As drivers, we put a lot of trust in our brakes. We assume they’ll work in every road condition. We trust in their abilities as we pull up to a stoplight, and think nothing about the process as we slow down for traffic.
But when you experience brake failure, fear runs through your veins. You apply pressure to the brake pedal and nothing is there. Ever had that happen when you hit a patch of ice?
As Coloradoans, we’ve learned to pay attention to driving conditions, especially in the winter. We slow down on icy roads, and become more cautious as the snowpack builds.
What about brake failure? Under the best of conditions, your brakes will only last so long. Over time, parts wear down, fluids leak, and defects become more prominent, until you reach a point where they aren’t performing the job as best as they can.
That’s when you face more risk, and potential failure.
What is brake fluid?
Brake fluid is a hydraulic fluid. Hydraulic fluids are designed to provide energy transmission, which permits work and motion throughout the system. Hydraulic fluid is responsible for lubrication as well as heat transfer, and will prevent contaminants from entering inside the system.
Today’s modern vehicles wouldn’t work without the use of hydraulic fluids. In the brake system, it transfers force into the system, and amplifies the braking force.
Brake fluid operates under high temperatures and high pressure. It’s what gives you ease when you press down on your brake pedal, yet adds power to the process and brings your vehicle to a stop. That makes brake fluid one of the most important fluids you’ll find inside your vehicle. Without the right amount, the right kinds, and in the right condition, your vehicle would cease to run.
How do you know if your brake fluid isn’t operating well?
Like every system inside your vehicle, the brake system is designed with safeguards to warn you of potential problems. Pay attention to these signs. They will tell you when it’s time to replace your brake fluid.
ABS icon lights up
Luckily, today’s vehicles come with a computerized system that senses when changes occur within. When a problem is detected, the sensor triggers a light to the icons on your dashboard.
ABS stands for Anti-lock Braking System. This light is designed to trigger when brake fluid is low or contaminated. When you see it, it’s a sign you need to bring your vehicle in for an inspection, and have a mechanic either top off your brake fluid, or replace it altogether.
Brake pedal operation
The brake system is designed to slow down and come to a complete stop with little pressure from you. As you tap the brake pedal, the action takes place quickly as hydraulic fluid transfers and adds power to the system.
When you press down and notice the action takes more effort, it’s a clear indication the brake fluid isn’t fully operational. It may be contaminated. It may be leaking somewhere in the system. That loss means you need to apply more pressure to get the job done.
If you notice a softer touch, you push down with little action at all, it’s essential to bring your car to a mechanic as soon as possible. This is a clear indication of a leak within the system.
When systems aren’t fully operational, you’ll find they make strange noises. They do so because parts don’t operate correctly, and action starts to shut down.
If contaminants are in the system, they can do a lot of damage to the system. Clogged lines, frozen caliper pistons, leaks in the seals, and master cylinder failure all create unique noises as they degrade due to lack of lubrication.
If your brakes make any noise at all, don’t take chances. Schedule an inspection as soon as possible to ensure they remain operational.
Problems with the brake pads
When was the last time you replaced your brake pads? Have you checked them and discovered they still have wear left on them, but your car is still making noises when you apply the brake pedal? It might be the brake fluid instead.
If the brake fluid is low, or if it’s contaminated with dirt and debris, it can impact the connection the brake pads make with the wheel, causing a squealing, grinding, or squeaking noise.
A burning smell
Have you ever slammed on the brakes and noticed a burning smell? Or if you ride your brakes coming down the mountain, is a chemical odor noticeable? It’s associated with hard braking, and is a sign of overheating with the brake system.
When you notice this, pull over immediately to allow your brakes to cool. If they continue operating at high temperature levels, you risk overheating the brake fluid. That’s one of the most common reasons for brake failure.
If you smell anything or see smoke, it’s a sign you might need new brake fluid. And there’s a potential for other damage in the braking system too.
How long does brake fluid last in a car?
When is the last time you read your owner’s manual? It’s not something most of us read on a regular basis. Yet it gives you guidelines for how best to operate your vehicle, including when to change your brake fluid.
There is no set time to change brake fluid. It doesn’t operate in the same manner as motor oil. It’s based on how the car was manufactured, as well as how you operate your vehicle.
A good rule of thumb is to check it regularly, even have it checked at the time you’re having your motor oil replaced. It often can last at least four to five years, or even longer. There is a benefit to using a local mechanic who gets to know you and your car well. You can establish a maintenance routine that both you and your car depend on to keep your vehicle in good operating condition.
When was the last time you had your brake fluid checked, topped off, or replaced?