Over time, the brake lines in your car can become clogged with rust, dirt, and other debris. This is especially common in older vehicles. Clogged brake lines reduce braking power and create a dangerous safety issue. Don’t ignore clogged brake lines – learn how to clean them properly.
With some basic mechanical skills and the right tools, you can often restore clogged brake lines to proper working order. In severe cases, complete brake line replacement may be needed – but try cleaning them first. Here’s everything you need to know.
Why Do Brake Lines Clog?
The hydraulic brake fluid in your car flows through a system of brake lines and hoses. This includes metal lines that run under the vehicle, flexible rubber hoses, and fittings that connect everything.
Over time, the inside of the brake lines can accumulate:
- Rust – from moisture inside the lines or external corrosion
- Dirt – that seeps in through cracks and holes
- Debris – like pieces of old brake pads or rubber seals
This buildup inside the brake lines eventually reduces fluid flow, leading to poor brake performance.
Signs of Clogged Brake Lines
Watch for these warning signs that indicate clogged brake lines:
- Brake pedal feels soft or spongy
- Increased stopping distance
- Uneven braking – vehicle pulls one way
- Leaking fluid around brake fittings
- Brake warning light comes on
Don’t ignore these symptoms. Clogged brake lines are a major safety concern and need to be addressed immediately.
How to Clean Brake Lines
Cleaning clogged brake lines involves forcing solvents or abrasives through the lines to scrub out gunk and restore free fluid flow. Here are some recommended methods:
Flushing with Solvent
An effective way to clean debris from brake lines is flushing them with a powerful solvent like denatured alcohol or acetone.
Step 1: Disconnect the brake line from the wheel cylinder at each wheel. This gives you access to the end of the line.
Step 2: Use a tubing adapter to connect the brake line to a canister of solvent.
Step 3: Pump solvent through the line. Catch the dirty fluid as it drains out the other end.
Step 4: Reconnect the line once it’s clear. Refill with fresh brake fluid.
Blowing Lines Clear with Air
Using compressed air is another great way to force obstructing gunk out of brake lines.
Step 1: Disconnect the lines at the wheels.
Step 2: Attach an air nozzle to the line. Press it gently against a short piece of tubing at the end.
Step 3: Blast short bursts of air through the line. The high pressure air pushes out debris.
Step 4: Reconnect the line once it’s clear. Top off brake fluid.
Specialized brake line cleaners in aerosol cans make the job easier. No disassembly required.
Step 1: Shake the aerosol can vigorously.
Step 2: Insert the thin nozzle tube into the brake fluid reservoir.
Step 3: Press the trigger to inject cleaning solvent into the lines. Let it work for 10-15 minutes.
Step 4: Drain and replace dirty brake fluid.
For really stubborn clogs, you can manually scrub out the gunk.
Step 1: Remove brake line from vehicle.
Step 2: Cut the flared end off an old clutch cable.
Step 3: Insert the cable into the brake line and scrub back and forth.
Step 4: Flush with solvent after scrubbing.
Replace Badly Clogged Lines
If the brake lines are severely corroded or damaged internally, it may not be possible to fully clean them. Replacement may be the only repair option. This requires bending new brake lines by hand and installing them.
|Flushing with solvent||Thorough cleaning||Time consuming|
|Compressed air||Fast & forceful||Safety glasses required|
|Aerosol cleaner||No disassembly||Less thorough|
|Manual scrubbing||Heavy-duty scrubbing||Very labor intensive|
FAQ About Cleaning Brake Lines
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about dealing with clogged brake lines:
Should I drive with clogged brake lines?
Absolutely not. Clogged lines severely reduce braking ability and make it very unsafe to drive. Have it towed to your garage.
What tools do I need?
Basic hand tools, a tubing adapter, air compressor or aerosol brake cleaner. Replacement involves tubing benders.
How much does it cost to fix?
DIY cleaning can cost $20-$50 for supplies. Replacement costs $100-$300 for parts & labor.
How long does it take?
Cleaning by flushing or air takes 1-2 hours. Replacement can take 3-5 hours or more.
Should I replace old brake lines?
If cleaning fails to improve brake performance, replacement is the best option for durable results.
Protect Your Brakes in the Future
Once you’ve cleared the clogged brake lines, take these steps to prevent future problems:
- Flush brake fluid annually to prevent moisture buildup
- Use high-quality brake fluid recommended by your manufacturer
- Inspect lines and hoses regularly for cracks or leaks
- Replace worn or damaged brake system components
With vigilant preventive maintenance, your fresh clean brake lines will stay unclogged for years to come.
Cleaning clogged brake lines is a straightforward DIY repair if you use the right techniques. Don’t put up with poor braking power that makes your vehicle unsafe. Follow these tips to restore your brake lines to proper working condition. Drive confidently knowing your brakes are fully operational.