Does My Car Really Need This Service ~ Brake Fluid

Volkswagen brake fluid service

I get this question, all the time. If comes in several forms, but all boils down to to this,

Does my car really need this service?

Today I want to talk about Brake Fluid. It can often be over looked. Flushing it will not get your better gas mileage. It wont make your neighbor come over and ask if you just detailed the car. That does not mean that you can just pass on doing it.

Why would it need to be changed?
Like most fluids in your car, brake fluid has a service interval. If you drive a VW, it is every 2 or 3 years. Please consult your owners manual for the proper service interval.

Volkswagen brake fluid service

This is what your fluid should not look like!

The fluid in your brake system is vital to proper brake operation. The fluid in the system moves pistons which push the pad into the brake rotor. When that happens your car stops 🙂

If dirt or other contaminates get into the fluid, it can change the behavior of your cars braking. The biggest enemy to brake fluid is moisture. Brake fluid is hygroscopic. That means it absorbs and holds water. This is a good thing in a brake system. It will all but eliminate brake lines rusting from the inside.

There is another reason that moisture is bad in your brake lines. Water can boil. If the fluid in your brake fluid boils, it can engage the brakes, or change the way they behave. In the right climate that water can freeze too.

Phoenix Systems Brake Fluid Test Strips (100 / Tube) - PHOFASCAR-1-100

Brake fluid test strips

How do I check the fluid
Checking the brake fluid is pretty easy. All you have to do is open the reservoir and look inside. That will give you a basic idea of what the fluid looks like. That may not tell the entire story. You can not see how much moisture is in brake fluid.

Something like these brake test strips work really well. They are pretty expensive for most people. These come in at about $70. Since you can get your brake fluid serviced for ~$100-$120 it seems silly to spend $70 to test, then another $100+ to replace.

When I inspect brake fluid, I really focus on the color. New brake fluid is clear with a yellow tint. As it ages it turns green, then brown. If your brake fluid is brown you are in bad shape. When I checked the fluid in the Cabby, it was really thick and brown. Not a good thing. I have a feeling that it will take a lot of cleaning to get the lines right

How is the fluid replaced?
At work, we have a really great machine to flush brake fluid. The fluid in the reservoir gets vacuumed out. Then we ‘push’ clean brake fluid through the system. Each brake has a bleeder valve that we open and allow the fluid to flow. I let it flow out until the fluid coming out is clean, then just a little longer. You can also check out the post I wrote about Servicing Brake Fluid. It was my 2nd post on the site so it’s not great, but the information is spot on.

So do I really need it?
I would have to say yes on this service. This is one service that really can cause some safety issues, and costly repairs down the road. Check with your owners manual to see when your brake fluid is due for service. If you don’t have your book, call your local dealer and ask them. If you have never had your brake fluid serviced, get it serviced, or DIY.

From time to time, I give you guys some information that is really worth sharing. I think that this post in one. Every car has brake fluid, and all brake fluid needs to be serviced. Make sure that you get yours done when it needs it!

11 replies
  1. Uwe
    Uwe says:

    Another thing to consider when putting the cost of a brake fluid service in perspective is the cost of replacing the ABS master cylinder. Fresh, clean fluid will help the original one live a long and happy life.

  2. Phil
    Phil says:

    Thank you! It grinds my gears when (how perfectly punny is that?) when I tell a customer they NEED brake fluid and they resist. I know there’s the shady mechanic stigma (especially in Utah, seems like) but my shop follows the owners manuals and even when I point it out to them in their own manual, they’re still reluctant! So thanks a heap for spreadin the word. Awesome blog you got here!

  3. charlie
    charlie says:

    As a courier driving my own car making small deliveries, I average over 70,000 per year and my last 2 cars I drove over 400,000 miles. In my lifetime I have driven
    several other cars over 200,000 miles and have never had the brake fluid changed and have never experienced more than normal brake problems. I also never change shocks or struts and never will unless there is excessive tire wear or a safety issue.Oil,transmission fluid, and coolant must be changed regularly. Never buy a car with a timing belt.

  4. Mike
    Mike says:

    I drink brake fluid. I have for years. I have never rusted out and it keeps me balanced. I also think that brake pads are served best on a bed of rice pilaf and lime.

  5. JEFF S.
    JEFF S. says:

    I purchased a brake fluid tester off Amazon for $10, I have seen it at other places for $40. It tells you how much water is in your brake fluid, above 3% you change it. Or if the color is off, you know when I check mine it always looks clear. If it ever looked brown or black then I would definitely change it. In 42 years of driving I have never had my brake fluid flushed, (some added during bleeding after brake work) in 25 different cars, several with anti-lock brakes, zero problems. But I know if you changed it out every 30 K miles it would not send you to the poor house. I just hear about shops that charge you for services like a brake flush and then they do not even do the work. I do all the maintenance on my cars, always will as long as I can turn a wrench. Son of a mechanic who taught me well. I was doing basic fluid changes, spark plugs, cap rotor and wires at age 16. I enjoy working on my cars and saving money.

  6. Henry Killingsworth
    Henry Killingsworth says:

    While I was driving home last night, I noticed that whenever I pressed my brake pedal it created a strange scraping sound. I found it interesting when you explained that it is important to have the fluids in your brakes changed because it helps move the pistons and it keeps moisture from building up in the lines. I’ll be sure to get my car to a mechanic as soon as possible to get this service done.


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