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The Dangers of What Happens When Brake Fluid is Low

Published on
July 8, 2024

How Does Brake Fluid Work?

Brake fluid plays a crucial role in the hydraulic brake system of your vehicle. When you press the brake pedal, the force is carried through the brake fluid to the brake calipers or wheel cylinders. This makes the brake pads or shoes clamp down on the rotors or drums. It slows and then stops the vehicle.

The hydraulic brake system is a closed system filled with brake fluid, which is an incompressible liquid. When you press the brake pedal, it creates hydraulic pressure in the brake lines. The pressure moves to the brake calipers or wheel cylinders. The brake fluid transfers this force from the pedal to the brakes. It ensures the brakes work well.

Before we get to what happens when your brake fluid is low, we need to first understand the different types of brake fluid.

Different types of brake fluids are available. Each has its own traits and specs. The most common types are:

1. Glycol-based brake fluids: These are the most widely used brake fluids and are compatible with most vehicle brake systems. They absorb moisture from the air over time. This can lead to corrosion and worse braking.

2. Silicone-based brake fluids: These are less hygroscopic and have a higher boiling point. This makes them good for high-performance and racing. Yet, they do not work with all brake materials. They may need special maintenance.

3. Mineral-based brake fluids: These are less common and usually used in older vehicles or specialized applications. They have a lower boiling point and are not as effective at transferring force as glycol-based fluids.

Brake fluid must meet set performance standards and specs. These are set by groups like the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). These standards ensure the brake fluid can handle extreme temperatures and resist boiling. They also ensure it keeps its incompressibility over time. This keeps braking reliable.

What are the Symptoms of Low Brake Fluid?

Spongy or Soft Brake Pedal

One of the most noticeable signs of low brake fluid is a spongy or soft brake pedal. When you press down on the brake pedal, it should feel firm and responsive. But, if the brake fluid level is low, air can enter the brake lines, causing the pedal to feel spongy or soft. This can significantly reduce your braking power and increase stopping distances, putting you at risk of an accident.

Brake Warning Light on the Dashboard

Most modern vehicles are equipped with a brake warning light on the dashboard. This light is designed to illuminate when the brake fluid level drops below a certain threshold or when there is a problem with the braking system. If you see this warning light, it's crucial to address the issue promptly. Have your brakes inspected by a professional.

Discolored or Dirty Brake Fluid

Fresh brake fluid should have a light, amber-colored appearance. But, over time, the fluid can become contaminated or degraded, causing it to appear darker or even brown. This discoloration is a sign that the brake fluid needs to be flushed and replaced. Dirty or contaminated brake fluid can cause corrosion and damage to the brake system parts. This damage harms their performance and longevity.

Unusual Noises When Braking

If you hear unusual noises, such as squealing, grinding, or groaning, when applying the brakes, it could be a sign of low brake fluid or other brake-related issues. These noises can indicate worn brake pads, damaged brake rotors, or other problems within the braking system. Dealing with these noises quickly is vital. It will keep you safe and stop more damage to your car's brakes.

What are the Causes of Low Brake Fluid?

One of the primary causes of low brake fluid is leaks in the brake system. These leaks can occur in various components, such as the brake lines or brake calipers. Over time, the rubber seals and connections in these parts can decay. This decay allows brake fluid to seep out.

Worn brake pads can also contribute to low brake fluid levels. As the brake pads wear down, they cause the calipers to extend more. This pushes more brake fluid from the master cylinder into the caliper bores. This displacement can eventually lead to a low fluid level in the reservoir.

Damaged or aging brake components, such as the brake lines, hoses, or calipers, can also cause brake fluid leaks. These parts face high temps, vibrations, and pressure changes. They can develop cracks, holes, or wear over time.

Another potential cause of low brake fluid is internal leakage into the brake booster. The brake booster is a vacuum-assisted device that helps reduce the effort required to apply the brakes. If the seals or diaphragms in the booster fail, brake fluid can leak into the booster, resulting in a low fluid level in the reservoir.

Fixing these causes is crucial. It keeps brake fluid at the right level. This ensures your vehicle's braking system works safely and efficiently. If you are troubleshooting your brakes, then you need to make sure the that the issue is in fact due to brake fluid. There are some common areas to inspect on your brakes to know the issue is brake fluid.

Common Areas to Inspect for Brake Fluid Leaks

One of the first steps in addressing low brake fluid is to identify the source of the leak. Brake fluid leaks can occur in various areas of the braking system, and it's essential to inspect these areas thoroughly. Common areas to check for leaks include:

  • Brake lines: Inspect the rigid and flexible brake lines for any cracks, bulges, or signs of leakage. These lines carry brake fluid from the master cylinder to the calipers or wheel cylinders.
  • Calipers and wheel cylinders: Check the calipers (for disc brakes) and wheel cylinders (for drum brakes) for any signs of fluid leakage. These components house the brake pads or shoes and can develop leaks over time due to wear and tear.
  • Master cylinder: This is the heart of the brake system. Leaks can occur at the reservoir or the cylinder.
  • Brake hoses: They connect the rigid brake lines to the calipers or wheel cylinders through their flexibility. They can develop cracks or leaks from age and exposure to heat and dirt.

Can You Drive with Low Brake Fluid?

Driving with low brake fluid is extremely dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. When your brake fluid is low, it hurts the whole braking system. This leads to several critical issues:

Reduced Braking Performance: Brake fluid causes reduced braking. It transfers force from the pedal to the pads. This force lets them clamp down on the rotors and slow or stop the vehicle. With too little fluid, this force transfer becomes less effective. It leads to less braking power. You may notice that you need to apply more pressure on the brake pedal to achieve the desired stopping power.

Increased Stopping Distances: Your vehicle's reduced braking performance has made it need longer distances to stop. This longer stopping distance can be dangerous. It's especially true in emergencies or at higher speeds. You may find yourself unable to stop in time to avoid collisions or other obstacles.

Risk of Complete Brake Failure: In extreme cases of low brake fluid, the braking system can fail altogether. This means that you may lose the ability to stop your vehicle, putting you and others on the road in grave danger. A complete brake failure can lead to catastrophic accidents and injuries.

Potential for Accidents and Safety Hazards: Compromised brakes make accidents much more likely. You may be unable to stop in time at intersections, pedestrian crossings, or when faced with sudden obstacles. Also, the lack of control over your vehicle's braking can cause skidding and loss of traction. This creates safety hazards. It's especially a problem in bad weather or on slippery surfaces.

It is crucial to address low brake fluid levels promptly. If you notice any signs of low brake fluid, such as a mushy or spongy brake pedal, a brake warning light on your dashboard, or unusual noises when braking, it is imperative to have your vehicle inspected by our qualified D&R Automotive mechanics immediately. Continuing to drive with low brake fluid puts your safety and the safety of others at risk.

What to Do If Your Brake Fluid is Low

Steps to Safely Check Brake Fluid Levels

The brake fluid reservoir is usually near the back of the engine compartment. It is labeled with the brake fluid symbol or the words "BRAKE FLUID." To check the level, first ensure your vehicle is parked on a level surface and the engine is cool. Locate the reservoir and inspect the level of fluid inside. Most reservoirs have markings to state the minimum and maximum levels. If the fluid is below the minimum mark, it needs to be topped up.

Proper Way to Add Brake Fluid

Before adding brake fluid, ensure you use the correct type specified in your vehicle's owner's manual. Mixing them can contaminate the brake system and lead to failure. Different types of brake fluid are not compatible. Clean the area around the reservoir cap to prevent debris from falling in, then carefully remove the cap. Using a clean funnel or turkey baster, slowly add the new brake fluid until it reaches the maximum level mark. Avoid overfilling the reservoir, as this can cause fluid to leak out and potentially damage other components.

Importance of Using the Correct Brake Fluid Type

Brake fluid is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs moisture from the air over time. This moisture can lead to rust in the brake system. It also lowers the fluid's boiling point. This can cause brake fade or failure when braking hard. Use the right brake fluid type, as specified by the vehicle manufacturer. This ensures it works with the brake system parts and keeps the fluid at its best.

When to Seek Help From a Mechanic

While topping up the brake fluid is a relatively simple task, it's crucial to address the underlying cause of the low fluid level. If you notice a significant or recurring drop in brake fluid level, it may indicate a leak in the brake lines, calipers, or other components. In such cases, you should have one of our mechanics inspect and fix the brakes. This will ensure they work right and keep you safe.

Why Get Regular Brake Inspections?

Regular brake inspections are crucial. They ensure the safety and reliability of your vehicle's brakes. At D&R Automotive, we value well-maintained brakes. We offer brake repair thorough inspections to find any issues before they become larger problems.

Our expert mechanics examine every part of your brake system. This includes the pads, rotors, calipers, fluid, and lines. We use high-tech diagnostic gear to check your brakes. We will give you a detailed report on what we find.

We can detect wear and tear, leaks, or other issues that harm braking. We do this with comprehensive brake inspections. By fixing these problems early, you can avoid pricier repairs later. You will also ensure your vehicle's brakes are at their best.

Our Expert Brake Repairs and Replacements

Should your vehicle need brake repairs or replacements, you can trust D&R Automotive to provide top-notch services. Our ASE-certified mechanics have lots of experience. They do a wide range of brake services, from brake pad replacements to complete brake system overhauls.

We use only premium brake components from good makers. We ensure that your vehicle's braking system has high-quality parts and provides you with great long-lasting performance. Our attention to detail and commitment to excellence ensure that every repair or replacement is done right the first time.

Use of Premium Brake Components

At D&R Automotive, we believe that using top brake parts is essential. They are key for the highest safety and performance. Cheap parts can make your vehicle's brakes worse. They can put you and your passengers at risk.

We carefully source our brake components from trusted suppliers. We make sure that every part we install meets or beats the manufacturer's specs. We are committed to using premium parts. They boost your vehicle's braking. They also add to the life and trustworthiness of your braking system.

D&R Automotive Commitment to Customer Safety and Satisfaction

Your safety is our top priority at D&R Automotive. We understand that your vehicle's brakes are one of the most critical safety systems, and we take our responsibility seriously. Our experienced mechanics are dedicated to providing exceptional service. They also ensure that your vehicle's brakes are in great condition.

We pride ourselves on our commitment to customer satisfaction, and our goal is to exceed your expectations with every visit. We are transparent. We pay close attention to detail. We aim to create a smooth and trustworthy experience for all our customers. Contact us today to set up an appointment!

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