brake fluid color

A Comprehensive User Guide to Brake Fluid Color

Throughout owning a car, you will encounter different problems. Some may be quite simple while most of the time complex, such as identifying brake fluid color. The brakes are very important and should never be overlooked. The brake fluid color tells a lot about your vehicle so you must pay close attention. If you overlook proper checks, your car could lose control and you could end up in an accident. 


What is the normal color of brake fluid?

Brake fluid color is clear with just a tinge of yellow. It does not matter what type of brake fluid you use because Dot 3 brake fluid color, Dot 4 brake fluid color, and Dot 5 brake fluid color are just the same. This clear color won’t remain clear for many years, but the fluid must still be a bit clear when you check it out from the reservoir.

When you use your car more and more, the brake fluid in the reservoir becomes darker and darker until this resembles dark motor oil. If you open your car’s brake fluid container and you see brown to black fluid then you should replace this at once.

Brake fluid color changes are due to dirt and grime that has collected in the fluid. Water may have also collected in the reservoir and has mixed with the braking fluid making the color and consistency worse. Brake fluid that’s more than five years old will have a darker and grimier color and consistency. You need to drain the fluid and replace it with a new one as soon as possible.


Why do you need to check brake fluid color?

What color should brake fluid be? Cars need good, reliable brakes and a major component of a good braking system is clean high-performance brake fluid. Color changes in brake fluid mean that the fluid has collected dirt and debris coming from the braking system. Dirty brake fluid won't work as good as new, clear, and clean brake fluid so this means, you're in danger of riding out of control especially in situations when you need your brakes the most.

Inside the main brake system is the brake fluid reservoir. From this container, brake fluid runs to the lines from the cylinder to your car’s wheels. If you frequently press very hard on the brakes, then the brake fluid will become contaminated faster. And even when you’re not driving that hard, your brake fluid will still collect contaminants in a matter of time.

Also, the brake fluid will collect moisture and this is another bad thing for your braking system. To make things worse, minute pieces of rubber that have been sloughed off from the brake lines will also mix in the fluid. Heat and aging can also change the color of brake fluid. After many uses, this can turn from clear to yellow and then gold. As the fluid remains clear despite developing a golden color, it will still be able to perform well. But beyond the golden color, the fluid may not be able as efficiently anymore.

Usually, after the brake fluid has transformed into a gold color it won't be too soon when it will become green. When you find that your brake fluid has become green, then this may be a sign that the brake fluid has developed some kind of algae. The color is also the first sign that you need to change your brake fluid right away. The fluid will soon become more and more contaminated and transform from green to brown and then in a short while, black.

It's not easy to check the color of the brake fluid as this is inside the brake fluid reservoir and around the braking system. Unless your system leaks, you need to pop the hood and open the fluid reservoir to perform accurate checks. It is easy to identify black brake fluid as it is undeniable that the liquid before you is very dark with a grimy texture.

Also, beware of the following dirty brake fluid symptoms

  • The soft and spongy feeling when brake pedals are pressed
  • You need to press on the brakes many times for a response
  • Brakes are too light despite pressing on the pedal very hard

When you notice any of these symptoms, it is likely that your brake fluid has become very contaminated and needs replacement right away.


How often do you need to check your brake fluid?

We recommend checking your brake fluid at least every month, especially when you regularly use your vehicle. Monitor the color of the brake fluid as well as the amount of the fluid inside the reservoir. Check for any leaks coming from the reservoir too.

Check how easy or how difficult your brakes are. If you find that there is some resistance or you cannot get the best response, consider checking the brake fluid and all other brake system components right away.

You may also consult a mechanic to help you out. Checking the brake fluid color goes with a standard brake check service; during this, the brake pads are changed and the brake rotors are carefully adjusted as well.


How to do when you see black brake fluid?

No need to wait for your car mechanic to replace black brake fluid as this is very easy to do. You need the following to replace your brake fluid:

  • A new baster (a baster is a large medicine dropper-like tool you use to place syrup or basting inside a whole chicken for baking)
  • A large contained
  • New brake fluid
  • Newspapers or paper towels

Instructions

  • Locate the brake fluid reservoir in your vehicle. If you don’t know where it is, check your car’s owner’s manual.
  • Open the brake fluid reservoir and check the color of the fluid.
  • Get a sample of the fluid by using the baster. You need a new baster so you can easily check the color and clarity of your brake fluid.
  • Check the color of the sample. If the color is clear or light yellow and the fluid is still transparent, then you don’t need to replace the fluid inside the reservoir. Just check the level of the fluid. If the level is below the allotted brake fluid level, add more fluid. If the sample is green and beyond, you must change the fluid right away.
  • Change the fluid by using the baster. Remove all the dirty fluid out of the reservoir and replace the old with new brake fluid. Cover the reservoir.
  • Drive your car after a week. After this period, add more of the new fluid until you have clean, clear brake fluid. Your car will drive just like when it was new. 

Are there different kinds of brake fluid?

When it comes to brake fluid, there are different kinds. You must understand the difference between these products and what works best with your vehicle. To find out what type of brake fluid fits your car, check your owner’s manual.

  • Dot 3 brake fluid
    Dot 3 is the most common brake fluid as most vehicles work with Dot 3 products. The classification of brake fluids varies depending on their boiling point or the time when the fluid starts to turn to vapor. Standard Dot 3 has a 401 degrees Fahrenheit boiling point when its warm and around 284 degrees Fahrenheit when its cooler or when the climate is wetter.
  • Dot 4 brake fluid
    Dot 4 is a type of brake fluid created for heavy-duty driving performance as this comes with a higher vaporizing point at 446 degrees Fahrenheit when the weather is dry and at 311 degrees when the weather is wet.
    Vehicles used to haul heavy things and vehicles operated in conditions when there is a sudden reduction in speed can increase temperatures inside the braking system use Dot 4 brake fluid. This kind of brake fluid usually contains borate ester so that the fluid can attain a high boiling point and increased resistance to intense pressure.
    Whatever happens, never mix Dot 3 and Dot 4 even if your vehicle is compatible with both brake fluids. If you’re using Dot 3 or Dot 4 then stick with it.
  • Dot 5 brake fluid
    Dot 5 brake fluid is made from silicone and is commonly used on military vehicles and antique cars. It has a very high boiling point at more than 500 degrees Fahrenheit in dry weather. This brake fluid is water-resistant and thus, is used in cars made to handle tough weather. However, most regular cars will not work on Dot 5 brake fluids. Also, you must not mix Dot 5 with other brake fluids.

The Different Types of Brake Fluid YouTube Video

Understanding brake fluid color is one way to maintain your car’s braking system at home. But if you are unsure about performing brake maintenance on your vehicle, you can always consult a licensed mechanic to help you out.


About the Author JamesL Davis

James is a certified auto technician specializing in commercial vehicles. With 30 years of experience under his belt, James has encountered almost every type of automotive issue there is! Besides his day job at the repair shop, he is also an amateur race car driver.

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