Can You Add Brake Fluid Yourself? A Guide to Doing It Right | MechAnswers (2023)

Have you ever found yourself asking, “Can You Add Brake Fluid Yourself?” If so, you’re not alone. This question is common among car owners, especially those who prefer to handle basic vehicle maintenance themselves. This article is designed to be your go-to guide, addressing this very question, and providing a thorough understanding of the process.

The short answer to your question is, yes, you can add brake fluid yourself. However, it’s not just about pouring in the fluid; it requires a certain level of skill, knowledge, and care. Missteps can lead to serious consequences, from ineffective braking to severe damage to the brake system. Therefore, we have to consider not just the “how,” but also the “should you” aspect of this task.

By understanding the intricacies of brake fluid maintenance, you will be better prepared to make informed decisions about your vehicle’s care. This knowledge can lead to cost savings, improved vehicle safety, and even extend the lifespan of your car. Read on as we delve into the importance of brake fluid, the pros and cons of a DIY approach, a step-by-step guide on adding brake fluid, and answers to frequently asked questions.

Table of Contents

Can You Add Brake Fluid Yourself?

Understanding the DIY Approach to Vehicle Maintenance

The world of DIY vehicle maintenance can be both rewarding and intimidating. Many vehicle owners have found it beneficial to take on simple maintenance tasks themselves. Not only does this save money on service fees, but it also gives one a deeper understanding of their vehicle’s operation. But how does this apply when you ask, “Can You Add Brake Fluid Yourself?”

Brake fluid plays a vital role in the functioning of your car’s braking system. It transfers the force you apply on the brake pedal to the brake pads, which then presses against the rotors to slow down or stop the vehicle. If your brake fluid is low or contaminated, it could seriously impair your vehicle’s braking ability, which could lead to dangerous situations while driving.

Learning to check and refill your brake fluid can be an empowering step in DIY car maintenance. It allows you to be proactive in keeping your vehicle safe and ensures you aren’t caught off guard by a sudden drop in brake fluid levels. However, adding brake fluid isn’t as simple as topping off your windshield washer fluid—it involves a careful process to avoid introducing contaminants or air bubbles into the system, which can lead to brake failure.

Assessing Your Skill Level and Preparedness

Before deciding to add brake fluid yourself, you should objectively assess your skill level and preparedness. Are you comfortable with basic car maintenance tasks like changing the oil or replacing windshield wipers? Have you familiarized yourself with your vehicle’s braking system, and do you understand the role that brake fluid plays in it? If you haven’t, it might be a good idea to do some research and perhaps even seek advice from a professional mechanic.

Adding brake fluid yourself requires a few key tools and materials, including the correct type of brake fluid for your vehicle, a clean rag, a turkey baster or similar device for removing excess fluid, and gloves to protect your skin from the harsh fluid. Also, brake fluid is extremely corrosive and can damage your car’s paint, so it’s crucial to be prepared to clean up any spills immediately.

(Video) How to Top up Brake Fluid - Video Guide

Finally, it’s essential to remember that adding brake fluid is typically a band-aid solution to a larger issue. Brake fluid levels should not decrease significantly under normal conditions since the system is sealed. If you find that your vehicle needs brake fluid regularly, there’s likely a leak in your system that needs professional attention.

Yes, you can add brake fluid yourself if you’re comfortable with basic car maintenance tasks, have the right tools and materials, and understand the process and the importance of cleanliness. However, the regular need for adding brake fluid may signal a more serious issue that requires professional intervention. In the following sections, we’ll delve deeper into the steps involved in adding brake fluid yourself, and when it’s better to seek professional help.

The Risks and Benefits of Adding Brake Fluid Yourself

Pros of Doing It Yourself: Cost Savings, Skill Building, and Vehicle Understanding

When pondering the question, “Can you add brake fluid yourself?” it’s important to weigh the potential benefits and risks associated with the task. There are numerous advantages to a DIY approach.

Firstly, cost savings can be significant. Professional maintenance services can be expensive, especially if you own a high-end vehicle. By performing minor tasks like adding brake fluid yourself, you avoid labor costs and only need to pay for the fluid itself.

Secondly, undertaking these tasks aids in skill-building. As you become more proficient with vehicle maintenance, you expand your knowledge and skills, which can be rewarding and empowering. You’ll become more self-reliant and confident in handling minor car issues, and in turn, be more prepared to tackle complex challenges.

Lastly, a hands-on approach to vehicle maintenance fosters a deeper understanding of your vehicle. It enables you to familiarize yourself with different parts of your car, understands their functions, and recognize when something might be wrong. This familiarity can help in diagnosing issues early before they escalate into more serious, costly repairs.

Cons of Doing It Yourself: Potential Damage, Safety Risks, and Time Consumption

Despite these benefits, there are risks and drawbacks to consider before diving into the DIY approach to brake fluid maintenance.

One significant concern is the potential for damage. Brake fluid is a highly corrosive substance. It can cause damage to painted surfaces if not handled carefully. Moreover, the brake fluid system is highly sensitive to dirt and other contaminants. An incorrectly performed operation could introduce air or debris into the system, leading to ineffective braking or even brake failure.

Safety risks are another vital consideration. Brake fluid is not only harmful to painted surfaces, but it’s also hazardous to humans if it comes into contact with the skin or eyes, or if it’s ingested or inhaled. Therefore, you must take the necessary precautions while handling it. Moreover, an incorrectly performed brake fluid addition could compromise the safety of the vehicle, putting you and others on the road at risk.

Finally, there’s the issue of time consumption. Learning to add brake fluid properly and then performing the task can be a time-consuming process, particularly for beginners. This time could be spent on other important tasks, and you might find that the time saved by hiring a professional outweighs the cost.

In conclusion, while the DIY approach to adding brake fluid can offer benefits such as cost savings, skill-building, and increased vehicle understanding, it also comes with potential risks. If you decide to take on this task, it’s essential to be thoroughly prepared, follow proper procedures, and prioritize safety at all times. After all, the primary purpose of maintaining your brake fluid level is to ensure your vehicle remains safe to drive.

(Video) Adding Brake fluid - How To

A Step-by-Step Guide to Adding Brake Fluid Yourself

Gathering the Necessary Tools and Brake Fluid

The first step in the process of adding brake fluid to your car involves assembling the necessary tools and materials. These include the appropriate brake fluid for your vehicle (as specified in your vehicle’s manual), a clean rag or paper towels, a funnel, a turkey baster, or other fluid extraction tools for removing old fluid, gloves, and safety glasses. It’s critical that any tools used are clean and free of dirt or dust to prevent contamination of the brake fluid.

Precautions to Take Before Starting

Before you begin, it’s crucial to understand the importance of safety in this process. Brake fluid is corrosive and can cause harm if it comes into contact with your skin or eyes. Always wear gloves and safety glasses to protect yourself. If brake fluid splashes onto your vehicle’s paint, clean it immediately to prevent damage. Lastly, ensure you’re working in a well-ventilated area as brake fluid fumes can be harmful if inhaled.

Locating the Brake Fluid Reservoir

The brake fluid reservoir is usually located in the engine bay, often on the driver’s side. It’s a plastic container with a cap that typically has a warning label or symbol indicating it contains brake fluid. If you’re unsure, consult your vehicle’s manual.

Checking Brake Fluid Level and Quality

Before adding new brake fluid, it’s important to check the current fluid level and quality. Most brake fluid reservoirs are semi-transparent with level markings on the side. The fluid level should be between the “MIN” and “MAX” marks.

Next, check the fluid quality. Good brake fluid should be clear or light amber in color. If it’s dark or dirty, this may indicate contamination or degradation of the fluid, and a complete brake fluid change may be necessary.

Adding the Brake Fluid: Detailed Steps and Tips

  1. Clean around the cap: Before opening the brake fluid reservoir, clean around the cap to prevent any dust or dirt from getting into the fluid.
  2. Open the reservoir: Unscrew or pull off the cap (depending on your vehicle) to open the brake fluid reservoir.
  3. Remove some old fluid: If the fluid is near the “MAX” line, use a turkey baster or other fluid extraction tool to remove some fluid.
  4. Add the new brake fluid: Using a clean funnel, slowly pour the new brake fluid into the reservoir, being careful not to overfill. Keep the fluid level between the “MIN” and “MAX” lines.
  5. Replace the cap: Once you’ve added the fluid, securely replace the cap on the reservoir. Make sure it’s tightly sealed to prevent contamination.

Post-Procedure Checks and Possible Complications

After you’ve added the brake fluid, check the fluid level once more to ensure it’s within the appropriate range. Also, monitor your brake warning light (if your vehicle has one) over the next few drives. If it lights up, it could indicate a leak or other problem with your brake system that requires professional attention.

Remember, regularly needing to add brake fluid is not normal and could suggest a leak in your brake system, which is a serious issue that needs to be addressed promptly. Also, be aware that introducing air into the brake lines (known as “air in the lines”) is a potential complication of DIY brake fluid addition. This can cause your brakes to feel spongy or unresponsive and requires a process called “bleeding the brakes” to fix, which is best done by a professional.

By following these steps, you can confidently answer the question, “Can you add brake fluid yourself?” Yes, you can—just make sure to prioritize safety, cleanliness, and precision in the process.

Professional Assistance for Brake Fluid Maintenance

When to Seek Professional Help?

Despite the detailed guide provided above, there may be instances where professional help is necessary for brake fluid maintenance. Knowing when to seek professional assistance is just as important as knowing how to perform DIY maintenance.

One such instance is when you notice your brake fluid level frequently dropping. As mentioned before, the brake fluid system is sealed and the fluid level should not decrease significantly under normal conditions. Frequent drops indicate a potential leak in the system, which should be addressed immediately by a professional to ensure your safety on the road.

Additionally, if the brake fluid appears dark or dirty even after a fluid addition, it’s time to consider a complete brake fluid change. This procedure involves flushing out the old fluid and replacing it with new fluid, which can be complex and messy for a DIY beginner.


Moreover, if you’re feeling unconfident or uncomfortable about adding brake fluid yourself, or if you’ve attempted it and encountered difficulties, it’s better to seek professional assistance. The risks involved in incorrect brake fluid maintenance, such as potential damage to the brake system or even brake failure, are too great to ignore.

Overview of Professional Brake Fluid Change Services

Professional brake fluid change services, provided by a mechanic or at an auto service center, ensure the task is performed safely and correctly. These services typically include a system check, fluid quality inspection, complete brake fluid flush and replacement, and a post-service test drive to ensure everything is functioning correctly.

During a professional brake fluid change service, the mechanic will use specialized tools to completely flush out the old fluid from the system, remove any trapped air and contaminants, and then add fresh brake fluid. They will also inspect the brake system for leaks, wear, and other potential issues, providing you with an overall assessment of the health of your brakes.

While these services come at a cost, the peace of mind they provide in ensuring your vehicle’s safety is often worth the investment. Remember, regular brake maintenance isn’t just about cost savings; it’s about guaranteeing your car’s functionality and your safety on the road.

While it’s possible and often beneficial to perform minor car maintenance tasks yourself, don’t hesitate to seek professional help when necessary. Learning to balance DIY skills with professional services is the key to maintaining a safe, reliable vehicle.

FAQ Section

What is brake fluid and why is it important?

Brake fluid is a type of hydraulic fluid used in hydraulic brake and hydraulic clutch applications in vehicles. It plays a vital role in the braking system as it transfers the force from your foot on the brake pedal to the brake pads, which slows down or stops your vehicle. A lack of brake fluid or the presence of contaminated brake fluid can compromise this process, affecting your vehicle’s ability to brake properly and posing a safety risk.

How often should brake fluid be checked?

It’s recommended to check your brake fluid level at least once a month. The fluid level should be between the “MIN” and “MAX” marks on the reservoir. Also, look at the fluid’s color. Good brake fluid should be clear or light amber. If it’s dark or appears dirty, it may need to be changed.

What type of brake fluid should I use?

The type of brake fluid to use depends on your vehicle. The most common types are DOT3, DOT4, and DOT5. DOT5.1. Each has different specifications and properties. Check your vehicle’s manual to find out the manufacturer’s recommendation. Using the incorrect type can damage your brake system and impact braking performance.

Can I mix different types of brake fluid?

As a rule, it’s best to avoid mixing different types of brake fluid. While some types (like DOT3 and DOT4) are compatible, others (like DOT5) are not. Mixing incompatible types can lead to reduced braking performance or even damage to your brake system. Always check your vehicle’s manual or consult a professional if you’re unsure.

Why is my brake fluid level dropping?

The brake fluid system is sealed, so the fluid level should not drop significantly under normal conditions. If you notice a frequent drop in the brake fluid level, it could indicate a leak in the system. Other signs of a leak include a puddle of fluid under the car or a spongy feel to the brake pedal. If you suspect a leak, seek professional help immediately.

Can adding brake fluid improve braking performance?

If your brake fluid level is low, adding fluid can help restore proper braking performance. However, if your brakes are performing poorly due to worn brake pads, rotors, or other mechanical issues, adding fluid won’t fix these problems. If you’re unsure about your braking performance, it’s best to have your vehicle inspected by a professional.

(Video) How to Check Brake Fluid | Advance Auto Parts

What happens if I overfill the brake fluid reservoir?

Overfilling the brake fluid reservoir can lead to a loss of braking efficiency and potential damage to your vehicle. When the brake fluid heats up during operation, it expands. If there’s too much fluid, it may leak out of the reservoir, potentially damaging painted surfaces. It could also interfere with the proper operation of the brake system.

Can I drive my car if the brake fluid is low?

Driving with low brake fluid is a risk. Low brake fluid can impair your vehicle’s braking ability, potentially leading to an accident. If your brake warning light comes on or if you notice a significant drop in brake fluid level, address the issue immediately. In severe cases, have the vehicle towed to a mechanic rather than driving it.

Can I use water or other fluids as a brake fluid substitute?

No, using water or any fluid other than designated brake fluid in your braking system can cause serious damage. Brake fluid has specific properties, such as a high boiling point and non-compressibility, which are crucial for effective braking. Water and other fluids do not share these properties and can lead to brake failure. Additionally, water in the brake system can cause rust and corrosion.

How do I know if I’ve added too much brake fluid?

If you’ve overfilled your brake fluid reservoir, you may notice that the fluid is seeping out of the top of the reservoir, especially when driving, as the fluid heats up and expands. You may also experience poor brake performance or a spongy feeling of the brake pedal. If you suspect you’ve overfilled the brake fluid reservoir, it’s best to remove the excess fluid or seek professional assistance.

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While adding brake fluid yourself can seem daunting, with the right tools and knowledge, it can be a relatively straightforward process. Ensuring that your brake fluid level and quality are maintained is essential for your safety on the road. However, while embracing the DIY approach can be rewarding and cost-effective, don’t hesitate to seek professional help when it’s necessary. Balancing DIY skills with professional services is the key to effective vehicle maintenance. Remember, your safety and the safety of others on the road always comes first.


Can I just add brake fluid myself? ›

Can You Just Add Brake Fluid to Your Car? Simply said, yes. Although you can take your car to an experienced mechanic to do it for you, this is something you can do on your own without too much hassle.

Should I add my own brake fluid? ›

If your brake fluid level is below the 'low' marker, you should add fluid to top it up. If you check the level soon after and it is still low, you may have a leak in the brake system. This can also be caused by worn brake pads – when worn, brake calipers have further to move this draws more brake fluid into the system.

Is adding brake fluid easy? ›

Add Brake Fluid

It's very easy. For some vehicle owners, it's necessary to use a small funnel for adding the fluid if the brake fluid reservoir does not have a wide mouth.

Can I just add brake fluid without flushing? ›

If your brake fluid looks normal, but is just low, you can top it off without draining the compartment. If the fluid is contaminated, it should be removed and the compartment cleaned before adding fresh brake fluid.

Can you add brake fluid to old fluid? ›

Match the brake fluid you need with the fluid type mentioned on the brake fluid reservoir cap. Always use a new, unopened container of brake fluid to fill the reservoir. Note: Modern cars primarily use either DOT 3 or DOT 4 fluid and the two should never be mixed in applications.

Can I drive with low brake fluid? ›

Although it is advised to replenish your brake fluid level in the reservoir, you can drive your car with low brake fluid. As long as the brake fluid is enough to apply pressure on the brakes, you can drive your car.

Do I have to bleed brakes after adding brake fluid? ›

An essential part of replacing brake fluid is bleeding the system. That simply means ridding the brake system of trapped air, but some of the old fluid is expelled as well. (Fully replacing the fluid is essentially an extended bleeding session.)

Can you replace brake fluid without bleeding? ›

A simple method to accomplish this without bleeding is to suck most of the fluid out of the master cylinder with a pump or kitchen meat basting utensil. Make sure you don't expose the circuit to air when taking the fluid out. Then refill with fresh fluid.

How do I know if brake fluid is low? ›

What are the Signs of Low Brake Fluid?
  1. Brake warning light has illuminated.
  2. Brake fluid appears low, discolored, or dirty.
  3. Brake pedal feels spongy.
  4. Car takes longer to brake than normal.
Jul 29, 2020

What does lack of brake fluid do? ›

Uneven brake pads: When the brake fluid gets low, the pedals cannot depress brake pads with the same amount of pressure. This causes uneven wear on the pads. In turn, you experience squeaking, squealing, and grinding when you apply the brakes. The vehicle may also rumble and vibrate when you use the brakes.

How long do you need to add brake fluid? ›

And the best way to find out how often to change brake fluid is to follow your manufacturer's recommendations. Some manufacturers say you should replace your brake fluid every two years. Others recommend every three years, or every 45,000 miles.

How many miles do you need to add brake fluid? ›

While most mechanics recommend changing the brake fluid every two years or every 40,000 - 45,000 miles, most people don't change it until it's too late. Not changing your brake fluid could result in reduced brake effectiveness, pedals that you can press to the floor, or the need to pump your brakes to stop.

Why is my brake fluid low but no leak? ›

Brake Fluid Low but No Visible Leak? While a leak is many times the cause of low brake fluid, there are a few other possible culprits: Leakage into the brake booster. Sometimes brake fluid can leak internally into the brake booster.

Does a light come on when brake fluid is low? ›

Brake Fluid Low or Leaking

A sensor placed in the master cylinder is able to determine the level of fluid within the system. When the level falls below where it should be, the sensor triggers the brake light. Maintaining a proper level of brake fluid is essential to your brake's operation.

Does low brake fluid mean worn brake pads? ›

Low brake fluid typically means that your brake pads are worn and will soon need to be changed. If you notice a sudden drop in the brake fluid level, it could indicate a problem with your brake system or that you simply need to change your brakes.

How much does it cost to fill brake fluid? ›

How much does adding brake fluid cost? The brake fluid cost should be anywhere between $5 to $30. If you seek the help of a professional to get it done, you'll be spending $100 to $150 on labor costs.

What are signs that you need to bleed brakes? ›

Here's when you should bleed your brakes:
  • When your brakes start to feel spongy.
  • When stops are taking longer and feel less sure.
  • If you find a leak. ...
  • If you're replacing worn brake pads, which can cause air to enter the master cylinder. ...
  • If you change your rotors or pads.
Sep 29, 2020

Why does my brake pedal go to the floor after bleeding? ›

A worn or malfunctioning master cylinder. If the master cylinder isn't performing as designed, it may need to be replaced. Defective replacement cylinder. If, after the master cylinder has been replaced and the system has been bled, and still your brake pedal goes to the floor, the new master cylinder may be defective.

What is the most common cause of low brake fluid? ›

While leak is considered to be one common cause of low brake fluid, it is also known that a worn-out brake pad also causes your fluid to drop low. With thin brake pads, the caliper piston will need to go a little farther toward the brake pads and away from its housing.

Should brake fluid always be full? ›

Do not overfill. If your vehicle has a dual-chamber reservoir, fill both chambers to "full" line. If reservoir is extremely low or empty, it may not be safe to drive your vehicle. Consult an ASE-certified brake technician immediately.

Is it expensive to add brake fluid? ›

Generally, brake fluid ranges in price from $6 to $39 per quart, mechanics charge $150-$210 per hour, and changing the brake fluid in most vehicles will cost you an average of $100.

Why does brake fluid get low? ›

Common Causes

As the brake pads wear down, more fluid and force is required. So over time the brake fluid will get lower. This is typically a gradual process. The other cause of low brake fluid could be a leak in the brake fluid line.

Should I top up or replace brake fluid? ›

Maintain your brake fluid

The more water that enters your brake fluid, the further diluted it becomes. This then lowers the temperature at which the fluid boils - which can result in your brakes failing to stop your car. As a result, most manufacturers recommend changing out your brake fluid altogether every 2 years.

How long does brake fluid last? ›

How Long Does Brake Fluid Last? In ideal conditions, an unopened bottle of brake fluid lasts about two years. It's best to use a new bottle of brake fluid every time you need it because the fluid attracts moisture as soon as it is opened.

How much brake fluid does it take to bleed brakes? ›

50ml of brake fluid is enough to perform a bleed on one set of cycle brakes (front and rear). If the old brake fluid is particularly dirty or discoloured we recommend completely flushing out the old fluid and replacing with new.

Should I be worried if my brake fluid is low? ›

Low brake fluid will cause air to fill the gaps in your brake line—leading to soft brakes. Spongy brake pedals can be both terrifying and dangerous—especially if you do not get them serviced at the first sign of an issue.

What does it sound like when you need brake fluid? ›

Uneven brake pads: When the brake fluid gets low, the pedals cannot depress brake pads with the same amount of pressure. This causes uneven wear on the pads. In turn, you experience squeaking, squealing, and grinding when you apply the brakes. The vehicle may also rumble and vibrate when you use the brakes.


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