When it comes to vehicle maintenance, paying attention to your car's fluids is a critical component. Oil may be the most prominent automotive fluid, as it needs to be changed the most frequently, but it is just as important to monitor the health of your car's other liquids - especially the brake fluid. Whenever you're performing routine maintenance, you might as well take a look at the different fluid levels. Drivers often neglect to change their brake fluid, so this is especially important if you have recently purchased a used car.

How often should you change brake fluid?

Every vehicle is different, and your car's owner's manual will likely have a guideline of how often you should change the fluid. A good rule of thumb is to have the brake fluid flushed and replaced every year or two. Expert say this is because brake fluid absorbs moisture from microscopic openings around the seals and hoses, and within a year and a half, the brake fluid in your car may have as much as 3 percent water. The issue is that this reduces the liquid's boiling point, which is dangerous because the friction of stopping a vehicle generates a great deal of heat. If the fluid cannot handle it, this can cause damage to the brake system and even puts you at risk of brake failure.

Checking the fluid doesn't take long

If you're due for a brake fluid change or you don't know the last time your car's been flushed, you should inspect the liquid to see if it needs to be replaced. To do this, you will need to locate the brake master cylinder, using the owner's manual for guidance if necessary. It is typically located toward the rear of the engine bay, near the brake pedal. On newer vehicles, this part will be clear enough that you can read the fluid level without removing the cap. As long as there is enough fluid and you haven't had any problems with your brakes, you won't need to have the system flushed.

If the levels are low, refer to your owner's manual to determine the grade of brake fluid your car needs and add more. There are two basic types of brake fluid, DOT 3 and DOT 4, which have different boiling points. The master brake cylinder cap should indicate which type your car needs, and this information is also available in the owner's manual.

Air in the lines

If you've noticed your brakes feel spongy or soft when you press the pedal, there may be air in the lines. In this case, you'll need to bleed the system to remove the air. This involves replacing the old fluid with new fluid to push out any air bubbles that are lingering in the hoses. It is important to take care of this issue as soon as possible, as air can lower the boiling point of the brake fluid or even damage the interior of the brake system.

If you are replacing your brake fluid or just topping off the reservoir, it is important to wear protective gloves and eyewear. The fluid is mildly corrosive, not unlike nail polish remover, but it is not exactly skin-friendly, so be careful when handling it. If you are unsure whether you should flush the system, you may as well err on the side of caution. Changing the brake fluid will not harm your brake system in anyway, but abstaining may put you at risk of encountering braking problems in the future.