How to bleed brake fluid by yourself
Every vehicle’s brakes need to have the fluid bled and replaced from time to time. Schedules vary, so check your owner’s manual for exact timelines.
Some manufactures recommend new fluid every 20,000 miles, and some recommend a bleed at 150,000 miles.
Overall, it’s a good idea to bleed and replace your brake fluid every five years or every time you work on your brake system. Keeping fluid fresh helps maintain solid stops. It’s cheaper and easier than replacing brake lines or the master cylinder, both of which can corrode with old fluid.
If your brake pedal is feeling spongy, bleed and replace the fluid. Check the master cylinder and caliper pistons, but if you feel the pedal sink after you stop, it’s most likely the fluid. Brake fluid is hygroscopic, which means it absorbs water. Even though it lives in a closed system, water sometimes seeps inside. Water has a lower boiling point than brake fluid. So when fluid heats up from the friction of stopping, the absorbed water boils and evaporates. This creates air pockets and these pockets lead to weak, spongy brakes.
How to Bleed Brake Fluid, One-Person Bleed
1. Safety First
Park your vehicle on a flat, dry surface and install wheel chocks. Open the hood and secure it. Lift the car, place it on jack stands and remove the wheels for easy access.
2. Remove the old brake fluid
Uncap the master cylinder and use the vacuum pump or turkey baster to remove most of the old brake fluid. Don’t bleed the master cylinder completely dry.
3. Add new brake fluid
Add new brake fluid to the master cylinder. Keep the master cylinder cap off or loose to allow air flow. Always put the cap back on the new brake fluid bottle. Ensure the correct match to the OE requirement, i.e., DOT 3. Reference M/C cap or owners manual. You can always double check with AutoZone.
4. Determine Which Wheel to Bleed
Check your instruction manual to determine which wheel to bleed first and the correct order. Usually you’ll start with the wheel furthest from the master cylinder.
5. Locate the brake bleeder valve
Find the Brake bleeder valve. It’s a small screw with a hole in the middle. On disc brakes, the bleeder valve will be on the top of the brake caliber. On drum brakes, usually at the top middle on the backside of the brakes/wheel tire area.
6. Connect the vacuum pump
Connect the vacuum pump to the bleeder valve to form a seal.
7. Open the bleeder valve
Open the bleeder valve with a brake bleeder wrench, then use the vacuum pump to pump out the old brake fluid. Dispose of old brake fluid in a plastic reservoir. As brake fluid bleeds out, regularly check the master cylinder to make sure it doesn’t bleed dry. Continue to add new brake fluid to the master cylinder. When you stop seeing bubbles and see the color of the brake fluid become clearer, you’ve bled most of the air and old fluid out of the system.
8. Close the brake bleeder valve and repeat
Close the brake bleeder valve and remove the tube for the vacuum pump. Repeat on the other three wheels.
9. Fill the master cylinder
Fill master cylinder to the “full” or “max” line and re-install the cap. Ensure no contamination.
10. Put wheels on your vehicle
Put the wheels back on and lower the car to the ground safely.
11. Time to test the brakes
Test the brakes. They should feel firm, not spongy. Go for a test drive to make sure the brakes are working properly.
If you want to try your hand at bleeding brakes another way, check out these guides:
- How to Gravity Bleed Brakes (The Lazy Way)
- How to Bleed Brakes with a Friend (With a Kit)