If your brake fluid is full of water or another contaminant, it’s time for a change. While manufacturers normally recommend a brake fluid change every 2 years, most of us don’t realize it until well after that point.
That means you might end up with reduced brake performance, pedals that push all the way to the floor, or even having to pump your brakes to stop before you go in for a change.
As brake fluid condensates, it also changes how it’s able to respond to heat, which means it can change the brake fluid system.
Bad brake fluid can also cause corrosion to other, more expensive parts of the system. So, if your brake fluid is going out, it’s always better to replace it.
The average cost of changing brake fluid is $80-$130. However, costs can go up to $220 for some car models. Here, you’re looking at an average of $20 in brake fluid and another $80-$90 in labor costs. In most cases, you’ll need about a quart of brake fluid and about 30-60 minutes of your mechanic’s time.
The table below shows a quick price comparison of changing brake fluid cost estimates from reputable suppliers:
|Supplier||Labor||Brake Fluid Cost|
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Brake Fluid Change Costs*
The cost of changing the brake fluid in your car depends on two factors. The first is whether you do the work yourself or not. The second is what type of fluid you have.
However, the second factor will only impact the cost by a few dollars at most. On the other hand, labor normally makes up about 80% or more of the cost.
Brake fluid costs $6-$39 a quart. On the other hand, mechanic’s charge $15-$210 an hour. You’ll pay an average of $100 across most vehicles.
However, you can expect the cost of a brake fluid change to vary somewhat based on vehicle model as well:
|Vehicle||Brake Fluid Change Cost|
|Ford F Series||$76-$112|
|Dodge Ram 1500||$76-$187|
*Note: Prices are estimates and were correct at the time of writing (February 2022). Cost estimates may have changed since, our figures should be used as a starting point for your own research.
Brake Fluid Change Price Factors
In most cases, the make and model of your car can impact the cost of your brake fluid change by up to 50%. In other cases, it won’t matter at all.
For example, brands like Valvoline and YourMechanic offer flat-rate brake fluid changes. There, you’ll pay one fee for the labor and the new brake fluid.
It won’t matter what kind of vehicle you have or if you have 2 caliper brakes and 2 drum brakes or 4 caliper brakes. You’ll get a flat-rate service.
In other cases, you’ll pay the mechanic for labor. This means the cost of the brake fluid change varies based on the mechanic’s rates. And, of course, the type of brake fluid you use will have some influence.
Make and Model
Most vehicles use exactly the same brake fluid. There’s no difference between the brake fluid used in nearly any car you can think of, unless the vehicle is a performance car or uses synthetics.
However, you can expect to pay different rates for a brake fluid change at the dealer and if your car is a luxury model.
In addition, if it’s especially difficult to get to the brake fluid bleed valves, you should expect to pay more.
For example, in the chart above, the BMW X-5 is quoted at $228 for a brake fluid change from the dealer. The Mini cooper has a similar quote.
Cheaper brands, on the other hand, like the Honda Civic and the Toyota, shave anywhere from $40-$100 off that quote from the dealer.
Your mechanic may offer similar variation in pricing, however, that’s normally based on their familiarity with the vehicle.
Labor normally makes up about 80% of the cost of changing brake fluid. After all, you have to take off all four wheels to do a four-point brake fluid bleed.
You might be roughly familiar with what your mechanic charges for an hour of work. If not, the national average is $60 per hour. However, that rate varies anywhere from $15 to $210 depending on where you are in the United States.
In addition, most mechanics have a minimum rate they charge to do work. Therefore, you can expect the cost of labor to be at least $50.
Nearly all brake fluid is priced to be affordable. In fact, even synthetic and silicone brake fluid is within $27 per quart.
Because you don’t normally need more than a single quart to fill your brake fluid reservoir, that will be the cost of your fluid.
However, you can get brake fluid for as little as $2 per quart or as much as $30 per quart. Your investment will also depend on what type of fluid you need.
Here, you’ll have to check the operator’s manual for your vehicle. Most vehicles are recommended a specific grade of brake fluid based on how hot they run.
Here, most cars use DOT 3, which is less hydrophilic, so it needs to be changed less often. If you have a performance engine, you might have DOT 4, which has to be changed more often, but is safer to use at high temperatures.
And, your vehicle might also use DOT 5, which is silicone-based. Of course, DOT 5.1 is also increasingly popular as an alternative to DOT 3 or 4, as it’s partially synesthetic and usually safe to use in both other brake systems.
Here, synthetics are more expensive than non-synthetics. And, DOT 3 is cheaper than DOT 4. However, the actual price differences are low.
You won’t usually find any brake fluid over about $40 per quart at absolute maximum. Of course, you might pay significantly more if you source it from a dealer, but that is the dealer’s markup.
5 Signs You Need to Change Brake Fluid
It’s often difficult to tell that you need new brake fluid. Here, most vehicle manufacturers recommend when and how often to change brake fluid as a precautionary measure.
However, you might also get symptoms like your pedals not working properly or your brakes not engaging like they used to.
The following 6 symptoms are good signs you have to replace your brake fluid.
1. Periodic Change
Most manufacturers recommend changing your brake fluid every 2 years or every 30,000 miles. Others recommend changing every 3 years.
In some cases, vehicles can go 10 years or more without replacing the fluid. However, the longer you wait, the more likely that water condensation builds up in the fluid.
Over time, this can cause damage to the system which can cost thousands to repair. So, spending $100 every 2 years is an affordable way to perform preventive maintenance.
2. Pedal Mashing
If you’re having to mash the pedal all the way to the floor, you have a problem.
In fact, if your brakes are functioning correctly, your pedal shouldn’t actually touch the floor. Instead, the pressure should be too high.
Therefore, if you have to push your brake pedal all the way to the floor to get full brake power, you probably have a brake fluid issue. That might be a leak.
It also might mean there’s too much water in the fluid and you need a change.
3. Pedal Pumping
If you have to pump your pedals to get full brake power, you probably want to change the brake fluid. This issue is exactly the same as the previous one.
Water gets into the brake fluid through condensation and absorbing water from the air at the master cylinder vent. Then, it changes the pressure capabilities of the brake fluid. You lose pressure in your system.
You then have to pump the pedal several times to build up enough pressure to get full brake power. When that happens, it’s well overdue time to change the brake fluid.
4. ABS Light Comes On
If the anti-lock braking system light comes on, it means something is wrong with the braking.
While this light can mean many other things, but it’s always a good idea to check the brake fluid pressure.
5. A Burning Smell
If your brake fluid smells burnt or your brakes smell burnt, you want to change the brake fluid.
Unfortunately, you won’t usually notice this sign from inside the car. Therefore, it can go unnoticed for some time.
Changing Brake Fluid: 8 Steps
Brake fluid is relatively easy to change by yourself. However, it is one job that it’s usually better to let a mechanic do.
Why? If you drain the brake system yourself, you’ll never be able to get all of the old fluid out. If you do it at a mechanic, they’ll use a power flush machine to make sure all of the old fluid comes out.
However, having some old brake fluid left in the system doesn’t matter too much. It just means some contaminants and possibly some water are left behind. This will slightly reduce the longevity of your new brake fluid.
However, it won’t be enough that you care too much. So, if you’d rather do the work yourself and you have someone else on hand to help you out, go ahead and change the brake fluid yourself.
Things You’ll Need:
- Floor jack + jack stands
- Lug wrench
- A hand pump or turkey baster
- Replacement brake fluid
- A bottle or oil pan
- A wrench or socket set
Park your car on a flat and level surface and turn off the car.
- Open the hood and find the master cylinder. Wrap rags around it. Then unscrew the valve. Use a hand pump or a turkey baster to suck the old brake fluid out. Pour this into a container or a bottle. About 20% of the brake fluid will remain in the cylinder. That’s okay.
- Refill the master cylinder to the line.
- Then jack up the car and take the wheel off the rear passenger side. Have someone sit in the car and pump the brake pedal while you release the valve. The goal should be to let up the bleed valve as the pedal hits the floor.
- Repeat the process on the rear driver caliper.
- Then bleed the front passenger caliper.
- Finally, bleed the driver side caliper.
- You can stop when the new brake fluid is lighter in color.
- Top off the brake fluid to the line and close up the master cylinder.
Here, you also want to double check if your vehicle has this preferred order to bleed the brakes. If you have a non-standard brake line system in place, that might be the case.
Changing brake fluid is relatively easy, however, you might still have questions.
How often should you change your brake fluid?
Most manufacturers recommend changing the brake fluid every 30,000 miles or every 2 years. Some manufacturers use different recommendations.
Therefore, it may be important to check with your vehicle’s specifications. However, every 2 years is a very safe metric.
Can I change brake fluid myself?
You can change brake fluid yourself. However, you will need someone else to help you bleed the brakes.
In addition, you’ll never be able to do as thorough of a job as someone with a power flush system. For that, you need a mechanic.
How long does a brake fluid change take?
In most cases, you can change brake fluid in an hour or less. Here, the most time-consuming part of changing the brake fluid is usually pumping fluid out of the master cylinder.
If you’re using a turkey baster, it can take some time. If you have a hand pump, it will take very little time.
In addition, you’ll normally have to take off and replace all four wheels.
Is brake fluid change on a service?
Usually, it is not. However, as most service checks also require taking off the wheels, you can likely ask for a brake fluid change for only a small extra fee. Therefore, it’s a good idea to ask to add it on.
Changing your brake fluid will normally cost around $100. However, it may double that for some vehicle models. You might also choose to do the job yourself.
However, without a power flush system, you’ll never be able to get all of the brake fluid out. So, this is one job it’s usually better to leave to a professional. On the other hand, it doesn’t hurt to change the fluid yourself as well.
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