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How to Check a Car's Brake Fluid

Hitting the brakes is a necessary skill to have if you ever need to perform an emergency stop, but don’t forget to check your brake fluid to ensure your car has everything it needs to stop you dead in your tracks. Here’s how:

  • Brainy braking. Before you even start checking your brake fluid, keep the following points in mind to avoid making a few brake fluid bloopers. 1) Brake fluid is toxic, so take any rags with more than just a couple of small spots of fluid on them and any partially used cans of fluid to a toxic waste centre for disposal. 2) Don’t get brake fluid on anything that’s painted because brake fluid eats paint. If you spill any, wipe it up immediately and dispose of the rag ecologically! 3) Avoid getting grease or oil in your brake fluid; either one may ruin your hydraulic brake system.
  • Prep for precision. Start with cleaning the top of the oil reservoir carefully. Even a small amount of dirt falling into the fluid can cause the internal seals of the master cylinder to fail. Your brakes will begin to lose effectiveness and ultimately fail completely.
  • Open up. How you open your brake fluid reservoir will depend on what kind of reservoir you have; if you have the kind with a plastic reservoir on top, unscrew the cap of the reservoir. If you have a metal master cylinder that contains the reservoir, use a screwdriver to pry the retaining clamp off the top.
  • Make it snappy. Don’t leave the master cylinder uncovered or an open can of brake fluid sitting around for too long. Brake fluid soaks up moisture to keep it from settling in the hydraulic components and corroding them. If moist air gets to brake fluid for as little as 15 minutes, the fluid is ruined. So don’t dawdle, and keep the can tightly closed until you’re ready to use it.
  • Level up. Look to see where the fluid level lies and make sure that the brake fluid level is within half an inch or so of the cap. If the level isn’t high enough, add the proper brake fluid for your vehicle. If the brake fluid reservoir is empty when you check it, you may have to bleed the brake system.
  • Colour code. Brake fluid deteriorates with use, so be sure to check the colour of your brake fluid. If your brake fluid is dark in colour, it should be replaced by a mechanic.
  • Book your next brake-up. Have your brake fluid changed every two years. Doing so protects the hydraulic components from internal corrosion and premature brake failure.

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