Brake Repair

How to Spot a Brake Fluid Leak


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A brake fluid leak can be a dangerous problem for any vehicle. Brake fluid leaks diminish the working pressure of the hydraulic braking system and can adversely affect brake performance. As fluid leaks out, the available fluid in the master cylinder reservoir is reduced, and eventually the brakes will no longer cease to function.

If you suspect your brakes are leaking, there are a few things that you should do to make sure that your brakes will continue to function safely. You need to locate the leak to investigate it for further repair. In any case, a brake fluid leak should be addressed and repaired immediately to ensure that the vehicle is safe to drive. Here are some hints and tips to locate and diagnose a brake fluid leak.

Assessing the Problem

Assess the problem to make sure that it isn’t severe enough to have a pronounced effect on vehicle safety. The first thing that you should do is take a look at the fluid that your car is leaking, to make sure that it's actually brake fluid. Unlike other fluids on an average vehicle, brake fluid should be completely colorless. The fluid is lighter than others like engine oil and should be about the consistency of cooking oil.

Once you’ve decided that it's actually a brake fluid leak that you're dealing with, pop the hood and take a look at the brake fluid reservoir. This is generally a small translucent tank mounted towards the rear of the engine compartment on the driver’s side. Check the fluid level. If it's low, add some fluid before you drive the car.

Locating the Leak

When the car is parked, it should be relatively easy to locate the general area that is the source of the leak (like whether it’s coming from the master cylinder or if not, which wheel it’s coming from). Once you’ve located the general area, you should be able to place some newspapers on the ground around the leak then pump the car’s brakes a few times to force fluid out through the leak. Then take a look at the area underneath the car to try and pinpoint the leak. You may or may not be able to find the exact location of the leak. Look for dark stains caused by the hydraulic oil, and try to see if you can find where the fluid is actually dripping from. If the leak is coming from within the wheel, you may need to remove it so that you can get a good look at the lines and calipers.

Assessing Severity

Assessing the leak’s severity will give you a good idea if the car is safe to drive. Any brake fluid leak should be repaired as soon as possible, but some leaks are worse than others. If your car is leaking more than just a drop or two at a time, it’s probably not a good idea to drive it. Larger leaks will compromise hydraulic pressure and cause your brakes to fail.

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