a mechanic works to flush the brake fluid.

Car owners are supposed to check the brake fluid to keep things running well. But an accidental spill can spell trouble for the paint job. If you’re going to try to change the fluid by yourself, be extra prepared to deal with cleanup. It’s a tricky DIY job and one wrong move could hurt the vehicle’s shiny finish.

Each carmaker has different recommendations about when the brake fluid should be changed. To find out what they advise for your vehicle, check the owner’s manual or ask a trusted mechanic. Though the brake fluid reservoir is air-tight, moisture can work its way into the brake hoses and components of the brake system. Over time, this can cause the brakes to be less effective, especially for hard stops. The brake pedal may need to be pushed with more pressure or you would need to pump the brakes. Plus, moisture in the system can lead to internal corrosion along the brake lines. So, flushing the fluid regularly helps prevent these issues.

Here’s what you need to know about the damaging effect that brake fluid has on auto paint and how to clean it off to prevent it.

How Brake Fluid Damages Car Paint

You might be wondering how a fluid that your car needs can also harm it. The reason is explained by the chemical makeup of every type of brake fluid. It contains glycol; these molecules have a dual action which makes brake fluid effective at attacking coatings. The chemical reaction of glycol on the car paint works like an aggressive solvent.

If it is left to sit on the paint, the fluid will start to break down the coating layer. It often leaves vertical marks, or stripes, along the car body as it flows downward. Severe damage involves the brake fluid eating through the paint and exposing the metal of the car body.

Find out the other 10 Surprising Things that Damage Vehicle Paint.

Length of Time Needed to Cause Damage

The good news is that if the brake fluid is cleaned off right away, your car probably won’t have any problem. As it sits on the paint, however, the fluid can quickly cause harm. Here’s a guide to the effect it typically has on car paint as time passes.

  • Less than 5 minutes: usually no damage is done.
  • 5 minutes: dull marks are made; the clear coat may be compromised in those spots.
  • 10 minutes: visible stains are made; the clear coat will be ruined.
  • 30 minutes: stripes can be seen from a distance; paint damage is evident.

In just five minutes, brake fluid can wreck the car’s clear coat and cause irreversible damage to the paint. Older cars, cars that have been touched up with low-quality paint, or which don’t have any wax protection are more at risk.

How to Clean off Brake Fluid

If your car is newer, has quality paint and has recently been waxed, simply wiping the brake fluid off should prevent any damage. Now that you know it’s important to act fast, here’s what you should do:

1. Blot up the Fluid

First, use a towel or paper towel to soak up as much of the brake fluid as possible. Try to avoid wiping it. This would only spread the fluid around and expand the area which has been affected. Place the towel on the spot and press lightly to blot it up.

2. Wash the Fluid Off

Next, clean the spot on the car off as soon as possible. To wash your car, it’s best to use a car wash detergent, but in this emergency grab any soap that you have handy. Apply the soap and wash with a clean, wet rag or sponge.

3. Rinse Well

Finally, flush the area thoroughly with lots of water. This will help to neutralize the brake fluid and stop its corrosive effects.

How to Fix Damage Caused by Brake Fluid

If the brake fluid left visible marks on the car or dulled the paint where it dripped, you should get the damage assessed by a reputable body shop. If left unaddressed, the damaged area could spread and worsen as it’s exposed to the elements. This leads to rust and other permanent problems. Fixing the paint job may just require a careful touch up with expert color matching. Having this kind of repair work done by professionals is an important part of preserving the value of your vehicle.

Check out Badell’s 5 Facts to Consider Before Getting a Car Painted.

In the future, consider hiring a pro. Preventing this paint damage may be as simple as relying on a professional mechanic change the brake fluid for you.

Rely on the Professionals at Badell’s Collision

We care about your car. Request a quote for car painting or repairs from Badell’s Collision. Get started by filling out our online estimate form.

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