The most ignored service your car needs? A brake system flush service.
One of the first things we learn about vehicles is what makes them run, but what we need to also be focusing on is what makes them stop; because stopping can cause stress and confusion for the owner.
So here is a little rundown of what happens when you use your brakes, and how they function in stopping your car from moving. When you push the brake pedal, the brake fluid is pumped through the system and causes the brake pads to press against the rotors, making the car slow down and eventually stop.
Over time, the brake fluid absorbs air, moisture and sludge, and gets thick and infected, or contaminated as we say in the automotive repair industry. Air in the brake fluid is dangerous because it causes braking to feel spongy, or interrupted and significantly reduces braking efficiency, not to mention it can even destroy expensive ABS components.
So, what is a brake system flush? And why is it so important?
A brake system flush removes the existing fluid and moisture out of the system and it is then replaced with new, clean fluid. This procedure ensures proper brake system performance and increases the lifespan of the brake system components and your car.
Making sure the vehicle's brake fluid is clean and in smooth working order, is a commonly neglected maintenance task. If neglected, it may compromise your car's safety, and cost big bucks to repair. But you also run the risk of accidents and other increased safety concerns.
Most manufacturers have a recommended time interval to change your brake fluid – typically every two years. This is a good way to make sure your brake fluid is changed regularly, but there are better ways to determine if your brake fluid is still good after two years.
To determine the condition of your brake fluid:
Check the color of the brake fluid: Fresh, clean brake fluid is clear to slightly yellow in color. If the brake fluid is brown or black, it's a strong indication that it needs changing. Further testing from your automotive technician will confirm this.
Use a brake fluid test strip: This determines if there is copper in the brake fluid and indicates the ongoing ability to inhibit corrosion. These strips will quickly tell you if the brake fluid is still serviceable or if it needs to be changed. Corrosion is risky business for your vehicle and ensuring a slow or minimal corrosion rate with regular testing is a wise idea.
Check the moisture content of the brake fluid: Here's where you can use an optical refractometer; a device used for testing for the measurement of an index of refraction. Using a refractometer can help determine how much water is present in the brake system. Since brake fluid absorbs water over time, it gets diluted and its effectiveness is reduced. This can lead to corrosion of brake components like brake calipers, which can stick; brake lines that can corrode; and seals that can degrade, all issues that put the safety of you and your vehicle at risk.
Because water has a lower boiling point than brake fluid, this can have an impact on braking capability. A spongy brake pedal is an indication of water in a brake system that has boiled and become a gas. Over the course of two years of normal braking, a vehicle's brake system can absorb 5% of its volume in water. Dangerous.
Most drivers don't think about their brakes until they stop working (and you hope this doesn't happen when you are winding through the Rocky Mountains or propelling down a slope).
Smart drivers take good care of their brakes, and their vehicles overall. They will replace the pads and resurface the rotors as needed, test fluids and other systems regularly to ensure safety and longevity of their car.
So…. when your automotive technician recommends that you get your brake system flushed, do it. It isn't worth saving the cash for a larger expense later.