Brake Fluid Exchange vs. Brake Flush: What’s the Difference?

August 21st, 2022 by

Your brake system is one of the most crucial vehicle components for ensuring your safety while driving. Essentially, your brakes are part of a hydraulic system that transmits pressure from the brake pedal to the brakes and stops your vehicle. The hydraulic system’s brake fluid connects the brake pedal to the brake shoes, or brake pads, and serves as a lubricant and anti-corrosive agent for all the moving parts in the system.

Many factors contribute to the brake system’s proper functioning. One of those is maintaining the correct brake fluid level. The brake fluid reservoir is usually in an easy-to-find place in the engine compartment just under your vehicle’s hood. You can quickly find the complete instructions to check the level of brake fluid and how to top it off in the owner’s manual.

Types of Brakes

Vehicles have different types of brakes. Understanding how your vehicle’s brakes work will help you when it comes to taking care of your brake system.

Disc Brakes

First up are disc brakes consisting of a brake rotor with pads on each side, directly attached to the wheel. The master cylinder generates hydraulic pressure, so when you press the brake pedal, a caliper on the outside of the rotor causes friction between the rotor and the brake pads to slow and eventually stop the vehicle.

Drum Brakes

Drum brakes work similarly to disc brakes, but they apply pressure from the inside instead of externally. A drum is installed in the wheel. When you press the brake pedal, hydraulic pressure pushes two brake shoes against the interior of the brake drum. This generates friction that will stop the vehicle.

Emergency Brakes

These brakes are different because they are not meant to be used to stop your vehicle regularly. Instead, you’d deploy this brake if your brake system fails in an emergency, as the name implies. It works independently of your primary braking system. Activation mechanisms include a stick lever, a pedal that locks into place near the other pedals, a handle near the steering column, or even a simple push button. Regardless of how it’s activated, it typically uses mechanical cables to apply pressure to the brakes. Emergency brakes generally keep vehicles in place when parked on an incline.

Anti-Lock Brakes

Most newer vehicle models are fitted with anti-lock brakes. Some drivers may remember learning to pump the brakes when trying to stop an older-model vehicle. Anti-lock brakes do this for you. When braking hard, you can lose control of your vehicle if the wheels lock up. Anti-lock brakes pulse the brakes to prevent you from losing control, especially on slippery surfaces.

Do You Need to Service Your Brake Fluid?

Brake flush

Brake fluid can go bad due to moisture absorption or contamination. Servicing the brake system is included as part of the factory-dictated maintenance schedule. You’ll find manufacturer recommendations for when your vehicle is due for a brake service in your owner’s manual. Typically, this will be every 40,000 to 60,000 miles or every two years, whichever comes first. At this time, your service technician will usually advise a brake flush.

Moisture Absorption

Moisture absorption can happen when the brake fluid system is exposed to air and absorbs moisture from the environment. An issue is that water boils at a far lower temperature than brake fluid. When the water in your system starts to boil, it can create gas bubbles in the line, giving the brake pedal a soft, mushy feel. Water also causes corrosion that can lead to the failure of any of the metallic components.


The other issue that causes brake fluid to go bad is contamination. Rubber and metal fragments from the breakdown of other brake system components and dirt particles floating around in the air can get in your brake fluid. In addition, frequently stopping at high speeds can generate significant heat. This heat can break down your brake fluid, darken the color, and diminish its performance.

Brake Fluid Exchange vs. Brake Flush

Although they’re sometimes treated as different procedures, a brake flush is the same as a fluid exchange. This process involves removing the old fluid and replacing it with new fluid. This is done instead of simply adding to the existing fluid or only removing part of the old fluid (which is more commonly done with radiator services).

Another term you may have heard of is bleeding the brakes. The name may seem a bit odd, perhaps, but the idea behind bleeding is to remove any air from the brake lines so that the hydraulic system works properly. Your technician will do this when changing your vehicle’s brake pads, shoes, or rotors. It’s called bleeding because, during this process, you loosen the bleeder screw and pump fluid until it starts to leak — or bleed — out.

So, what is the flushing or fluid exchange process? You typically just replace your brake fluid when the level is low. Brake flushing flush or fluid exchange completely removes any old fluid from the brake system. Your technician typically uses a pressurized flushing machine that attaches to the brake fluid reservoir and forcefully pumps fluid into the system until any escaping fluid is completely clean. This process fills your system with entirely new brake fluid.

Bleeding may also be done after this procedure, as you don’t want any air in your braking system. You should only do this when necessary or if you notice signs of brake fluid deterioration. The procedure is typically costly and sometimes unnecessary, so confirm with your service technician that it’s essential. In addition, newer anti-lock brake systems are completely sealed, reducing the need for flushing.

If you’re experiencing braking issues, bring your vehicle to our experts at Red McCombs Toyota and we will service your brakes. Don’t risk one of the most important components of your vehicle. You can trust our highly trained technicians to diagnose and fix the problem. We’re conveniently located at 13526 Interstate Highway 10 Frontage Road in San Antonio, Texas. The service department operates 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Give us a call today at 866-789-4627 or schedule an appointment online.

Posted in Service