Best Brake Fluids: Get The Ultimate Stopping Power
The best brake fluids to keep your vehicle's braking system in tip-top shape
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BY Noelle Talmon / LAST UPDATED ON May 21, 2019
In order for your vehicle's braking system to operate effectively, it requires an essential component: brake fluid. The best brake fluid will ensure that your vehicle stops when it has to. It's crucial that you use the recommended brake fluid for the best performance and for safety reasons. Check out our brake fluid review below to find the best product for your ride.
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Benefits of Brake Fluid
- Prevent brake failure. If you don't use the best brake fluid, your vehicle will not operate properly. Brake fluid is an integral part of your vehicle's braking system, which relies on the substance for stopping power.
- Be safe. If your brake fluid is old and worn, it won't work as well. That means your vehicle will take longer to stop, which can result in an accident that can harm you or others.
- Increase performance. If you race your car on the track or enjoy autocross, good brakes are crucial. The best brake fluid will give you more stopping power than cheaper, lower-quality products.
Types of Brake Fluid
This poly glycol-based brake fluid is intended for vehicles that are exposed to normal driving conditions. It has a wet boiling point of 140 degrees Celsius and dry boiling point of 205 degrees Celsius. Over the course of a year, it absorbs moisture at a rate of about 2 percent of its volume. It can be safely mixed with DOT 4 and DOT 5.1 brake fluids. The best DOT 3 brake fluid is very strong and can damage your vehicle's paint in the event of a spill.
This fluid is also poly glycol-based and is intended for vehicles that are used in higher altitudes. It has a wet boiling point of 155 degrees Celsius and a dry boiling point of 230 degrees Celsius. Similar to DOT 3 brake fluid, the best DOT 4 brake fluid absorbs moisture at a rate of about 2 percent of its volume per year, but it has somewhat higher wet and dry boiling points. It can also harm your vehicle's paint. You can also safely mix it with DOT 3 and DOT 5.1 brake fluids.
This synthetic blend brake fluid has a silicone base. It does not absorb moisture and, as a result, can cause corrosion in your brake line if not properly monitored. It has a wet boiling point of 180 degrees Celsius and a dry boiling point of 260 degrees Celsius. DOT 5 brake fluid is intended for race cars and other performance-based vehicles. It is not for vehicles with antilock brake systems and cannot be combined with other types of brake fluid.
This poly glycol-based brake fluid absorbs moisture at a rate of approximately 2 percent of its volume per year. It has a wet boiling point of 180 degrees Celsius and a dry boiling point of 260 degrees Celsius. It's intended for high-performance vehicles and race cars with antilock brake systems. Like DOT 3 and DOT 4, even the best DOT 5.1 brake fluid can damage your paint. You can mix it with DOT 3 and DOT 4 fluid.
The Wakefield Oil Company was founded in 1899. The British Castrol brand originated after researchers added castor oil to lubricant formulations. The London-based multinational BP purchased Castrol in 2000. One top product is the Castrol SRF Racing Brake Fluid.
Based in Chicago, Illinois, Prestone manufacturers antifreeze/coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid, and other products in North America. It's been delivering antifreeze/coolant protection since 1927. One popular product is the Prestone DOT 3 Synthetic Brake Fluid.
Warren Distribution, manufacturer and owner of the MAG 1 brand, was founded in 1922 as the Warren Oil Company by James Schlott. Based in Omaha, Nebraska, the company is one of the largest independent lubricants manufacturers and blenders in North America. One top product is the MAG1 120 Premium DOT 3 Brake Fluid.
The French company Motul was founded in 1853 in New York City. The company develops lubricants for car, motorcycle and other engines. Its products are available in more than 80 countries. One top product is the Motul Dot-4 100 Percent Synthetic Racing Brake Fluid.
Brake Fluid Pricing
- Under $10: There are several brands of good-quality brake fluid that you can purchase in this price range. Some are as little as $5. Most are geared towards average drivers who are not performance-oriented.
- $10-$20: Brake fluids at this price point are often tailored towards vehicles that are used for the race track and typically have a higher boiling point. While it provides superior stopping power, it often needs to be changed more frequently.
- Over $20: Some brake fluids are very costly but feature top corrosion protection and water-locking properties for peak performance. These products are generally used by people who race their vehicles.
A vehicle's braking system generates high temperatures. If the temperature gets too high, it warms up the brake fluid and can form vapor in the brake lines, causing a drop in braking ability. The dry boiling point refers to the brand new fluid. When it's been in use for a while, the boiling point drops due to water contamination. The wet boiling point refers to the fluid that's been in use for a while and has a certain amount of moisture mixed in.
- Corrosion Resistance: Look for a product that repels corrosion in areas such as the ABS control valves, master cylinders, wheel cylinders, and calipers. Manufacturers use various additives in their products to fight corrosion. Some types of brake fluids are more corrosive than others. For example, silicone is less corrosive than glycol-ether-based fluids.
- Viscosity: A vehicle's brake fluid should maintain its viscosity during many operating temperatures. This will ensure that the stability control, traction control, and anti-lock braking system function properly. As a result, it's important to prescribe to a viscosity recommended by the manufacturer. In general, DOT 5.1 brake fluids have the lowest viscosity over a wide range of temperatures.
- Compatibility: Some brake fluids are designed for certain brake systems, such as disc brakes or drum brakes. Others are designed for various systems. Do not purchase a cheap brake fluid because it's cost effective. It's essential that it's compatible with your specific vehicle in order to work properly and prevent brake failure.
Best Brake Fluid Reviews & Recommendations 2020
- Use a turkey baster to change the brake fluid in your reservoir. Remove as much as you can before filling it up with new brake fluid, and then properly discard leftover fluid. You must bleed the brakes to do a complete brake fluid change, which may require a professional.
- The dry boiling point is particularly important if you frequently change your brake fluid. But, if you're the type of person who doesn't change it very often, the wet boiling point is more crucial.
- Choose a brake fluid that has good water absorption so your vehicle's brake system resists corrosion and rust. Since water boils quicker than fluid, it turns into steam, which can damage the brakes.
- While it's okay to mix some brake fluid types, some are not interchangeable. Ideally, you should use a single high-quality brand that is specifically intended for your model vehicle.
- Immediately clean off any brake fluid that spills after you top off the reservoir or change your fluid. Many types of brake fluid are corrosive and can cause paint damage.
- Brake fluid resembles the color of white wine when it is new. Be sure to change it before it turns brown or black. When it's really dark, it has absorbed a lot of moisture and contamination.
Q: How does brake fluid work?
A: Brake fluid works in conjunction with your vehicle's hydraulic system. The master cylinder requires fluid to put pressure in the brake line, causing it to move. The fluid's pressure activates the mechanical brakes (the disc, pads, and caliper), which put pressure on the wheel, causing it to stop. The vehicle will not stop properly without brake fluid.
Q: What type of brake fluid do I need?
A: There are glycol-based and silicone-based brake fluids. Silicone-based fluids are for vehicles without ABS. Check your owner's manual to determine which type of fluid you need.
Q: Why does the brake fluid need to be changed?
A: Over time, brake fluid loses its effectiveness because it absorbs moisture and water through areas such as the brake system's seals. Too much moisture can reduce stopping power.
Q: How often do I need to change my vehicle’s brake fluid?
A: Check your owner's manual. It will contain a schedule based on either time or miles driven to determine how often you need to change the fluid.
Q: How do I check my brake fluid?
A: First, locate the brake fluid reservoir under the hood of your vehicle. Typically, it is well marked and in a plastic container on the driver's side of the engine. Next, remove the top from the container and look at the marker on the side of it to determine the fluid’s level. Finally, make sure there are no contaminants or discoloration in the container.
Our pick for the best brake fluid is the Motul Dot-4 100 Percent Synthetic Racing Brake Fluid. While it's slightly pricier than other brands, it improves pedal feel, protects against water penetration, and increases performance for both daily drivers and racers.
A less expensive option is the Prestone DOT 3 Synthetic Brake Fluid.