If you want to learn how to bleed brakes safely and easily, you landed in the right place.
Brake fluid does more than you think for your vehicle. Bleeding your brakes can make braking feel less spongy, enhance your vehicle’s stopping power, and improve your ability to corner. When you bleed your brakes, you’re removing brake fluid that’s contaminated with debris.
This debris, unfortunately, makes braking spongy because the fluid becomes less effective. Therefore, bleeding your brakes gives your brakes fresh brake fluid.
We’re going to give you everything you need to know about the process and provide you with some tips and tricks along the way. If you want to skip ahead, here are the major highlights:
- Why do you need to bleed your brakes?
- What you need to bleed your brakes
- How to bleed brakes
- Brake bleeding tips
Why Do You Need to Bleed Your Brakes?
Depending on your vehicle, you may need to bleed the brakes. Some vehicles don’t need to have their brakes bled, so it’s important to consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual before bleeding your brakes. That said, bleeding your brakes helps your vehicle perform better. It removes potential contaminants from brake fluid, which makes braking feel less spongy. Clean brake fluid also makes braking more effective. If you use spongy brakes, your risk of getting into an accident increases because the vehicle won’t stop the way it’s designed to.
It’s also important to note that air in your brake lines can lead to complete braking failure, which has dangerous consequences.
How Often Do Brakes Need to Be Bled?
For most vehicles, brakes need to be bled every two or three years. Air and debris can build up in brake lines and brake fluid over months and years, which reduces the brake’s effectiveness. In terms of mileage, this is between 15,000 and 25,000 miles for most drivers. You can also consult your owner’s handbook to determine when your brakes should be bled.
What You Need to Bleed Your Brakes
Everyone can bleed their brakes as long as they have the right tools. It’s not a challenging repair and only takes an hour or two, depending on your skill level. We’ll take you through several of the tools you need to get started.
First and foremost, you need brake fluid. When you bleed your brakes, you’ll be replacing your vehicle’s brake fluid. Therefore, you need to replace the fluid that’s lost during the bleeding process. Consult your owner’s manual to determine what brake fluid you need. There are several types, so it’s important to have the right one. Furthermore, having the wrong fluid can cause problems, and you’ll have to repeat the bleeding process.
Next, you want to make sure you have a few basic tools. These tools are listed below.
- Jackstand (if you don’t have a lift)
- A wrench to open and close the bleed screws
- A hose or tube that can be connected to the bleed screw
- A container to catch the brake fluid that comes from the bleed screws
Before choosing a wrench, make sure it’s the right fit. You don’t want to end up with the wrong wrench once you have the wheels off. Furthermore, make sure you have good jackstands. They’ll keep you safe.
Finally, you need a buddy. While you can attempt to bleed your brakes on your own, the process is much easier with a friend. A buddy can press the brake down and listen to your commands as you bleed each brake. We recommend working with someone who has some experience, so they don’t make mistakes. They’ll need to help you with each of the four brakes.
Once you have everything you need, you can get started.
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How to Bleed Your Brakes
Bleeding your brakes is easy to do at home. While it’s cheap to have a mechanic bleed your brakes, you’ll get a better feel for your car when you bleed the brakes yourself. Plus, it’s rewarding to complete a job on your own. We’ll take you through each of the steps in detail below.
Before you bleed your brakes, it’s important to be prepared. Preparation is key when it comes to bleeding your brakes effectively. To prepare your vehicle, follow each of the steps below.
- Remove the wheels
- Place one lug nut backwards at each corner and tighten the lug nut against the surface of the rotor. This prevents caliper flex.
- Open the hood of your vehicle
- Check the level of brake fluid in the brake fluid reservoir.
- Add brake fluid to ensure the reservoir is filled to the max line.
- When bleeding your brakes, make sure the reservoir never becomes empty.
Once everything is in order, you’re ready to go.
Steps to Bleed Your Brakes
- Begin at a corner of the vehicle that’s farthest from the driver’s seat. Then, move towards the driver’s seat in order. Bleeding the brakes like this will prevent cross-contamination, and it’s easy to remember.
- Locate the bleeder screw. For most vehicles, it’s at the rear of the caliper body, but on drum brakes, it’s on the drum brake wheel cylinder.
- Remove the rubber cap and place a wrench over the bleeder screw. We recommend a box-end wrench because of its flexibility and ease of use. Don’t lose the rubber cap!
- Locate the nipple of the bleeder screw and place a tube or hose over it. We recommend a clear tube or hose so you can see what’s going on.
- Place the other end of the hose or tube into a container.
- Then, place the container on top of the caliper body; if it’s a drum brake, place it on top of the caliper assembly. Hold the container with one hand and the wrench with your dominant hand.
- Have your assistant push the brake down. We recommend using the commands “apply” and “applied” to know when you’re both ready.
- Turn the bleeder screw a quarter of an inch. The screw should be closed after a few seconds. You’ll know when to close it because the brake pedal will hit the floor and the container will fill with fluid.
- Close the bleeder screw by tightening it. You should be gentle here because you don’t want to strip it.
- Have your assistant release the brake once the screw is tightened. They should wait until it’s tightened to prevent air from entering the brake lines.
- Repeat this process 5-10 times per wheel and work systematically towards the driver’s seat of the vehicle.
- When every brake has been bled, spray the bleeder screw with brake cleaner.
- Wipe the brakes and other components with a rag.
- Test the brakes. It will feel different at first, but after a few squeezes, the brake will no longer feel spongy. Instead, it should feel firm.
- Spray the bleeder screw with brake fluid.
Once you complete each of the 15 steps, make sure you check each of the calipers for leaks. When the system is clean, it’s easier to check for these leaks.
Then, dispose of any leftover brake fluid that’s in the container.
Never reuse brake fluid, especially contaminated brake fluid that comes from the result of bleeding your brakes.
How to Know If Brakes Need to be Bled
You can tell if your brakes need to be bled by the way they feel. When your brakes feel soft, it’s time to bleed them. A soft brake compresses easily without stopping the car well.
You’ll notice that this becomes a problem over long periods, so the sooner you bleed your brakes, the better.
You can also tell if your brakes need to be bled by checking the brake fluid. It’s time to bleed your brakes if one or two are low on fluid.
Brake Bleeding Tips
Some brakes are harder to bleed than others. That said, we have some tips that can make it easier to bleed your brakes. These tips vary based on the year, make, and model of your vehicle.
Make Sure the Brake Fluid Reservoir Is Never Empty
When you’re bleeding the brakes, make sure the brake fluid reservoir always has fluid inside of it. If the reservoir becomes empty, air will enter the system and render the brake bleeding process useless.
In fact, you’ll have to start over if this is the case. To make sure the reservoir stays full, make sure you check on it each time you bleed a brake. You can add brake fluid as necessary to ensure it stays filled.
Bleed Brakes Often When Stopping From High Speeds
You should bleed your brakes every two or three years. That said, some vehicles need to have their brakes bled more frequently than others. This is often the case in high-performance vehicles.
For example, cars that race on a track should have their brakes bled monthly or once every year. If you find yourself stopping at high speeds often, you should frequently bleed your brakes.
Following these steps can help you maintain a healthy braking system and prevent issues.
Bleeding your brakes every few thousand miles can prevent the fluid from becoming contaminated. When you prevent spongy braking, your vehicle will perform better in almost every area. You’ll be able to stop faster, apply less pressure to the brake, and handle turns with confidence at the track. While not every vehicle needs to have its brakes bled, we always recommend checking your owner’s manual to see the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Jed LehmanJed Lehman is a born gearhead who has been working on cars since he could crawl. He inherited his love for auto from his grandfather who owned a maintenance shop in Carlsbad, California. Jed is the driver behind Gearshift, and started this site to provide straightforward, helpful automobile information. From maintenance tips to product reviews, you can find it all here.
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