If you’re serious about your car maintenance, then you probably put a lot of effort into making sure that you’re using the best engine oil and gas to suit your driving needs and the mechanical needs of the vehicle.
But one vehicle fluid can be easily overlooked by even the most vigilant of at home mechanics, and that is the brake fluid. With the braking system being such an important component of both the performance and overall safety of the car though, this is an area that you can ill afford to ignore any longer.
So to help you find the brake fluid that works for you, we’ve scoured the market to present to you this – our guide to the best brake fluids available today.
Best Rated Brake Fluid in 2018:
Motul DOT4 Racing Brake Fluid
If you fancy yourself as a bit of a Vin Diesel and like to chuck your car into 30 feet power slides as you rock up into the office parking lot, then this could be the fluid for you.
Or, in the real world, if you do have a high performance car, a sports car or take a route with frequent braking (such a twisting and turning country roads or stop start urban traffic) this is a premium brake fluid designed for you.
DOT4 classification means we have a lovely high boiling point of 312 centigrade (594 Fahrenheit) which means that this fluid is easily able to stand up to it’s Racing Brake Fluid tag. A shade under 20 bucks for 500ml is a relativity high price for not a huge amount of fluid. But the high spec nature of this product more than warrants the elevated price tag.
Extreme Thermal Resistance
Very High Boiling Point
- Weight1.3 lbs
ATE Original TYP 200 DOT4 Brake Fluid
ATE is a world-renowned manufacturer of vehicle fluids, lubricants and oils. Their great success is built on bringing products to market that have been well designed and thought out, and that is exactly what they have done here with their TYP 200.
Again, we have a DOT4 classification, meaning a really high boiling point for this fluid. In addition, the product is designed with outstanding Water Locking ability. This means it is designed to keep water from seeping through the porous hoses of the braking system and diluting the fluid.
This means that the braking system stays responsive for longer – in fact ATE suggest this fluid could be good for changing intervals of up to 3 years, a frankly phenomenal performance.
All of that, and you get a liter per container, and the price is under 20 bucks which is just remarkable value for such a high performance product.
Excellent Water Locking Ability
Non-Foaming Fluid for Easy Filling/Draining of System
Super Long Life Span
- Weight2.35 lbs
Prestone DOT3 Synthetic Brake Fluid
Our first DOT3, however this is still a pretty high performance fluid with a number of useful features. The main draw is the anti-vapor capability designed to stop dangerous gas vapors building up in the braking system tubing during high temperatures.
As a DOT3, this fluid does have a lower boiling point than a DOT4 classified fluid. It does however have higher far higher boiling point than many other DOT3 fluids, and is well above the minimum boiling points set by the government.
In that sense then, it is kind of a middle of the road kind of product. It doesn’t give quite the performance of a DOT4, however it is far superior to a lot of the other DOT3s on the market. Price wise it’s also midrange, clocking in at around 15 bucks or so for a generous 32-ounce bottle.
Good Boiling Point for DOT3
Large Volume, Low Price
- Weight2.2 lbs
Castrol 12509 Brake Fluid DOT4
This is a decent fluid with a low, low price. DOT4 classification means that this product brings a high boiling point. Its other main selling point is that it has been designed to mix well with other fluids – either DOT3 or DOT4.
In that sense given the low price but also relatively small bottle size of just 12 ounces, this could be a great top up fluid. Keep it on hand and apply it when a braking system is starting to feel spongy or you’ve partially flushed the system.
Of course the low price here – less than 10 bucks for the 12-ounce bottle – means you can also pick up a few at a time for complete system overhaul.
Very Low Price for a DOT4
Mixes With Other Fluids
Good Boiling Point
- Weight7.2 oz
CRP Automotive Pentosin Super Brake Fluid DOT4
This is a high quality Brake Fluid specifically designed to be used in ABS brake systems. To that end, it is specifically designed to have superior corrosion resistance.
In addition to that, it has built in resistance to retaining water. As we discussed above, that is an important feature to have for brake fluid that is going to last a while in the system without having to be drained and replaced.
DOT4 classification means that the fluid has a high boil point too, so it is suitable for use in a range of high performance formats.
Resists Water Retention
Excellent in ABS Brake Systems
- BrandCRP Automotive
- Weight1 lb
Throttle Muscle Xtreme Race Brake Fluid
Another product that seems relatively cheap (under 10 dollars) until you see the bottle size (12 ounces). So you’re probably going to need 3 or 4 of these to completely refill a drained system on even a smaller sized car. Still, like the Castrol product above, this fluid does play well with others, so once again it’s ok to look at it as a top up fluid too.
It brings a range of features to the table too – a number of which are frankly missing from the similarly priced Castrol – such as the very handy ability to minimize moisture absorption. Again, this is going to potentially lengthen the time between fluid changes, as well as help to prevent the dreaded vapor lock.
It’s slightly strange that it is as advertised as DOT3 ad DOT4 classified, as this only really refers to the boiling points of the product – so technically, every DOT4 product is also DOT3 classified, because of the that higher boiling point it has.
We also have no idea what is so Xtreme about it (note to Throttle Muscle, that’s not how that word is spelt) but crazy labeling decisions aside this is a high performance fluid with a number of useful features.
Works in Disc, Drum & ABS Systems
Protects Against Moisture Absorption
- BrandThrottle Muscle
- Weight13 oz
MAG 1 Premium DOT3 Brake Fluid
MAG 1 are quite well regarded as a lubricants manufacturer, and this product, whilst being extremely basic, is still a decent choice if you need the bells and whistles of higher priced, premium products.
With a rating to DOT3, it has a lower boiling point than many of the fluids on this list. At about 10 bucks for 32 ounces however, it also has the best price tag on the list! So if you’re looking for a product that will just quietly do its job without brakeing the bank, this could be the one for you.
You won’t get high performance, and you absolutely must not use this in your system if the vehicle manufacturer specifies that DOT4 must be employed. But for a smaller, lower performance vehicle this is a great fluid with a good price tag.
DOT3 Rated Fluid
- BrandMag 1
- Weight2.25 lbs
Best Brake Fluid Guide & FAQ
That then represents to us the best, general-purpose brake fluids on the market right now. If you’re looking for super high-end fluid suitable for the high temperatures generated on, say Formula 1 racing cars, then first of all thank you for choosing Car Bible, that means a lot to us.
The second thing is this list is not for you, sorry.
If you’re looking for a great fluid that’s well suited to the everyday needs of a normal car though, then that fluid is definitely in the list above. To help you find it, we’ve put together this short guide and FAQ all about brake fluid.
(Honestly, it’s more interesting than it sounds, and there really is some information in here that could help you out!)
Brake Fluid Types
As you will have seen when reading the product guide above, we referred to DOT3 and DOT4 over and over again. Both of these fluids are actually quite similar in many respects, both of them being Polyethylene Glycol based fluids. DOT, by the way, is an acronym that stands for Department of Transport. They are the department who sets the minimum boiling temperatures that the fluids must meet in order to be classified as DOT3 or Dot4.
We sometimes get asked if DOT5 also exists, and the answer is yes – although we haven’t discussed them in this list, or highlighted any DOT5 products.
That is because they are fundamentally different from DOT3 & DOT4, as DOT5 is a silicone-based fluid. That makes it suitable for use in, amongst other things, very low temperatures and high stress environments. It is for example found in a variety of US military vehicles designed for stationing around the world.
So unless you’re planning on a military excursion, you’ll be just fine with the DOT3 or DOT4.
Features to Evaluate When Purchasing Brake Fluid
It is a relatively simple product, with less features than you will find on a premium lubricating oil for example. That being said, there are few features to keep an eye out for, and they are by no means standard across the range of products. As with almost anything, the more features you want, the more you’re going to have to pay, so it’s important to decide which, if any, of the features you really want and need.
DOT Level – Probably the most important feature that you must evaluate is the DOT level of the fluid. Frankly, this isn’t really something you can change. If the manufacturers of your vehicle state that DOT4 must be used, then you must comply! DOT3, as we discussed, has a lower boiling point. That makes it unsafe at higher temperatures. A car manufacturer who specifies DOT4 does so because the brakes are designed to operate at a temperature too high for DOT3 fluids.
Water Absorption – Or rather the ability to resist water absorption. The pipes and tubes of a braking system are usually made of rubber, which is a porous surface. This means that over time the system will allow water – usually rain water – to infiltrate the system. This essentially waters down brake fluid, replacing it with water. Water has far lower boiling point than brake fluid, meaning it will quickly turn to steam. Too much of this makes the brake pedal feel spongy, the brake system becomes less responsive and you can even experience the dreaded vapor lock.
Product Size – Just like it sounds, evaluate the product size! Some of the bottles on our list are frankly tiny – 12 ounces is a very small amount of fluid. Hey – don’t blame us, we can only show you what the manufacturer makes. Just bear in mind how much you are getting for your money before you order.
Mixes Well – Just like motor oil, it’s possible for most brands to mix well with others. This means you can top up the system without having to fully drain it, which is useful if the brakes are just starting to become a little unresponsive.
Color – Some of the products have a slight color tint added – usually amber but sometimes blue or pink. This can help you when draining the system, as you can actually see the liquid that little bit better.
Non-Corrosive – Fluid that is non-corrosive is especially suitable for ABS systems, and older cars that may have rubberized seals. They are also not going to damage the paintwork if you spill any when topping up the system.
Best Brake Fluid FAQ:
If you have any questions about brake fluid, you’ll hopefully find the answers below.
How Does Brake Fluid Work?
To understand how brake fluid works, then you really need to understand how the brake system itself works, which you can do with this cool guide.
The very basic explanation is that the fluid provides the connection between your foot and the actual brakes. It is part of the hydraulic system that transfers the pressure from the brake pedal being depressed into the brakes activating. The brakes themselves work by converting kinetic energy into heat – hence why the brake fluid has to have a high boiling point.
Why Change Brake Fluid?
Brake fluid has but one natural enemy, with whom it has been locked in constant battle for dominion over the pipes and tubes of braking systems the world over since time immemorial.
The dreaded water!
As we explained above, the tubing and piping in your braking system is made of porous material – it has to be so that it can have the required flexibility. This allows water to encroach into the system and displace the brake fluid – which is bad news for your brake system.
As a rule of thumb, most mechanics will recommend a full fluid change every two years or 20,000 miles. However, as we’ve seen with some products above, they can claim to have far longer life spans. At the end of the day, you will know your car better than anyone, and you will notice when the brakes start to become unresponsive and spongy.
What is the Difference Between DOT3 and DOT4 Brake Fluid?
In a word, temperature – or, to be precise, the temperature that it boils at.
So we are looking at:
- Dry Boiling Point – 205 Celsius (401 Fahrenheit)
- Wet Boiling Point – 140 Celsius (284 Fahrenheit)
- Dry Boiling Point – 230 Celsius (446 Fahrenheit)
- Wet Boiling Point – 155 Celsius (311 Fahrenheit)
Hold on, we know what you’re going to say – what the heck is a Dry Boiling point? Well, the Dry Boiling Point is the boiling point of the fluid when it 100% pure. The Wet Boiling Point is when water has worked its way into the system. As you can see, the boiling temperature goes well down at this point, which is why it is important to change out the fluid periodically because as the water content increases, so the boiling point drops.
Also, you can clearly see here the difference between the two strengths of fluid. That is why if your car specifies DOT4 you must use it –DOT3 simply cannot handle those higher temperatures.
How Do You Change Your Brake Fluid?
A picture paints a thousand words, so here is an excellent guide on how to easily drain and replace your brake fluid.