Can a brake leak cause my brakes to fail?
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Yes, but only if the leak is large and sudden. Such leaks are typically due to a blown steel brake line (due to rust) or a blown rubber hose. Even in the event of a large leak, in a modern brake system, a complete failure of a brake line due to rust will only affect one-half of your 4-wheel braking system. That means that even with one blown line, you will still be able to stop the car with fully functioning brakes at two wheels. However, stopping distance will be longer.
Brake fluid seepage through wheel cylinders or pipe joints will not cause your brakes to fail, but will eventually set off a Low Fluid Level Warning Light in the instrument panel on many, but not all cars. Brake line corrosion on vehicles that are ten years old or older is a serious safety concern.
To address this problem, there are excellent retrofit materials available to mechanics that do not corrode like steel. These are DOT approved copper alloy materials that are excellent for older cars. Your mechanic can advise you as to your options.
Conventional brake fluid is highly hygroscopic and thus should be completely flushed from your vehicle at least every 3 to 5 years. That will minimize internal corrosion of brake system metal parts. If your brake fluid is leaking have it inspected as soon as possible by a qualified technician, such as one from YourMechanic.
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