Help a first-timer replace brake fluid

Joined
Nov 26, 2007
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Duluth, MN
After my recent experience at the local Firestone and a quick question on BITOG, I've decided it is time to change the brake fluid in my car. The vehicle in question is a '99 Civic with 85K miles and I know the brake fluid hasn't been changed since 50K (2.5 years ago) but probably longer than that. From what I've read it's probably due. After reading up various articles on the 'net, I've come to the conclusion that buying a vacuum pump is probably the best way to go. For $40-50 I can buy one like this. I'm so new to this, maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree, maybe there is a better way of doing it? I've got a factory service manual, so I can figure out the order in which to do the brakes, but what about all those other small things you don't know about before you start? Like, how much time will I need? How much brake fluid? What tools will I need? And finally, will I wish I had spent the $80 and had Firestone do it? Clark
 
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Jan 10, 2008
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Milwaukee, WI
Do you have a second person who could help? Basically all they need to do is pump the pedal when you say, and hold it down when you say. A good monkey could do it, but not my dog. Otherwise a mityvac is slow but works. Get 16oz of brake fluid. You can always stop if you run out. This won't take long, half hour. A wrench is all you need. If you're due for a tire rotation this might be a good time for it. You'll be glad you did it, I'm sure. Always nice to learn something new. The order isn't important. It should be RR, LR, RF, LF but Hondas lately spec RF, LF, RR, LR or some ridiculousness. It doesn't really matter. The reason I always start with RR is it's the longest line so it's all downhill from there.
 
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Joined
Aug 21, 2008
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ON, Canada eh?
I always do mine yearly when I change my seasonal tires. I open up all the bleeder ports and let it all run out into 4 catch pans. No pressure applied to the brakes (Dollar Store Foil Pans). Then I just keep feeding the master cylinder until I have 3/4 of the new bottle poured in. Then I close all the bleeder screws, have someone help me bleed the system in case any air has made it's way into the system although it never does because I never let the fluid in the MC run dry and because I only open the bleeder ports just enough to see fluid drip out. (But for safety reasons) I top up the Master Cylinder and all is well/done. Steve
 
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Or you can just buy a one man brake bleeder at any auto parts store for around $6. Put the bleeder on one brake at a time and bleed the brake by pumping pedal until all new fluid is coming out. Repeat for the other 3 brakes. Don't let master cylinder run out of fluid. The one man brake bleeder is simply a length of tubing that goes over the bleeder with a check valve. This method is cheap and simple but may take a bit longer than vacuum pump because you have to pump brake pedal.
 
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Sep 5, 2008
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I think the brake fluid is probably the most ignored of all the car fluids. Fortunately it's in a closed system and is pretty stout stuff and can go years without being looked at. That begs the question..How often SHOULD the brake fluid be changed?
 
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I do a lot of miles per year as I work on the road so my fluid goes from cool to hot to cool many times per day and then you add in the winter time weather and IMO my brake fluid is spent at the end of the year. It's very cheap to replace whereas lines, calipers and ABS control modules are not. ;\)
 
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Does the "one man brake bleeder" really work? I thought a loosened bleeder will suck in air through threads when the pedal is let go. How does "one man brake bleeder" prevent that from happening? - Vikas
 
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I know it's not a full flush, but at each oil change I use the turkey baster method. I draw out all I can from the Master res. and replace with new fluid. Even after many years the brake fluid stays clean. I also do that with the Power stearing pump.
 
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 Originally Posted By: ClarkB
Like, how much time will I need? How much brake fluid? What tools will I need? And finally, will I wish I had spent the $80 and had Firestone do it? Clark
Time: Triple the original estimate so you can get comfortable with the learning curve, I'd say do it on a day without any other obligation. How much brake fluid: usually the small container size is sufficient for a near complete replacement (replace till clear), get 2 small container worth (forgot the size) and if you don't need the 2nd one, return it. Have firestone do it: No, unless you have a phobia of working on cars like some of the girls I know. You already got the manual (don't really need it), and you are going to buy a pump (don't need to, but help if you can't find someone to pump the pedal for you), why ask someone else to do it?
 
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I prefer the pressure type bleed vs. the vacuum type. The Motive Power ones are nice. If you do the vacuum or one man thing, a bit of brake approved grease (Sylglide) on the bleeder threads will prevent air sucked back in. Plan for: 1.)an hour or two by the time you're done mucking around. 2.)The brake bleeders may be corroded/seized in and you muck them up. 3.) You accidentally allow the master cylinder to run dry and don't have enough fluid to re-do the whole process. HAVE EXTRA FLUID ON HAND. "Have firestone do it: No, unless you have a phobia of working on cars like some of the girls I know." I would not let Firestone do any work on my car. But, when I start a simple job on Saturday morning and I finish it at 12 midnight on Sunday, I often wish I were more like the girls PandaBear describes.
 
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Aug 21, 2008
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ON, Canada eh?
My system costs $4 for 4 catch pans from the dollar store, some time and a bottle of brake fluid. Works fine and isn't complicated.
 
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What I found that works great is the clear vinyl tubes (I think 1/4" OD) that you can get in Home Depot and a small water bottle. As long as you have a small wrench on hand and you are calling the shot, telling the pedal pumper when to press/release, you don't need any fancy tool (maybe protective gloves and goggle for the extra safety margin). As soon as the clear fluid comes out of the tube, I move on to the next corner. I know people who use different color fluid so the know when the fresh stuff reaches the caliper, but those fluids are usually expensive stuff like ATE Super Blue, and not very useful for commuters that hardly boil their fresh brake fluid. Wouldn't it be nice if they have a dye you can add to any brake fluid for cheap?
 
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Does he need a plan for: ... 4) bleeder breaks off Seriously, the bleeder should be easy to loosen. If it is not, leave it alone. - Vikas
 
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Tampa, Florida
I prefer ATE brake fluids and alternate between the ATE regular and ATE blue. I don't know that they are any better than other fluids but both have colorant mixed in. The regular is orange and the blue is, well, blue. It makes it very easy for me to recognize when the new fluid starts coming out of the bleeder. That is particularly handy when one uses a vacuum type bleeder, as I do, because those types of bleeders tend to aerate the fluid coming out by drawing air around the bleeder screw threads. That makes the fluid look cloudy and, without colorant, it's difficult for me to tell the old fluid from the new.
 
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You can get a copy Mity Vac fro Harbor Freight or similar for 1/2 that price . If you are only going to do the brakes on a few cars infrequently with it, it will work just fine. Keep your reservoir full! It will empty out faster than you think! Get a large bottle of brake fluid - for a normal street car, anybody's fluid will work great [use the correct spec, though, like DOT 3 or DOT4].
 
Joined
Mar 6, 2004
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Calif.
 Originally Posted By: Vikas
Does the "one man brake bleeder" really work? I thought a loosened bleeder will suck in air through threads when the pedal is let go. How does "one man brake bleeder" prevent that from happening? - Vikas
Some people take out the bleeder screw and wrap the thread with teflon tape so that it seals better preventing air from getting sucked past the threads. Alternatively you can put some grease around the bleeder screw for the same purpose. My one person bleeder kit is a jar and some clear tubing which you can buy from the hardware store. Fill the jar with some brake fluid, make sure the tubing is submerged into the fluid, connect the other end to the bleeder and pump the brake pedal. I got the idea of making a one person brake bleeding kit from this site. http://temp.corvetteforum.net/c3/joeveto/Brake_Bleeder.shtml Here is a video on Youtube someone posted up that demonstrates using a home made one person brake bleeding kit. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvyztDFHhaY
 
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Joined
Oct 22, 2008
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Sunny Calif
 Originally Posted By: StevieC
I always do mine yearly when I change my seasonal tires. I open up all the bleeder ports and let it all run out into 4 catch pans. No pressure applied to the brakes (Dollar Store Foil Pans). Then I just keep feeding the master cylinder until I have 3/4 of the new bottle poured in. Then I close all the bleeder screws, have someone help me bleed the system in case any air has made it's way into the system although it never does because I never let the fluid in the MC run dry and because I only open the bleeder ports just enough to see fluid drip out. (But for safety reasons)
This sounds like the gravity drip method. Curious, how long does it take?
 
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About a half-hour. I usually have a coffee as I'm feeding the MC with fluid. Got the Satellite radio blaring at the same time! Oh yeah!
 
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Aug 5, 2002
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StevieC, What car/truck were you doing the gravity bleed on? It seems like for a Civic that would be overkill, and just bleeding the system till the fluid changes color is sufficient. The last time I did my friend's Civic it only take a 6oz container to swap out the old tinted fluid.
 
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