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How to maintain brakes, fluid-wise.
Tools / Materials (See Below for
Appropriate brake fluid (of at least 400°
boiling point; see owner' manual to confirm the appropriate
brake fluid for your vehicle) (about three 8 oz bottles)
(preferably in a spray can)
Wrench set (box wrenches)
Penetrating oil (for loosening)
A bulb baster (or other suck device to suck
out the fluid)
empty bottle (such as an empty clear 2-liter soda bottle, to capture running/draining brake fluid)
tubing (such as air filter aquarium tubing)
newspapers or work blanket/tarp (for fluid spill control)
Vehicle ramp (or jack stands) (in either case, make sure the
ramp or jacks is covered with a rubber pad so as to not damage
any part of the vehicle off of which the vehicle is lifted from
Something that is often overlooked is the proper
maintenance of the fluid that ensures the operability of your
vehicle's brakes. Routine replacement of brake fluid is
important because this very fluid is responsible for the absorbing
of moisture that, if left alone, compromises the brakes should such
moisture reach the brake system: Specifically such moisture tends to
cause the corrosion of the brake seals, caliper bores, and master
cylinder; overall, the moisture reduces the fluid's boiling point;
and makes braking less efficient. Furthermore, brake fluid
usually becomes contaminated with dirt, in addition to moisture,
which may cause expensive damage to the internal parts of the
braking system, especially those of the anti-lock brake systems.
The flushing and replacement of brake fluid should, therefore, be
done routinely every 50,000 miles / 2 years of regular vehicle use
(in any event, be sure to check with your vehicle manufacturer, such
as consulting its issued owner's manual, to confirm the fluid-change
period to maintain your specific warranty, should it specify it).
Caution: When dealing with anything that may be
potentially hot, make sure you take precautions
to avoid contact with it. Additionally, make sure your vehicle
is securely supported when working underneath it.
To change the brake fluid
in your vehicle, do the following:
Drive your vehicle
into your work area (be it a garage or what have you), and
safely drive over and park on a vehicle ramp so as to provide
you with more access underneath the vehicle. While the front portion of
the vehicle is on the vehicle ramp, be sure to correctly push in
a wheel chock behind each rear tire; refer to the instructions
of the wheel chock manufacturer as necessary. (Ideally,
the whole vehicle should be lifted up off the ground, as can
easily be done at a mechanic shop, with all four wheels removed
so as to get the best access to the bleeder valves.)
As you see fit,
place rags/newspapers/a work blanket/tarp underneath the vehicle
and around the vehicle (especially around the painted areas
nearest to the master cylinder reservoir), where work will be performed as a proactive
measure to mitigate any fluid spill (since brake fluid can cause
irreparable damage to the paint job, at the very least).
With the hood of
the vehicle open, remove the top of the master cylinder
reservoir, and use a bulb baster to remove as much of the old
brake fluid as possible, and then wipe away an accumulated
layers of sluggish slime with a rag.
Then, add the new
brake fluid, pouring the 8-oz bottle of brake fluid into the
reservoir (and if need be right away, the second bottle), making
sure the reservoir is filled up; you will continue to replenish
this reservoir several times throughout this process as you
"bleed"/flush the rest of the old brake fluid out of the system,
as shown below, making sure to put the top back on the reservoir
With the vehicle
securely and safely supported by the vehicle ramp and wheel
chocks, position yourself underneath the vehicle so as to reach
each bleeder valve behind the wheel (if not removed at all) with
a wrench that is appropriately sized so that you will be able to
grasp each bleeder valve bolt.
For each bleeder
bolt, loosen it with the appropriately-sized wrench, though do
not totally remove it. (It may be a good idea to pour
penetrating oil around each bolt a day before to make it easier
on you to have them loosened the following day.) (If your
bleeder bolts are stubborn and break off in the process of
attempting to loosen them, you will have to resort to the
replacement of your cylinders or calipers.)
Place a piece of
wood (such as 1-by-4 lumber) behind the brake pedal so as to
ensure that the brake does not completely go down when pressed
upon by your helper/assistant.
With clear tubing
in hand, for the first wheel, and for every other wheel
thereafter in repeating Step 9 below for all four wheels, fit
one end of the tube snug tight onto the bleeder bolt and the
other end of the tube fed into a previously empty bottle so as
to have this end immersed in about two inches of the new brake
fluid you just pre-poured inside (this is to prevent any air
from getting into the brake system inadvertently).
With the piece of
wood in place, along with the tubing appropriate connected for
this next step, and for each wheel in turn, you will now work
with your helper/assistant, who will sit in the driver's seat as
you will be underneath the vehicle so as to reach each bleeder
bolt, to do as follows:
While you are in the position to work with the bleeder bolt of one
wheel, yell out to your helper/assistant, "Press down," and in turn
immediately the helper/assistant should normally press down on the
brake (with the wood piece still underneath), maintain this down
position and immediately yell back to you, "Down."
In turn of hearing "Down," you should make another turn of the
already loosened bleeder bolt so as to allow the old brake fluid to
flow out into the connected tube that ends in the bottle.
Caution: Make sure beforehand that your helper/assistant knows that
there will be a further drop "in pressure"/of the brake pedal just
as soon as you release the old brake fluid so that this
helper/assistant will, accordingly, know to press on so as to keep
the brake down constantly, without any "hiccup" motions of the brake
going unexpectedly up before down again.
iii. When the flow of the old brake fluid trickles and then stops,
close the bleeder bolt by tightening just enough (not much since it
will be repeated in short order).
Upon closing the bleeder bolt, yell out, "Remove," causing the
helper/assistant to immediately remove his foot off the brake pedal
so as to allow it to come up.
Repeat steps i.-iv. until the bleeder bolt causes the new, clear
brake fluid to flow out into the connected clear tube.
Once the bleeder bolt cause the new, clear brake fluid to
trickle/flow out into the tube, cease the trickle/flow by tightening
the bleeder bolt, and this time make sure you make the bleeder bolt
snug tight since you will be done with it for this routine after
doing this tightening, and then move on to the next bleeder bolt.
For every 5
repeats of steps i-iv, get to the top of the vehicle (and open
hood if closed), remove the top of the master cylinder
reservoir, and, as necessary, pour in more of the new brake
fluid, making sure the reservoir is, at the very least, never
depleted of the new fluid below halfway in any event.
Repeat steps 9-10
for each remaining bleeder bolt of each remaining wheel.
Make sure, in the
end, the master cylinder reservoir is replenished to the top
with brake fluid. Make sure the top lid of the reservoir
is secure when done.
Knowing and actually practicing this routine will
cause you to fortunately not be included as one of the very many
vehicle owners who miss out in performing this crucial maintenance
practice of keeping their brake fluids in check and, thus, their
brakes working efficiently and effectively.
Handyman Zone Team
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