at home, but we still recommend using a mechanic to complete the process. Brake fluid changes require a lot of specialty tool purchases, compared to other DIY car care projects, including the purchase of a brake bleeder kit and vacuum pump that will mostly just take up storage space.
In addition, flushing your brake fluid at home will require you to dispose of your old fluid properly, as it is flammable and cannot simply go down the drain or be taken out in the trash. You’ll likely have to pay for disposal at a hazardous waste center or find an auto parts store that will help you out.
2. How do I know what kind of brake fluid my car needs?
The best way to find out what type of brake fluid to use is to take a look inside your owner’s manual. This is information that automakers should provide, as using the wrong type of fluid or mixing fluids can cause major damage and corrosion. As a hint of what to look for, the three main types of brake fluids are called DOT 3, DOT 4, and DOT 5.
3. What’s the best way to add brake fluid if my brake fluid is low?
All you really need to do when adding brake fluid is to pour the new fluid directly into reservoir. We do recommend using a clean funnel and gloves when doing so, as this will help you avoid spilling the toxic solution and damaging other parts of your engine or your skin.
Keep Passengers Safe While Driving
Safety always comes first when you’re responsible for helping riders get from one place to another. Changing your brake fluid on a recurring schedule should be a precaution you take to ensure your brake system is always doing its best to protect you. We hope this guide helps you navigate your brake fluid changes and be proactive about your car care.
Brett Helling is the owner of Ridester.com. He has been a rideshare driver since early 2012, having completed hundreds of trips for companies including Uber, Lyft, and Postmates. In 2014 he acquired Ridester.com to share his experiences with other drivers. His insights are regularly quoted by publications such as Forbes, Vice, CNBC, and more. He is currently working on a book about working in the Gig Economy, expanding his skill set beyond the rideshare niche. Read more about Brett here.