Don’t Neglect Your Brake Fluid in the Warmer Months
Updated 22 Nov 2023
In the hotter months of the year, you see many motorists towing their caravan or boat and heading off on an extended road trip.
Many responsible owners will have their workshop undertake a precautionary pre-trip vehicle health check, especially if they intend to cover large distances in remote areas when it comes to brakes.
However, one important area that can be overlooked is the condition of the brake fluid. A combination of hot temperatures and the added braking demands placed on fully loaded vehicles – can quickly expose older or contaminated brake fluid.
Why it’s important to change brake fluid
Although the braking system is a closed system, over time it can absorb small amounts of moisture through imperfect seals, microscopic holes in rubber hoses or even if the cap is left off the brake fluid reservoir for too long. This moisture can gradually mix with the brake fluid increasing its water content.
Having water within a hydraulic fluid is not a good thing. As well as reducing the transfer force of the brake fluid which affects how effectively pressure applied at the brake pedal is maintained to the brake calipers or drums, it can also lead to a lower boiling point for the fluid. Hot temperatures amplify the problem, as do demanding driving conditions, such as when towing.
If the brake fluid does reach boiling point, bubbles in the brake system can form, leading to a spongy brake pedal feel which can delay braking response and diminish the brake force that ultimately reaches the calipers or drums. Both these scenarios will lead to increased stopping distances.
Along with providing stopping power, two secondary functions of brake fluid are to lubricate all the moving parts within the braking system and to help dissipate heat within the system, leading to reliable and predictable braking performance.
Like most fluids and oils used in a vehicle, the brake fluid should be periodically changed to ensure it remains fresh and uncontaminated, which in turn ensures the braking system is operating at its full potential.
Owners should consult their service manual to learn more about their vehicle’s brake fluid changeover schedule and are advised to conduct a precautionary test if likely to be driving in hot and demanding conditions.
How to check brake fluid
To check the quality of the brake fluid, the owner or their mechanic can use an electronic brake fluid tester; the probe is dipped into the brake fluid reservoir and the tool analyses its quality, providing an estimate of the moisture within the fluid. More basic ‘strip’ tests are also available, which perform a similar function.
If the brake fluid does need replacing, your workshop will specify a fluid that’s in keeping with the vehicle’s OEM parameters and has an appropriate DOT (Department of Transport) rating.
DOT which is normally available in DOT 3, DOT 4, DOT 5 and DOT 5.1 refers to the fluid’s wet and dry boiling points. A reference point for dry boiling point is when the fluid is brand new, while wet boiling point is when the fluid is 1-2 years old and already has some moisture content. As an example, the dry boiling temperature for a DOT 4 fluid would be over 230°C, while the wet boiling temp could be closer to 155°C.
As a general rule, the higher the DOT rating, the higher the boiling point and longevity of the fluid. DOT 4 fluids are the most widely used – Bendix offers both high-performance Polyglycol DOT 3 and DOT 4 fluids, providing optimum performance in both hydraulic and conventional braking systems, meeting stringent Australian and U.S. specifications. They’re a great choice to meet the rigours of demanding summer driving.
Bendix, Australia’s leading brake manufacturer since 1955 is part of the international FMP Group, a world leader in brake technology.
FMP’s Australian manufacturing operation, based in Ballarat VIC, it is the regional technical centre of excellence in advanced research and development for Asia Pacific and a key original equipment supplier to leading vehicle manufacturers.
The Bendix program caters for the widest range of vehicle applications including 4WD’s and heavy commercial vehicles and trailers.
Automotive workshops can select from technically advanced Bendix products including General CT, 4WD/SUV, Heavy Duty, Euro+, Ultimate, Street Road Track, Brake Shoes, Commercial Vehicle, Brake Lubrication, Brake Fluid and Brake Parts Cleaner/Degreaser.