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Hey, you're in the vehicle / car zone--YOUR HANDYMAN ZONE!

Cars / Trucks / Vans Category: Brakes

Maintenance Issues:

How to maintain brakes, fluid-wise.

Tools / Materials (See Below for Applicability):

  • 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)

  • Brake cleaner (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)

  • An empty bottle (such as an empty clear 2-liter soda bottle, to capture running/draining brake fluid)

  • Clear tubing (such as air filter aquarium tubing)

  • Rags, 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 the ground)

  • Replacement cylinders

  • Replacement calipers

  • Wheel chocks

  • A helper/extra manpower assistance

  • Owner's manual



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:

  1. 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.)

  2. 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).

  3. 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.

  4. 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 each time.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.)

  7. 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.

  8. 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).

  9. 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:

i. 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." 

ii. 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).

iv. 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.

v.  Repeat steps i.-iv. until the bleeder bolt causes the new, clear brake fluid to flow out into the connected clear tube.

vi. 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.

  1. 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.

  2. Repeat steps 9-10 for each remaining bleeder bolt of each remaining wheel.

  3. 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.

Ed the Handyman


Your Handyman Zone Team


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