Understanding the various components that make your car function properly is crucial not only for vehicle maintenance but also for safety, but it’s easy to overlook some of these components like the muffler, or bumper and whether your car needs them.
But we’re here to talk about the brake fluid, a component that is more important than you might think. It’s the magic juice that makes your car stop when you hit the brakes. And without it, well, let’s just say things could get pretty hairy pretty fast.
So, can you drive a car without brake fluid?
You can’t drive a car without brake fluid because the fluid is what powers your brake system. The function of the brake fluid is to transfer hydraulic pressure from the pedal to the brake pad through the fluid line. So without brake fluid the brake pad won’t respond when you move your pedal.
We’re going to break down everything you need to know about this vital fluid – what it does, how it works, and why it’s so crucial to your car’s braking system. We’ll also give you the lowdown on how to check if it’s running low, and what to do if it is.
So, whether you’re a car whizz or just curious, buckle up. We’re about to dive deep into the world of brake fluid. Let’s hit the road, shall we?
How Brake Fluid Works
The brake fluid links the brake pedal and other parts of a car’s brake system.
So how does brake fluid work? When you push the pedal, it pushes the piston into a master cylinder (this cylinder is filled with brake fluid)
The cylinder uses the hoses in the system to push the brake fluid to the brake calipers on the disc of each brake. (There are four brake discs, each serving each wheel).
The master cylinder translates mechanical force, from your foot, into hydraulic pressure which is then transferred to the brake calipers (in a disc brake system) or wheel cylinders (in a drum brake system).
The increased pressure causes the calipers or wheel cylinders to clamp the brake pads onto the brake rotors (or against the drum), creating friction that slows or stops the vehicle’s wheels completely.
holding the brake pad on each of the wheels and this application enables the car to slow or stop completely.
As you can see the proper functionality of your car’s braking system heavily relies on the successful operation of the master cylinder and the presence of brake fluid.
Are There Cars That Work Without Brake fluids?
Maybe before the 50s. But most cars manufactured since the 50s are operated hydraulically. Meaning they depend on pressure to bring your car to a stop, which brake fluids can only provide.
This implies that when you push the brake pedal, you pressurize some fluid lines. These fluid lines go straight to the wheel, where the pressure added compels the brake pad against the rotors or drums.
Can I Drive A Car With Low Brake fluid?
First, if your brake fluid is low, it should be of great concern to you. Low fluid most times is caused by leakage.
You can’t drive your car seamlessly with low brake fluid because brake fluid at a normal level allows your car brakes to function properly. So if it’s low, you might experience difficulty moving the pedal.
Suppose you notice you have low brake fluid. Take your car off the road and fix it. You can top up the fluid yourself or have an expert do it, then continue your journey.
It’s also important to add that experiencing difficulty moving the pedal could be due to several other reasons, including worn-out brake pads or a failing master cylinder, in any case you need to get your car properly checked to ensure your safety and the safety of others when you’re driving.
Can You Drive With Brake Fluid Leaks?
You can drive with fluid leaks only with your heart in your hands. Yes! A fluid leak means a big vehicle issue. Whenever there is a leak from the brake lines, the hydraulic pressure of your brake system reduces. Which inherently causes a change in your brake pedal.
You might find it difficult to push the pedal with your foot because of too much pressure exerted from the brake. In some cases, the pedal loses all pressure and drops down. A pressure change on your pedal is a warning that something is wrong with your car. Take the car off the road and call for an expert mechanic to have your car checked.
How Do You Detect Brake Fluid Leak?
Most times, you might feel that your brake fluid is leaking due to a change in your pedal pressure or low fluid. But trying to spot if it’s really a fluid leak is sometimes tricky. This is because the fluid is almost transparent and appears like water. You may see droplets under your tire. So take note of these.
In fact, any leak you see on your garage floor or driveways should be taken seriously. Please do not ignore it. And if you’re not sure what fluid it is, call the attention of an expert mechanic to have it checked.
I Was Able To Drive My Car Without A Brake Fluid, How Is That Possible?
First, understand that you will crash if the entire brake fluid system is empty. The only reason you can still drive without brake fluid is that there is still fluid in the lines.
So, even if there is no fluid in your reservoir, there might be some fluid in the lines lines. In this case, you might get a low fluid warning by an illumination that comes from your car’s instrument cluster.
While there may still be some fluid in the lines, this doesn’t mean your car will stop normally. Driving in such conditions can lead to brake failure.
Signs To Know That Your Brake Fluid Is Getting Low?
You might be driving your car with the assumption that your brake fluid is intact. But when you see these signs, it might mean low brake fluid; check it out.
- Activation of your car’s ABS: if your car suddenly uses abs in a case where it would not normally use it, it might be a sign that your brake fluid is low. Topping it with the recommended oil would be a wise thing to do.
- Pedal Issues: Whenever your pedal suddenly becomes difficult to push, your brake fluid may be low. A top-up might be needed to ease that push.
- Brake pads Vibrating: If Your brake pad start vibrating anytime you apply brake. Check out for low brake fluid. There might be other causes such as brake rotors.
- Noise: If you start noticing noise whenever you use the brake of your car, it may be that your brake fluid is low.
Other factors might cause this noise too. So it’s advisable to have your brakes checked by a professional to put your mind at rest.
How To Check For Brake Fluid
Checking for brake fluid is part of car maintenance. It helps to know if your brake fluid is low or if you need to change it.
To check for the fluid condition
- Ensure your engine is cold
- Remove the master cylinder cover
- Stick in a strip into the brake fluid
- Shake off the surpluses
- Wait for 1 minute, then compare the strip color with the brake fluid tester package guide(The guide contains instruction on when to change your fluid)
- If the color is different from the recommended color in your guide, then you might need to change it
To Check For Fluid Level
- Make sure your engine is cold or at least not too hot.
- Locate your master cylinder. Most cars have their master cylinder at the back of the engine’s cavity on the driver’s side. )
- On top of the cylinder is a brake fluid reservoir, check the fluid level. (the fluid reservoir is a transparent container, so you can see the fluid level from there)
For cars made in the early 80s, their container is made of aluminum. For this, you will need to remove the reservoir cap to check the fluid level.
- Check if the fluid is between the minimum or maximum line through the transparent container or reservoir cap.
If you’re more of a visual person, you can also check this helpful video on how to check your brake fluid level:
When Do You Change Your Brake Fluid?
For the brake system to function well, you must keep brake fluid properly and in good condition. Concerning this, most manufacturers suggest that you change your brake fluid completely after using it for 24,000 miles. Some recommend changing it every 2-3 years, not minding the mileage covered.
This may also vary based on the manufacturer’s recommendations, the type of brake fluid used, and the driving conditions.
Instead of following the general recommendation, you can ascertain the condition of the fluid yourself, then change it. To do this, kindly refer to your car’s owners’ manual for the most accurate guidance. It contains manufacturers’ instructions on when to change your fluid.
Best Brake Fluid To Use?
Good quality Dot 3 or Dot 4 brake fluids are used for the majority of cars. Some car brakes may need Dot 5 oil because it has silicon with many chemical properties than Dot 3 and 4. However, every car maker has its manufacturers’ recommended fluid. So make sure you check your owners’ manual to see if particular brake fluid is recommended for your car.
The reservoir cap also conveys information on the type of brake fluid you should use. Know that using the wrong brake fluid could damage your brakes.
Can You Check Your Brake Fluid With The Car Running?
First, you should verify if it’s ideal for checking your fluid when hot or cold.
But ideally, to check your brake fluid, take your car off the road. Please turn off the engine and allow it to cool before checking.
That;s because hydraulic systems can be pressurized when the engine is running, presenting a potential safety hazard.
Brake Fluid Is Low, Can You Just Add More Fluid?
If you observe that your brake fluid is low, use this opportunity to check for its color if it’s brown or black, then no need to add to it. Instead, see it as the best time to flush it out completely and replace it with a new one. But if the color is normal as the recommended one, you can add more fluid.
How To Refill Your Brake Fluid
Refilling could be that you want to top the brake fluid or you want to change it. Of course, this should be done after checking the level and condition of the fluid.
To top it
- Ensure you are using the right brake fluid (check your owners’ manual to see if there is a specific fluid recommended by your car’s manufacturer)
- Clean the reservoir cap with a dry clean rag to remove dirt or particles that can slip into the reservoir
- Take off the reservoir cap
- Pour in the recommended brake fluid for your car into the reservoir
- To avoid spillage, you can use a very clean funnel
- Close the reservoir when you’re done
Fluids are corrosive enough to wash of painted surfaces, so ensure you wash off any fluid on your hands. It’s harmful to your skin. It can also be harmful if it comes in contact with eyes or if ingested, so make sure to always handle brake fluid with care.
To drain and Replace
Draining and replacing your fluid is much complicated than topping. In this case, it is advisable to consult your owners’ manual for instructions.
The guide below may not work for every vehicle. So ensure you strictly follow your manufacturer’s instructions.
- Get a partner as this process requires two persons
- Jack up the vehicle and remove its wheels
- Open the hood of your car and locate the reservoir
- Add more fluid to the reservoir even if the fluid in the reservoir is colored
- Replace the cap when you are done
In the following steps, you will repeatedly enter and leave the car and eventually add more oil. Try not to remove the reservoir cap while the reservoir cap is compressed; this could make the fluid burst out.
- Look for the vehicle’s bleed valves on the brake calipers
- Bleed the first wheel by connecting the bleed to a transparent plastic container. (Do this by hanging the container above the caliper to prevent air from entering). Then slightly loosen the valve
- Let your partner pump the vehicle’s brake until there is friction from the brake. Then loosen the valve till the fluid starts passing
- Make sure you stop bleeding before the pedal touches the ground as this could damage your brakes
- Check the reservoir after each bleeding and add more fluid when necessary
- Repeat the bleeding process until the fluid passing through the valve has no impurities or bubbles
- Bleed the other wheels
- When you are done bleeding the other wheels, fill in the reservoir and close the cap
- Wipeout excesses fluid that spilled
- Check if the cap is properly sealed
- Clean up any spills on the ground. Fluids are corrosive and noxious, as they can change surfaces or cause slippage accidents.
The brake fluid plays a vital role in the functionality of your car. It is responsible for supplying the force needed by the brake parts to stop a car. If your brakes fail you, you might not live to tell the story.
So, having it checked and ensuring it’s intact and in good condition is paramount!
Hi! My name is Stefan; I’m the owner and lead writer at TheDriverAdviser.com.
I’m an active writer on this blog myself, as well as a novice car mechanic. For the really technical stuff, I find writers with experience as a mechanic or who have studied mechanical engineering.
Read more about our fantastic team on our about page!