The internal combustion engine was one of humanity’s biggest achievements, allowing us to quite literally propel ourselves into new ages of industry and technology. However, it’s all well and good being able to get from A to B with the power of petrol and mechanical engineering – what do you do when you arrive at your destination? This is where the next most important part of a car comes into play. You can’t (or really shouldn’t) have one without the other. Yes, we’re talking about brakes. They’re complex things and they rely on something with a far less complex name: brake fluid. The name doesn’t give an awful lot away, so allow us to explain what it is and how you can recognise when it’s time to top up.
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What Is Brake Fluid?
You might have heard it called hydraulic fluid, but brake fluid is essentially a runny substance that is used to amplify the performance of your vehicle’s brakes, allowing them to use more force. This is how your car is able to stop suddenly and from extremely high speeds. It has other benefits, byproducts of its primary function, which we’ll talk about further down the page.
Why Do I Need Brake Fluid?
To put it simply, your car wouldn’t stop without it! At least, not as easily. If you attempted to brake without this fluid in your car’s system, you’d feel a little bit like Fred Flintstone as he grinds his feet along the ground with all his might to stop his car. Brake fluid makes it much, much easier, allowing your vehicle to go from 70 mph to a standstill in a matter of seconds without any such effort.
Brake fluid also works as a lubricant for the moving mechanical parts of your braking system, preventing them from wearing each other down by grinding together. On the whole, brake fluid is an essential part of a vehicle’s operation and it’s important to understand when it needs to be topped up.
What Happens If Brake Fluid Is Low?
The first and most obvious consequence of low brake fluid will be a warning light illuminated on the dashboard of your car. Once this light starts shining, it’s important to get your brake fluid topped up as soon as possible, because your brake line can become filled with air instead. The problem with this is that air cannot be compressed in the same way that brake fluid can be, therefore giving your car soft, spongy brakes.
This can have serious consequences as it will impact the amount of force you need to apply to the pedal in order to slow the car, potentially even to the point that your vehicle is unable to stop in time. We’re not just talking about emergency braking, either. Even at lower speeds under regular circumstances, you could end up in an accident.
You could also begin to hear or even smell signs of grinding, as the brakes – now lacking lubrication – start to experience friction that will damage them over time.
Is It Dangerous To Drive With Low Brake Fluid?
Taking into account the potential hazards that come with driving with low brake fluid, it’s fair to say that using your car without topping up can be very dangerous. The condition of your brakes must be taken seriously, perhaps more so than any other part of your car. If you choose to drive your car with low brake fluid, you’re putting yourself at risk of an accident, along with everyone else on the road around you.
To avoid this, ensure your brake fluid is topped up to a recommended level to keep your brakes working as they usually do. Don’t overlook the role that muscle memory plays in driving – if your brakes are less responsive than they were the last 100 times you used them, it might be too late by the time you adapt and brake harder.
If your low brake fluid was deemed to be the cause of a crash, you could even find yourself in trouble with the law and facing points one your licence and a fine. It’s your responsibility to ensure that your car is safe to be on the road, after all.
Can I Top Up My Brake Fluid Myself?
Yes, you can top up your own brake fluid and the method to do so is fairly simple. In fact, it’s almost identical to how you’d top up your oil, coolant or window wash. First things first, you’ll need to locate the correct cap. It’ll have a ‘fill’ line to work out the measurements, and you will most likely be able to see the fluid inside the reservoir through the plastic. If it doesn’t explicitly read “brake fluid” on it, look out instead for the icon – it’s a circle, surrounded by what look like brackets, enclosed in an octagon.
You’ll need to make sure you’ve purchased the correct brake fluid, with the cap or reservoir usually noting which type you need. The options are named DOT3, DOT4 and DOT5, but if it doesn’t have your model’s particular type listed on the part itself, check the vehicle handbook.
Next, it’s simply about pouring in the brake fluid whilst not allowing it to rest above the full marker. Screw the lid back on and lower your bonnet. Job done.
Is Brake Fluid Checked On An MOT?
Despite the dangers that could be associated with low brake fluid, sending your car in for an MOT test with its level below the minimum won’t result in it failing. It will, however, be listed as a ‘minor’ fault which should be dealt with as soon as possible. The same applies if the brake fluid warning light is on, even if the level is checked and seen to be at or slightly above the minimum.
If spongy brakes are part of a long list of problems with your car, or if you’re just in the market for something new, get a quote for your old, unwanted or broken vehicle today from Scrap Car Comparison. Our nationwide network of Authorised Treatment Facilities is vast enough that we can find you a buyer, offering a top price, for your vehicle no matter where you live! Better still, we even offer free collection for your car and van across the whole of the UK! So, give us a call on 03333 44 99 50 or use our scrap car price calculator to get a valuation on your vehicle now!