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> Tech Tips and Tricks > How to Bleed/Refill Brake Fluid Reservoir
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adepjunk
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Registered: Aug 2005
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Posts: 9

How to Bleed/Refill Brake Fluid Reservoir

Hi,

I am posting to the forum as I need some help with my escape. The escape has been really good to me over the years but recently its letting me know its getting a bit older and needs some attention.

Recently the brake system light went on on my Ford Escape 02. It has 106,000 km (about 66,000 miles for our American friends).

A bit of background info, recently I had to have one of the front wheel bearings replaced as it was making a loud noise when driving.

Now I checked the brake fluid reservoir and there is fluid. The fluid is sitting about 1-inch below from the maximum indicator. The fluid looks rather dark. I am not sure what colour its supposed to be. I don't think it has ever been replaced.

When the brake system light came on yesterday, I opened the hood and tightened the brake fluid cap. I noticed the light went out when I started the car again. Today when I started the car, the brake system light on the dash was still off. About 20 minutes into my drive to work, the light came back. I tried to re-tighten the cap, but this time the light remained on.

My breaks appear to work fine so I am wondering if I should just top up the fluid to the maximum indicator to see if the light goes away. But before I do that, I was wondering if its time to try and empty and refill the reservoir of all the brake fluid so its fresh.

My question is, is this something a novice can tackle? Should I just top up the fluid and see if the light goes away and not bother trying to empty the fluid? I am pretty good at following directions but I am also pretty cautious and if you guys tell me its best for a mechanic to tackle, then thats cool.

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adepjunk is offline Old Post 02-08-2008 08:48 PM
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Squishy
Platinum Overdrive

Registered: Nov 2005
Location: Orillia, Ontario
Posts: 3649

If you have a friend to help you, it's a pretty easy job if you've done a tire rotation before. First, put the car on jackstands and remove all four tires. Use a turkey baster or fluid pump to get all the fluid out of the reservoir into an empty pop or water bottle. Refill with DOT3 or DOT4* brake fluid, which is yellow when new. Next, start with the wheel furthest away from the reservoir, which is the right rear wheel. There is a bleeder screw which looks like a grease zerk or nipple. Fit a box end wrench over the flats and connect a length of clear plastic tubing that you can pick up at Home Depot to it. Submerge the other end of the tube in the bottle of old fluid. I believe the front screws take a 12 mm wrench and the rear ones take 8 mm, but don't quote me on that. With a buddy in the car, open the bleeder screw and have them step on the brake. The normal procedure is to close the screw and have the friend release the brake, but I've found that with the master cylinder cap off, the buddy can keep pumping the brakes and you have a net fluid transfer out of the bleeder screw. Repeat until clear fluid appears in the tube. Refill the master cylinder with more fresh fluid, and move on to the next wheel.

The wheel sequence is right rear, left rear, right front, left front. The most important thing is not to get any air in the lines. That means watching the tubing to make sure no bubbles get sucked back through the bleeder (one reason to submerge the end in old fluid - after the initial air is pushed out you have no worries), and make sure the master cylinder does not run out of fluid. If air gets into the lines, you'll have to start all over again. Once you finish, start the car and pump the brakes a few times. If the pedal goes to the floor even after a few pumps, you likely got air in the lines.

*DOT4 has a much higher boiling point, but absorbs moisture at a slightly higher rate than DOT3. It's up to you to decide whether you want to be able to leave the fluid in for an extra year or two, or have better peace of mind that your brake system won't overheat after repeated downhill braking or similar situations.

EDIT: If the bleeder screws are rusty, don't put too much force on them. They are fairly soft and are hollow, so they will snap with too much force. Spray them down with penetrating lube like JB Blaster (WD-40 doesn't work very well) and once that soaks in, tap the wrench with a medium-sized hammer to "impact" the screw loose. In most cases after the penetrant, I find I can just smack it a few times with my palm and it will come loose.


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Squishy is offline Old Post 02-08-2008 09:04 PM
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Drew2000
[shift] 3rd Gear!

Registered: Sep 2006
Location: NYC Metro Area
Posts: 304

As per the factory manual, you can also do a 1 man "gravity bleed". Suck out the old fluid from the master cylinder reservoir and replace with fresh.

Slip a piece of tubing over the right rear caliper bleeder and submerge the other end in clean brake fluid. Open bleed screw and let fluid run until clear, topping up the M/C as needed. Do Not let the M/C run dry!

Continue to left rear, then right front and lastly left front. Top up M/C to full mark.

One advantage of the gravity method vs. the two man is not over-stroking the master cylinder piston, which can happen if you leave the bleeder open too long and your assistant pushes the pedal to the floor.

Drew


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Drew2000 is offline Old Post 02-08-2008 09:32 PM
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Squishy
Platinum Overdrive

Registered: Nov 2005
Location: Orillia, Ontario
Posts: 3649

Drew - can you elaborate on overstroking the MC piston? Does this mean my lazy method of leaving the bleed screw open throughout the whole process is wrong?


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Squishy is offline Old Post 02-08-2008 09:39 PM
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CrashNburn
Platinum Member

Registered: May 2007
Location: Ontario, Canada
Posts: 779

if you have an air compressor you could rent a vacuum bleeder and then all you have to to is hook up the hose, crack the bleeder and hit the lever, they are awesome. i did this to my buddies car after we put all new lines on, and it took 10 minutes to bleed the lines. just make sure you keep your master full or you have to start all over.


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CrashNburn is offline Old Post 02-09-2008 06:03 AM
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Big Jim
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Registered: Jul 2003
Location: Thousand Oaks, CA
Posts: 2261

Something you should pay attention to. The low master cylinder reservoir is an indication that your front brake pads are getting worn. As the pads wear, the caliper piston has to extend further. When it does, more fluid resides in the caliper, leaving the reservoir lower.

Long story short, check your front brake pads. It may be time to replace them.

I also agree that you are overdue in changing the brake fluid.


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03 Escape Limited
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Big Jim is offline Old Post 02-09-2008 06:33 AM
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05EscapeDriver
2nd Gear

Registered: Dec 2007
Location: Phoenix AZ
Posts: 287

Hey Squishy.... Very nice write-up


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05EscapeDriver is offline Old Post 02-09-2008 09:05 AM
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Squishy
Platinum Overdrive

Registered: Nov 2005
Location: Orillia, Ontario
Posts: 3649

Thank you, I try

Now I need to look into that overstroking thing. Leaving the screw open saves me so much time from having to co-ordinate with the helper on when to press and when to release. I think it's also the method behind those one-man bleeder kits, although there are plenty of "shortcuts" that aren't good for the car.

I forgot to include the gravity bleed. It's a good option if you have the patience, but I find I usually run off to do other things and waste a good portion of new fluid when I come back to check the progress. This year I'm going to try connecting a fluid transfer pump to it, but I'm not certain what effect the brake fluid will have on the internal seals. Which reminds me, adepjunk, do not get brake fluid on your paint! It also causes some rubbers to swell and some plastics to dry out.


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Squishy is offline Old Post 02-09-2008 09:51 AM
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05EscapeDriver
2nd Gear

Registered: Dec 2007
Location: Phoenix AZ
Posts: 287

Well I'm doin the 4qt tranny deal Saturday morning Any last minute advice???


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05EscapeDriver is offline Old Post 02-09-2008 10:00 AM
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Squishy
Platinum Overdrive

Registered: Nov 2005
Location: Orillia, Ontario
Posts: 3649

Not much - pretty simple task. The manual calls for sealant on the drain plug; you should be able to use yellow (oil-resistant) Teflon tape in its place if you can't find pipe sealant. Oh, and make sure you have enough fluid to fill it back up. Drain plug is NPT threaded and calls for 20 ft-lbs so don't crank it on too tight.

Did a little reading on overstroking - basically when you leave old fluid in for too long, the moisture causes corrosion on the master cylinder walls which will damage the piston when it travels beyond its normal stroke. I could see the same thing happening after a pad change, where you've pushed back the caliper pistons and need to pump the brakes back up - the MC piston will do the full travel if you pump the pedal to the floor. Yet another reason why those who leave the brake fluid in for the life of the vehicle are just asking for problems. Learned something new today.


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Squishy is offline Old Post 02-09-2008 10:20 AM
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05EscapeDriver
2nd Gear

Registered: Dec 2007
Location: Phoenix AZ
Posts: 287

I should get 1 of those vacuum tools & try it myself.... I pay to have the Vette brake lines flushed 2x a year...... I'm pretty mean to that car out on the track, and you can really tell when the brake fluid is new


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05EscapeDriver is offline Old Post 02-09-2008 10:33 AM
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CrashNburn
Platinum Member

Registered: May 2007
Location: Ontario, Canada
Posts: 779



i just looked up anyone that looked the the one we have at the shop, and this one is pretty close. they work awesome. another option is a bleeder ball.




these are extremely handy of some of the trucks i fix cause it pressurizes the system, you can use the vacuum bleeder and the bleeder ball at the same time but you dont need to.


__________________
I hold Wrench, You turn Truck.

04 XLT switchable 4x4
privacy tint,tow package,vent visors NAPA filters,Castrol Syntec
Toyo open country A/T's
Step-Bars
would like to install a brush guard, and
cat back exhaust system
www.............com

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CrashNburn is offline Old Post 02-09-2008 07:42 PM
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Drew2000
[shift] 3rd Gear!

Registered: Sep 2006
Location: NYC Metro Area
Posts: 304

quote:
Originally posted by Squishy
...
Did a little reading on overstroking - basically when you leave old fluid in for too long, the moisture causes corrosion on the master cylinder walls which will damage the piston when it travels beyond its normal stroke. I could see the same thing happening after a pad change, where you've pushed back the caliper pistons and need to pump the brakes back up - the MC piston will do the full travel if you pump the pedal to the floor. Yet another reason why those who leave the brake fluid in for the life of the vehicle are just asking for problems. Learned something new today.



That's pretty much it. Overstroking the piston can cause damage especially on higher mileage vehicles. The bore wears and polishes at the normal range of pedal travel and a ridge of gunk/corrosion can build up at the end of normal travel and beyond.

Now, you have the bleeder open, and a enthusiastic helper pushes the pedal to the floor, the pistion travels beyond the normal range and into and over the ridge of "gunk" and into the rough, corroded bore. This may cause damage to the piston seals and help cause the M/C to fail at some point.

Drew

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Drew2000 is offline Old Post 02-09-2008 08:14 PM
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4x2
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Registered: Aug 2002
Location: Metro Detroit
Posts: 937

adepjunk,

It is a very good idea to replace your brake fluid, your overdue for it - the older the fluid gets the more water it absorbs - yikes! Bleeding brakes is pretty easy, BUT if you accidently suck air into the lines it can become quite annoying/tough to get out. I bleed my vehicles every 2-3 yrs (bikes every year!) and prefer DOT 4 fluid (Valvoline or Prestone).


Drew2000,

Have you gravity bleed your Escape? I have gravity bled many cars and bikes over the last 22 yrs but it didn't work on my Escape - I assume the ABS plumbing was the cause. When I tried a small amount of fluid came out then the flow stopped. This was when the truck was only 1 year old. I grabbed a helper and had them pump the brakes, old school method, - worked like a charm. As for the overstroke - sounds like it could be a problem for the average vehicle (which never has the brake fluid changed).


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4x2 is offline Old Post 02-10-2008 01:12 AM
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