What Is Brake Fluid and Why Is It So Important to Regularly Check

December 15th, 2023 by

A blue 2023 Chevy Corvette Z06 is shown from the side on a racetrack.

Whenever you watch a movie with a car chase, it seems inevitable that someone’s brakes will malfunction, leading to a high-stakes move in order for the hero to survive. It makes for a thrilling moment in the movie, but most folks put it out of their mind afterward. The average driver does not put enough thought into the health of their brakes when they most certainly should: a great brake system is your vehicle’s best safety system. Far little can be scarier than hitting your brakes and not getting the reaction you think you should. To keep your brake system healthy, you want to ensure the brake fluids are tested, not just whether the brakes are working.

If you’re looking for brake service near Hamilton, bring it to us here at McCluskey Chevrolet. Our service center is packed with talented and trained technicians who know exactly what to look for when giving your vehicle an inspection. We’re well aware of the myriad issues that can arise when you own a car, and our mechanics make certain that your vehicle isn’t suffering from them. If it is, they’re ready to fix it. You can sign up for our services, such as brake services, right on our website to streamline the process. When you choose McCluskey Chevrolet for your maintenance needs, your vehicle will be in expert hands.

However, we want to take some time today to explore why your brake fluid should be regularly checked. Whenever you opt for maintenance, we want to make sure your brake fluids are on your mind. Let’s take a closer look at brake fluid and the importance of having it checked.

A close-up of a yellow brake caliper is shown during a brake service near Hamilton.

What Exactly Is Brake Fluid?

Brake fluid is essentially the blood of your brake system. When you hit the brake pedal, brake fluid flows through the brake system to the brake pads, which then slow your vehicle. Just as your inner organs work better when your blood flows smoothly, the brake system in your vehicle works best when brake fluid can glide through the system without interruption or a sluggish momentum. In technical terms, brake fluid is a hydraulic fluid, which means it acts as a way to transfer power.

The pressure you put on the brakes affects the strength of the brake fluid that goes through the brake system. This is why when you are in an urgent situation and need to brake fast, you have to slam on the brakes to force the fluid through quickly. However, as fluid ages, it starts to take longer to get its job done, especially if water is mixing in with it (this can cause other problems, too, as water can corrupt parts of the brake system, corroding them over time; brake fluid itself is corrosion-resistant, preventing problems under well-maintained conditions).

Not all brake fluids are made the same. Depending on your vehicle type, you will need a different type of brake fluid. In fact, one vehicle’s brake fluid can be damaging to another class of vehicle, which is why it’s mandatory to only have an informed person deal with brake fluid. Driving conditions can also affect the brake fluid. Here in Ohio, we get the full impact of all four seasons, so you want to make sure your system is ready for the snowy months when you’re driving to Cincinnati or Dayton after a blizzard; you also want to make sure it’s ready for humid summer months, too, because humidity can cause its own issues, with water forming inside your vehicle.

Since brake fluid needs to change depending on your ride, you only want to bring your vehicle to a service department that knows what it’s doing. We’ve seen far too many customers come in unaware that their vehicle was not receiving the ideal fluid for their brake system. That’s why visiting us here at McCluskey Chevrolet is so imperative: we know our vehicles.

How Often Does Brake Fluid Need to Be Checked?

The older a vehicle is, the more likely it needs to have its brake fluid checked, possibly even replaced, as the passage of time makes the fluid less effective. However, we generally suggest you get your brake fluid checked at least once a year, but preferably, you should schedule a brake fluid check whenever you get your oil changed. There’s nothing to be gained by delaying a brake inspection. It’s fast and easy so that it won’t be more of an interruption than your already scheduled oil change, and getting it checked does not mean it will automatically need to be replaced, either. It’s just good to always double-check its condition.

If you think we’re overreacting, we’re not. A little over a year ago, Ferrari had to recall 23,000 vehicles due to a brake fluid issue, as flawed brake fluid has the potential to cause disaster. Brake fluid is serious business and not something to put off handling.

A red 2020 Chevy Blazer RS is shown from the rear at an angle.

What Happens When Brake Fluid Isn’t Checked? How Do You Know It Needs to Be?

If your brake fluid is not checked, problems can, and likely will, arise. The longer brake fluid stays in your system, the more likely it is to be infected with water that will corrode your interior, and the less likely it’ll have as much power to slow you down. Let us explain. Many of our drivers use Interstate 71 to get to the major cities in Ohio. Let’s say you’re one of them and encounter a sudden slowdown. This is probably anxiety-producing, but you know how much you need to tap the brakes because you’re familiar with your vehicle, right?

But all of a sudden, your vehicle does not stop as quickly as you expect, so you have to apply a lot more pressure far more quickly. It’s a scary moment. It’s also sending you a message: you probably have not tended to your brake fluid lately.

It’s likely you’re running into this scenario because your brake fluid needs to be “flushed,” so what you have is fresh. However, you should not be waiting for this scenario to inform you of a problem; this is a clear case where being proactive is the way to go. Not doing anything until a near collision or until the dashboard lights up, indicating a problem, is an invitation for trouble. You don’t want to risk a collision simply because a brake fluid check slipped your mind.

There are other subtle signs to look out for, too. An oily puddle underneath your car is another signal that you may have put off brake maintenance for too long and need to make an appointment with your mechanic ASAP. Ditto if your brakes are making noise when you apply pressure to them.

Of course, you can do everything right and still run into trouble if your mechanic is not well-versed in brake fluid. Far too many times, we’ve had customers come in confused as to why they are having issues, only to discover that their last mechanic was either not properly checking the brake system or outright inserting the wrong fluids. That’s why picking a treasured service center like the one here at McCluskey Chevrolet is so important. Our expertly trained technicians will thoroughly check your brakes and ensure you have the utmost confidence on the road.

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