Does Motorcycle Brake Fluid Go Bad? How To Stay Safe | Motorcycle Habit (2023)

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Does Motorcycle Brake Fluid Go Bad? How To Stay Safe | Motorcycle Habit (1)

Your brakes are the last thing you want to lose while driving a motorcycle. Brakes are your best friend when it comes to having a safe trip on your two-wheeled adventures.

You are here to find the answer to a very valid question. I will go over with you the importance of brake fluid and why it does need to be changed periodically.

(Video) Low Brake Fluid Signs And Symptoms To Look Out For

Does motorcycle brake fluid go bad? Motorcycle brake fluid does go bad just like other fluids on a motorcycle. If it is not changed at proper intervals, it can affect the stopping distance of your motorcycle. Dark colored brake fluid and a spongy feeling brake lever are signs that your motorcycle brake fluid has gone bad.

Keeping your motorcycle at peak performance is very important. This article will focus on why brake fluid goes bad and how you can stay safe while riding. The last thing we want is a rider down on the freeway or the canyon because their brake system was not in good condition.

Why Motorcycle Brake Fluid Goes Bad

Brake fluid has chemical properties that allow it to deliver top-level stopping power. Other fluids on your motorcycle like gear oil in the engine and transmission need to be changed because these chemical properties break down over time. Brake fluid is no different.

Your motorcycle brake fluid is one of the most important things keeping you from hitting a wall or a suddenly stopped vehicle in front of you. It is the fluid that jumps into action when you pull on your brake lever. When that lever is pulled it builds pressure in the braking system that causes the brake fluid to hydraulically actuate your brake calipers to press the brake pads onto the rotor allowing you to make a safe stop. That is why is important to know why brake fluid goes bad.

Motorcycle brake fluid can go bad by being exposed to extreme heat when riding the bike. Let’s say you go up to the canyons or the race track. You will probably put more stress on your brake system than normal because of the riding enthusiast you are. When you are cruising at those speeds the last thing you want is for your braking performance to disappear while riding.

Seizing or sticking brake calipers can cause the brake fluid to overheat in the system. This will cause a condition known as brake fade. You will feel the brakes not working as well as they have been and if you have a dragging caliper it will cause the bike to feel a bit sluggish.

While overheating the brake system is possible it is not the most likely suspect for bad brake fluid. The biggest factor in low-performing motorcycle brake fluid is moisture. That’s right, it’s water.

While the brake system is sealed it’s not 100% immune to water getting in. This can happen because you open the brake fluid reservoir to add fluid. Once the tiniest bit of air can get into the motorcycle brake fluid it can start to cause performance issues and break down the brake fluid.

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Brake fluid is made to have a high boiling point similar to your engine coolant. This allows your braking system to perform well and not overheat even when doing some track or canyon riding. Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Brake fluid boils at temps above 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Can you see what would happen if those two were mixed? Water or moisture would drop the boiling point of the brake fluid causing it to overheat a lot sooner than later.

How To Prolong The Life Of Motorcycle Brake Fluid

There are ways to keep your brake fluid in check and get the most life out of it. The biggest tip is to keep your lid on your brake fluid reservoir. The less time your motorcycle brake fluid is exposed to air the better. You only want to open that reservoir if you are changing the fluid.

If you are constantly adding brake fluid, that will indicate you have a leak somewhere in your brake system. We would advise not driving the motorcycle until the leak has been fixed by a professional motorcycle technician. If you’re having trouble with your motorcycle leaking brake fluid, check out our article “ Motorcycle Leaking Brake Fluid: 4 Likely Reasons.”

While it is fun to go to the track and push these machines to their limits, know that by doing so the brake fluid will be pushed hard as well. While you are cornering and using that brake lever more frequently and harshly the temps your brake system will see are much higher than the normal commute to work.

Avoid heavy braking when possible. This allows your brake fluid to stay cool and avoid overheating which will prolong its life as well. While you want to prolong your brake fluid as much as possible there are some signs that will let you know it needs to be replaced.

How To Tell If Your Motorcycle Brake Fluid Is Bad

The most obvious way to tell if the brake fluid is bad in your motorcycle is to look at the color. When the brake fluid is new it is a nice light gold color. When the brake fluid is exposed to moisture this fluid can get really dark and will look similar to dirty engine oil. If you see that it is starting to get a little dark it may mean the brake fluid is going bad.

If you notice contaminants floating around in your brake fluid like clumps of dirt or even rust flakes, that is a good sign that the brake fluid needs to be replaced. It could also mean potentially replacing calipers or lines if they are corroded or leaking due to contaminants in the brake fluid.

Another sign that brake fluid is bad is a very spongy feeling brake lever. This means that your brake lever needs to be pressed down a bit more than normal to make a safe stop. That indicates that there is moisture in the brake fluid as well.

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If you notice that your brakes take longer to stop your motorcycle after using them a couple of times to slow down or to stop, it can indicate the brake fluid has gone bad. It is important to know these signs as they could mean life or death on the road. The good thing about the brake fluid is that it can be easily changed in your garage if you notice these kinds of symptoms.

How To Safely Change Your Motorcycle Brake Fluid

Does Motorcycle Brake Fluid Go Bad? How To Stay Safe | Motorcycle Habit (2)

While it may sound daunting, it is fairly easy to change your bad brake fluid. We have an entire series that not only shows how to change your motorcycle brake fluid safely, but also how to tackle every part of rebuilding your motorcycle. You can see more about that by clicking here. There are some things that you will need before getting started:

  1. Brake Fluid
  2. Rags/Paper Towels
  3. Brake Parts Cleaner
  4. Drain Pan
  5. Plastic Hose
  6. Wrench
  7. Brake bleeder tool
  8. A Friend

You will know which kind of brake fluid to buy as it should be stamped on your brake fluid reservoir cap. If it is not, consult a dealer or your owner’s manual. You will want some towels or rags for quick clean-up for potential spills. Brake fluid is highly corrosive and will remove paint so make sure your painted parts are protected. You will want some brake parts cleaner just in case brake fluid leaks onto your rotors and pads.

The first step is to mask off any painted areas or cover them if they might come in contact with the brake fluid.

Next place your drain pan close enough to the brake caliper you will be changing the brake fluid first.

Then loosen the bleeder screw on the brake caliper with the proper wrench using the box end side to prevent stripping the screw. It will look like a small nut with a nipple on it. It may have a cover that needs to be removed to allow the brake fluid to drain. Loosen until you begin to see the fluid slowly seeping out of the bleeder screw.

Next, connect your brake fluid bleeder tool or plastic hose. Make sure it is secured so it doesn’t fall off. Also, point the plastic hose into the drip pan if you are not using a bleeder tool to catch the bad brake fluid.

Then remove the brake fluid reservoir cap. Some motorcycles may have two reservoirs, one for the front and one for the rear. Make sure to open the one associated with the side of the bike you are working on. If you notice flakes of contamination in the fluid it may be best to take your bike to a certified motorcycle technician to ensure those are removed from the system.

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Next, have a friend or yourself slowly pull the brake lever. After a pump or two, you will see the brake fluid come out into your drain pan or bleeder tool.

Make sure to fill your brake fluid reservoir as you do this. You do not want air getting into your system. So you will add brake fluid as you pump the brakes. Do not let the fluid get below the minimum line while doing this or air will get into the system and it’s a paint to remove.

You will continue pumping the lever and adding brake fluid until the brake fluid you see coming out of the bleeder screw is golden and looks new.

Once you have reached that point tighten the bleeder screw. Clean up any brake fluid immediately to prevent any corrosion on painted surfaces or garage floors.

Remember to put the cap on your reservoir and voila! You have changed your brake fluid. Dispose of your old brake fluid at approved locations or dump sites.

Now, before you take off on a long trip or commute to work take your bike on a quick drive around the block to test the brakes. They will feel more firm and responsive if your brake fluid is bad. Return back to your garage to inspect for any leaks before heading out. Repeat this process for the other side you haven’t done yet if they do not share a reservoir.

Check out our other articles about how to keep your motorcycle in tip-top shape.


What happens if you don't change brake fluid in motorcycle? ›

Brake fluid is hygroscopic which means it absorbs water. The water in the brake fluid corrodes the metal parts in the brake system. That corrosion will tear the seals on the moving parts causing the brake fluid to leak out. Result pedal goes to the floor.

Does motorcycle brake fluid go bad? ›

Here is the short answer: Yes, brake fluid can go bad. Brake fluid absorbs moisture, which reduces its performance. For that reason, it's best practice to change brake fluid every two years. However, brake fluid is one of the maintenance items that drivers miss most often.

What are the effects of old brake fluid? ›

What Happens to Brake Fluid over Time? Like oil, brake fluid loses its effectiveness over time. The fluid can absorb moisture, which can lead to corrosion in your hydraulics system and other problems that make your brakes less effective, decreasing your ability to stop in critical driving situations.

How often should you replace motorcycle brake fluid? ›

Glycol-based brake fluid needs changing at regular intervals as recommended by Harley® for your bike. For most riders, that's every 1-2 years. If you use DOT 5 you can go longer between changes. You can tell it's time with a tester or by checking the color of what's currently in your system.

How long can you go without a brake fluid change? ›

Over time, your car's brake fluid absorbs water content which can lead to brake failure. Vehicle manufacturers recommend that you change your brake fluid every two years so that your brakes work to their optimum performance.

How long can you drive without changing brake fluid? ›

On average, you will need a brake fluid flush every 2 years or 30,000 miles. Routine maintenance also heavily depends on your driving patterns. For example, if you tend to drive shorter routes with frequent braking, you may need more frequent brake fluid flushes.

Does oil go bad sitting in a motorcycle? ›

A short answer to this question is yes. Motor oil can only last for a certain period of time. That's why it comes with an expiry date. For this reason, oil goes bad with time just by sitting in the engine.

Is it OK to use old brake fluid? ›

Please don't. Brake fluid is highly hygroscopic (absorbs water) and should be changed every two years.

Can brake fluid make you sick? ›

Individuals who ingest ethylene glycol may present to an emergency department with complaints of confusion, difficulty in walking (ataxia), hallucinations, and slurred speech. They may also have gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Sometimes the presentation may be tetany and seizures.

Can brake fluid last 10 years? ›

Most drivers find they need to change their brake fluid every four to five years.

Does old brake fluid have symptoms? ›

When your brake fluid is dirty or low, it isn't able to depress your brake pads as efficiently as it should. This can cause uneven wear or even damage to your brake pads, which can cause grinding, squeaking, or squealing noises when you use your brakes.

Can you just top off brake fluid motorcycle? ›

Checking your motorcycle brake fluid

However, you should visually check the level in your brake fluid reservoir at least once a week, and top it off with the appropriate specification of brake fluid if the level falls below the top mark.

How important is it to change brake fluid motorcycle? ›

Changing your motorbike's brake fluid is a relatively easy DIY job. It may be hidden from view, but the liquid inside your bike's braking system should never be taken for granted. Over time the fluid degrades and overall performance can be affected, so regular changes are vital.

Can you add brake fluid without bleeding motorcycle? ›

Absolutely! You can always add fresh* fluid. The only time you need to bleed hydraulic brakes is after a fluid change or air has been introduced into the lines themselves.

How urgent is brake fluid change? ›

Corrosion and rust can cause structural damage to your braking system, leading to costly repairs. Regular brake fluid service can prevent these deeper system issues from occurring. Brake fluid flushes are recommended every 30,000 miles or 2 years, depending on your driving and braking patterns.

How much does it cost to get brake fluid replaced? ›

In general brake fluid ranges in price from $6 to $39 per quart, mechanics charge $150-$210 per hour, and changing the brake fluid in most vehicles will cost you an average of $100.

Can you just top up brake fluid? ›

If your brake fluid is at or above the “MIN” line, your brake fluid level is fine and you don't need to add any. If your fluid is below the “MIN” line, carefully pry the reservoir cap off, and then add brake fluid until the level is just under the “MAX” line. Do not overfill.

Can you just change brake fluid without bleeding? ›

Can You Add Brake Fluid Without Bleeding? Bleeding is not a mandatory part of this process, so yes, you can do it without it. Just inspecting the amount of liquid doesn't require bleeding.

How long can a motorcycle sit before it goes bad? ›

If you've never prepared your motorcycle for storage, we have a helpful guide on how to store a motorcycle on our website. When properly prepared and stored, a motorcycle can sit for up to 24 months without being ridden.

Does oil go bad if you don't drive? ›

If you aren't driving very far, the oil doesn't get hot enough to evaporate that water. Exposing the oil to moisture degrades the oil as much as running the engine hard for 5,000 miles. The solution is to flush all that stuff out with fresh oil every 5,000 miles or 6 months, whichever comes first.

How long does oil last in a motorcycle not driven? ›

If you can't ride your motorcycle for 30 minutes every one to two weeks, as happens during the winter, it's recommended to replace your oil every four months.

What color should motorcycle brake fluid be? ›

Like we said above, fresh brake fluid should be almost clear with a hint of yellow coloring. If your brake fluid resembles oil, and is a dark brown or black color, then you need a brake fluid flush and replacement.

How do you flush old brake fluid? ›

Flushing Brake Fluid
  1. On a level surface, set the car in gear and place a stop behind the tires to keep it from rolling.
  2. Open the hood and locate the master cylinder. ...
  3. Using a turkey baster, suck out all the fluid. ...
  4. Refill the reservoir back up to the fill line using fresh brake fluid.

Can old brake fluid affect braking? ›

If your brake fluid has become dirty or contaminated, it can change how your brake system operates — brake pedal feel can be affected, as can heat dissipation in repeated stops.

Is brake fluid toxic to inhale? ›

INHALATION Unlikely to be hazardous by inhalation because of the low vapour pressure of the substance at ambient temperature. INGESTION Harmful if swallowed. SKIN CONTACT Repeated exposure may cause skin dryness or cracking. EYE CONTACT Irritation of eyes and mucous membranes.

Can you use rubbing alcohol for brake fluid? ›

Isopropyl alcohol is also used to remove brake fluid traces from hydraulic braking systems, so that the brake fluid (usually DOT 3, DOT 4 or mineral oil) does not contaminate the brake pads, which would result in poor braking.

Does brake fluid naturally run out? ›

While brake fluid doesn't need to be replaced as often as many other fluids in your vehicle, it can go bad or run low. However, one possible cause of low brake fluid is a leak. Your car is full of different fluids, so avoid jumping to conclusions if you spot puddles beneath your vehicle.

Can I use water instead of coolant motorcycle? ›

Be sure you have used distilled water if you are diluting your motorcycle anti-freeze. You can use boiled tap water as an alternative – but as mentioned, do not use regular cold tap water, as it contains clogging and corroding minerals.

What happens when brake fluid is low in bike? ›

BRAKE FLUID: Brake fluid is responsible for the accuracy of the brakes. If the brake fluid level is low, it will result in loss of compression and eventually loss in braking.

What happens if you add brake fluid without bleeding? ›

The formation of corrosion and acids will attack all of the brake parts, ending in a system failure. Every hydraulic brake system should be bled and refilled with fresh fluid to remove moisture.

How often do you need to bleed motorcycle brakes? ›

Replacing your brake fluid and bleeding the system of air bubbles is regular maintenance that your owner's manual will likely suggest doing once every two years.

Do you use front brake when stopping on a heavy motorcycle? ›

Which brake is the most effective? The front brake is the most effective, giving between 60 & 80% of the bike's stopping power in hard stops, depending upon surface conditions. This is because most of the weight of the bike and rider transfers forward onto the front wheel when the brakes are applied.

How do you bleed motorcycle brakes by yourself? ›

Squeeze the brake lever (front), then loosen the bleeder valve approximately 1/4 turn. Once the lever compresses all the way in to the grip, close the bleed valve, then release the lever. Repeat this process as necessary to work fluid/air out of the system. Keep a close eye on fluid levels in the reservoir.

Do gas stations sell brake fluid? ›

Gas stations and convenience stores are set up to fulfill the needs of incredibly diverse groups of people. From a hot taquito to a pack of diapers or some brake fluid for your car – these stores need to have everything ready within moments.

Does it matter if brake fluid is dirty? ›

Low or dirty brake fluid can cause a brake failure in any type of vehicle. Brake fluid is specifically designed to last for a long time but not forever. At some point, you will need to change your brake fluid.

How long can a motorcycle go without an oil change? ›

Type Of Oil Used

For motorcycles needing mineral-based motor oil, these engines can typically run 2,000-3,200 miles before needing to change the oil. Motorcycles needing semi-synthetic motor oil can usually last between 5,000-8,000 miles before needing to change the oil.

Is it worth Flushing brake fluid? ›

Corrosion and rust can cause structural damage to your braking system, leading to costly repairs. Regular brake fluid service can prevent these deeper system issues from occurring. Brake fluid flushes are recommended every 30,000 miles or 2 years, depending on your driving and braking patterns.

How do you flush dirty brake fluid? ›

Flushing Brake Fluid
  1. On a level surface, set the car in gear and place a stop behind the tires to keep it from rolling.
  2. Open the hood and locate the master cylinder. ...
  3. Using a turkey baster, suck out all the fluid. ...
  4. Refill the reservoir back up to the fill line using fresh brake fluid.

Is it OK to add new brake fluid to old brake fluid? ›

Unless the existing brake fluid within the system is contaminated (dirt, water etc.) you can probably safely add fluid to the old. Just ensure that the new fluid that you add is the same as what is in the system.

What happens if my brake fluid is brown? ›

Black or brown brake fluid is a sign that it is heavily contaminated. When this is the case, the brake system's ability to build pressure s diminished, and the performance of the brakes can be affected. Contaminated brake fluid can make the brakes become spongy.

How long can a motorcycle sit unused? ›

When properly prepared and stored, a motorcycle can sit for up to 24 months without being ridden.

Whats high mileage for a motorcycle? ›

What is considered high mileage for a motorcycle? Usually, high mileage for a motorcycle is anywhere between 20,000 to 50,000 miles for all different kinds of bikes. But, just because a motorcycle has high mileage doesn't necessarily mean that it's in poor condition.

How long does oil last if not driven? ›

If you aren't driving very far, the oil doesn't get hot enough to evaporate that water. Exposing the oil to moisture degrades the oil as much as running the engine hard for 5,000 miles. The solution is to flush all that stuff out with fresh oil every 5,000 miles or 6 months, whichever comes first.

How much does a motorcycle brake flush cost? ›

The costs of changing the brake fluid, or doing a brake fluid flush, should cost between $80 to $130 and should be done by a professional mechanic to ensure safety. These costs can vary based on whether you want to change the fluid yourself and the type of fluid you have.

Is Low brake fluid serious? ›

Your vehicle shouldn't lose brake fluid in normal operation. The level drops only slightly with wear of brakes. So, if the level is down, there's a chance there's a leak somewhere. Consult a service professional immediately to have it addressed and avoid possible dangerous reduction in brake performance.


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