Brake fluid lasts 30 years, right? Wrong, Volkswagen states that should be done on most of its models every two years regardless of mileage. So why do I find so many vans where it appears the fluid has never been changed? Brake fluid is extremely important and helps to keep the master cylinder, wheel cylinders and pistons properly lubricated.
What can happen? Even though brake fluid is kept in a sealed system it can absorb moisture over time, and that can lead to corrosion in the brake system. Brake fluid is often times one of the first maintenance items I attend to on a van and it is relatively easy if you have the proper tools. I’ll briefly explain my procedure but as always your braking system is a very important safety item and should be left to the professionals.
I use to dread bleeding the brakes but that was until I came up with a simple method for completing the task. I use the Pneumatic Brake Fluid Bleeder from Harbor Freight, it is inexpensive and works like a champ. It can also be used to replace the fluid in your clutch line too.
Here are the basics. I start by gaining access to the brake fluid reservoir located below that instrument panel cover. If you still have your protective opaque plastic protector leave it in place but remove the cap from the reservoir (have a shop towel handy to rest the cap on). Your reservoir should have a filter located inside and it’s a bit tricky but now is a good time to pry it out and inspect for grime. Once out you can also inspect the rest of the reservoir for any grime as it can easily accumulate a fungus if to much moisture has entered the system (replace as needed but this is a more involved procedure in which I like to take the time to replace the master cylinder too).
Once the filter is removed, fill the bottle provided with the bleeder system with a good brake fluid. I use Valvoline synthetic as it is readily available at my local Wal-Mart. Place the cap on the fill bottle and use the appropriate adapter that allows the bottle to fit snuggly in the reservoir. with the valve closed on the fill bottle, invert it into the master cylinder and open the valve to release brake fluid into the reservoir.
I follow the standard bleeding procedure starting with the RH rear then LH rear, RH front and then LH front. I have a lift, so I go ahead and lift and remove all four wheels from the vehicle. If you don’t have a lift it is probably best to remove one wheel at a time, bleed and continue on to the next bleeder.
Prior to opening bleeders, I always apply a small amount of penetrating oil to the threads the night before. With the right rear wheel removed, you will see the bleeder valve on the back side of the rear braking plate just above the brake line. You’ll want to have a good 7mm wrench to avoid stripping the bleeder nut. Take a bit of brake cleaner and clean around the bleeder this will help give a good grip on the bleeder prior to cracking it loose. With the brake bleeder attached to the bleeder I start suction prior to cracking the valve. Open the bleeder valve just enough to begin the flow of fluid. If the flow of fluid does not start and your bleeder valve didn’t have the protective rubber cap still on it, then there is a good chance it’s clogged and will need to be removed and cleaned out.
If your van is like every van I’ve purchased then the brake fluid will be very dark in color. You’ll want to continue the flow of fluid until it clears and be sure to tighten the bleeder prior to removing suction. One more tip: with the bleeder open and fluid flowing I like to have someone mash the brake pedal to the floor to help clean out old brake fluid. Just be sure to close the bleeder prior to releasing the pedal.
Continue bleeding the rest of the brake system in the order mentioned earlier. Keep an eye on the fluid bottle in the reservoir and make sure it doesn’t run dry. Also, close the valve on the fluid bottle before removing, you can make a mess pretty quick if you forget to do so. Once the system is bled, pump the brakes a few times and make sure they firm and working properly. Compete this process every two years and it will keep your brake lines from corroding and keep the rest of the system in tip top shape.
*As always have a professional attend to your brake system if you have any doubts in your abilities. Improperly bleeding and or maintaining your brakes could lead to injury or even death.