What Is Brake Fluid and What Does it Do? | YourMechanic Advice

What Is Brake Fluid and What Does it Do?

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Brake fluid, also known as hydraulic fluid, is responsible for moving the various components of your vehicle’s braking system. The fluid operates under high temperatures and high pressure and, without it, your car or truck would not be able to stop when you push the brake pedal inside your vehicle. Brake fluid is a non-compressible substance that lies within the brake lines, delivering the force created by your push on the brake pedal to each of the brake rotors on the four corners of your vehicle. This applies pressure to the wheels and ultimately slows or stops your movement. Here is a step-by-step and somewhat simplified look at how brake fluid works within a hydraulic brake system:

  • The driver depresses the brake pedal.

  • The pedal compresses a piston inside the brake caliper.

  • This compression increases the pressure inside the brake lines and sends the brake fluid into motion.

  • The pressure of the brake fluid then causes the brake rotors to squeeze down on brake pads, which then make contact with the wheels, slowing and eventually stopping wheel rotation and also the vehicle itself.

The types of brake fluid

While brake fluid function is relatively easy to understand, there is a wide variety of types to choose from, which may be confusing when it is time to replace the brake, or hydraulic fluid. The two chief types of brake fluid are glycol-based, which can be further divided by grade, and silicon-based fluids. Glycol-based brake fluids are typically used in vehicles with anti-lock brake systems (ABS) while silicone-based ones work only in cars and trucks without ABS technology. If a vehicle without anti-lock brakes has ever had a glycol-based brake fluid, you cannot switch to a silicone-based one because small amounts of glycol will remain behind and chemically compromise the integrity of the silicone. Glycol-based fluids are classified by a Department of Transportation (DOT) number up to 5.1, which indicates the boiling point of the fluid. Higher DOT numbers indicate better quality of hydraulic fluid that can withstand higher temperatures. To know what type of brake fluid is best for your vehicle, consult your owner’s manual or give one of our mechanics a call.

How often to change brake fluid

Over time, brake fluid can absorb moisture from the air, which will cause the fluid to degrade and not work properly. This is why it is important to periodically drain the oil fluid out and replace it with new fluid to ensure proper brake fluid function. Most mechanics suggest changing the fluid for brakes every one to two years, although every vehicle has different maintenance needs. Since the purpose of brake fluid is so integral to safety, check your owner’s manual for the recommended brake fluid changing schedule. If it is still unclear how often you should change out fluids or you suspect there is something amiss with your braking system, don’t put off calling a mobile mechanic from YourMechanic for help.


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Luke

15 years of experience
138 reviews
Luke
15 years of experience
Nissan Maxima - Spark Plugs - Saint Louis, Missouri
Showed up on-time, did the job as expected, and topped off my coolant as well.
Subaru Legacy - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Valley Park, Missouri
Luke was professional and efficient. I am in Florida and purchasing a car in Missouri, and he was my eyes and ears in Missouri for the car I was planning on buying. His inspection was extremely thorough, and he caught 2 issues on the vehicle that the owner's mechanic did not catch! Fantastic service.

Dan

38 years of experience
789 reviews
Dan
38 years of experience
Honda Odyssey - Valve Cover Gasket - Lawrenceville, Georgia
Dan is an excellent mechanic who always provides quality service.
Chevrolet Blazer - Canister Purge Solenoid - Cumming, Georgia
Great as usual

Ben

40 years of experience
1147 reviews
Ben
40 years of experience
Mercedes-Benz E550 - Starter - Humble, Texas
Great!!! Ben knowledge of his job is exceptional and his work ethics is of exemplary quality. Thanks
Ford E-350 Econoline - Car is not starting - Houston, Texas
Excellent, Excellent, Excellent is all I can say. Great experience with Ben, proessional, friendly, and excellent mechanic. Ben is truely an asset to your company. Any issues I have, I will book Ben, without a doubt!!!

Jerel

10 years of experience
125 reviews
Jerel
10 years of experience
Saturn SL2 - Brake Pedal vibrates or shakes - Raleigh, North Carolina
Jerel was very professional and made it clear how much he enjoyed doing this sort of work. His thorough analysis and diagnosis (with pictures) gave me the confidence to follow through with his recommended services. He doesn't profit from parts or extra services, so I felt that I could trust him. I'll be saving Jerel as a favorite mechanic.

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