An Easy Step-by-Step Guide on How to Bleed Brakes by Yourself


An Easy Step-by-Step Guide on How to Bleed Brakes by Yourself

*This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Home car repair is easily one of the best money-saving endeavors a person can consider. Though it can seem like a daunting task to gather up the correct tools and research the proper procedures, fixing problems on your own can mean more cash in your budget for other activities. Furthermore, many car owners are surprised to find out just how easy and inexpensive many repairs are.

One service that is relatively easy to perform is “brake bleeding,” a process wherein hydraulic brake systems are cleared of air bubbles to increase performance. If you want to know how to bleed brakes yourself, what tools are required, and what procedures to follow, we’ll be discussing all those points in detail.

What Is Brake Bleeding?

Before getting into how to bleed brakes by yourself, it’s essential first to understand what brake bleeding is and, most importantly, what it is not.

Brake bleeding is a process through which one clears hydraulic brake systems of air bubbles. As these systems consist of multiple fluid-filled lines, pipes, and hoses, it can be both time and labor intensive. However, it is essential that this maintenance is performed correctly, as a healthy braking system is quite obviously crucial to the safety of the car’s occupants.

Brake bleeding is necessary because naturally occurring air bubbles can often provide a significant barrier to performance. These barriers usually happen because they can significantly reduce the hydraulic pressure and braking power the system can generate. That is not only annoying but, over time, can also become unsafe.

The processes involved in brake bleeding vary, but they generally include forcing clean brake fluid through the entire braking system and forcing the air bubbles out. There are several methods that you can consider when doing this, all of which have individual pros, cons, and difficulty ratings. The most popular and commonly used approaches are as follows:

Pump and Hold: This approach involves pressing the brake pedal and opening one “bleed screw” at a time. After the unwanted air escapes, the mechanic or helper releases the brake pedal.

Pressure Method: This method involves attaching a pressure pump to the master cylinder to pressurize the system, then opening the bleeder valves one at a time until the fluid is free of air.

Reverse Method: For this approach, a pump is used to force fluid through the bleeder valve and into the master cylinder. As the air naturally rises, it will escape out of the brake system.

Gravity Bleeding: One of the simplest methods, gravity bleeding involves using a dangling length of hose to bleed the air out of the brake fluid reservoir.

Vacuum Method: With this method, you attach a vacuum pump to the bleeder valve, extracting fluid until it is clear of bubbles.

Not all of the above methods are suitable for being performed at home or by yourself. However, these remain the most common methods for performing brake bleeding safely, effectively, and with the best results in mind. Shortly, we’ll discuss the most popular procedures for getting the job done at home, and discuss how best to get it done with only one pair of hands.

Brake Bleeding FAQs

Man is bleeding the brake system

Image by Ryan Doka from Pixabay

Car maintenance can seem like a foreign language at times, spoke only by a select few who seem to truly “get it.” That being the case, it’s common for people to have questions when learning about new techniques or repair options. When it comes to the process of brake bleeding, here are some of the most popular queries:

How often do brakes need to be bled this way?

There are no specific guidelines regarding how often one should bleed a hydraulic braking system. Furthermore, it’s possible for air bubbles to develop even when the lines have been bled recently, so it’s a good idea to always keep an eye out for the symptoms. In general, however, brakes should be drained every three to four years.

What signs tell drivers that it’s time to bleed the brake system?

Different cars will display various symptoms when air gets trapped in the brake lines. The most common signs are a brake pedal that feels “spongy” or “loose” or one that sits a little “too low” or requires too much effort to catch. Many drivers also describe a general “weak” feeling when applying the brakes, as if they aren’t stopping the car soon enough.

Why is brake fluid so important?

For those who aren’t very “car repair savvy,” the various nuts and bolts of how things work can seem like a mystery. In general, when you apply pressure to the brake pedal of a hydraulic system, it is actually the brake fluid that’s doing the work. A plunger in the master cylinder reacts to the brake and forces the liquid to put pressure on the brake pads, stopping the car.

What special tools does one need to perform a brake bleed properly?

The three main methods we’re going to discuss each utilize some of the same tools and some different ones. Many of these are things the average amateur mechanic will already have lying around.

There are, however, a few special tools related to brake bleeding that might make things go smoother. They include a brake-bleeding wrench, 3/16-inch plastic tubing, and WD-40 (for stubborn screws).

Why Bleed Brakes by Yourself?

Like most car repairs, brake bleeding a service that a professional repair shop may charge you quite a bit to perform. There’s also no reason why such a job can’t be done by an amateur in their private garage or driveway, considering the relatively low potential for doing any permanent damage to the system.

There’s also something to be said about “knowing one’s car” and getting a good, practical understanding of how different system in the vehicle work. Brake bleeding is a great introduction to hydraulic brake systems and will give the user a great idea of what to look symptoms to look for the next time their brakes are acting up.

Step-by-Step Guide to Bleeding Brakes by Yourself

As we described, there are several different approaches to brake bleeding, but not all of them assume that you’ll be doing it by yourself. For those determined to make their brake repairs a “one-man show,” here are some of the best approaches to doing the job without any help. Keep in mind, however, that doing any car maintenance by yourself will take extra time and extra effort.

The One-Man Pump Method

The process involves removing the master cylinder cap and bleeding the brake lines attached to each tire, one-by-one. The actual bleeding of the system should be done using a section of transparent plastic hose.

The process works best while the car is elevated to maximize results and to keep from making a mess. All you need to do is loosen the special “bleeder” screw on each tire and push out both the fluid and the bubbles by pumping the brake.

What You’ll Need: 

  • Hammer
  • Vise Grips
  • Automotive jack and stands
  • One quart brake fluid
  • One empty quart jar
  • Several feet of 3/16-inch plastic tubing
  • Bleeding wrench or screwdriver
  • Lug wrench

Instructions: 

STEP 1

Lightly loosen your lug nuts and then use the jack to raise your vehicle. Once high enough, place a jack stand underneath. Repeat until the entire car sits on the jack stands.

STEP 2

Remove the wheels, as this will grant you better access to the brake calipers.

STEP 3

Locate the brake fluid reservoir under the hood and loosen the cover, putting it to the side.

STEP 4

Loosen each of the caliper “bleeder caps” using the vise grips. Be sure not to put too much pressure on them, as they can easily snap. Spray them with WD-40 if they refuse to budge.

STEP 5

Place the plastic tubing over the bleeding cap and feet it into the bottom of the jar. Note: the bottom of the tube should be just above the bottom of the container or jar.

STEP 6

With the bleeder screw open, some fluid should already be pouring out, submerging the end of the tube.

STEP 7

Pump the brakes several times, releasing the air bubbles.

STEP 8

Replace the bleeder cap and remove the hose.

STEP 9

Top the reservoir up with fresh fluid while discarding the fluid in the jar.

STEP 10

Repeat for all tires, topping up the system with fresh fluid each time.

The Vacuum Pump Kit Approach 

Vacuum pump kits are both affordable and accessible. They are also one of the most popular ways to approach the job, mostly because they get the brakes bled quickly and effectively without requiring any additional tools. That said, the kits vary quite a bit in quality, so you would do well to talk with your local automotive shop about which ones they recommend.

Vacuum pump kits also tend to vary in design, but they usually consist of a pump, hose, and reservoir. They are often designed to attach directly to the bleeder screw and use a pump action to generate pressure, quickly sucking the air bubbles out of the system. Many people consider this method to be not only the cleanest, but also the fastest way to do the job.

What You’ll Need: 

  • Standard vacuum pump kit (should include most tools)
  • One quart fresh brake fluid
  • Automotive jack and stands
  • Lug wrench
  • Bleeder wrench (if not included in the kit)

Instructions: 

STEP 1

Lightly loosen your lug nuts and then use the jack to raise your vehicle. Once high enough, place a jack stand underneath. Repeat until the entire car sits on jack stands.

STEP 2

Remove the wheels, as this will grant you better access to the brake calipers.

STEP 3

Locate the master cylinder and loosen, but do not remove, the cap.

STEP 4

Connect the vacuum pump to its reservoir jar and tubing.

STEP 5

Clean the bleeder screw and open it using the bleeder wrench.

STEP 6

Attach the plastic tubing to the bleeder screw.

STEP 7

Pump the brake pedal roughly ten times to clear the lines of any residual pressure.

STEP 8

Pump the handle of the vacuum the required number of times, then turn the screw or valve to allow brake fluid to flow into the bleeder jar.

STEP 9

Repeat this process until no more bubbles are visible in the tubing, emptying and reattaching the pump reservoir if necessary.

STEP 10

Remove the hose and replace the bleeder screw.

STEP 11

Top the reservoir up with fresh fluid while discarding the liquid in the pump reservoir.

STEP 12

Repeat for all tires, topping up the system with fresh fluid each time.

The One-Man Gravity Bleed

The gravity bleed is an excellent method for those who want to clear their braking system but aren’t concerned with the time it takes to do it. This process, which can take several hours, is simple, requires no special tools, and gives you time to make other repairs while the brake lines are clearing. It’s advised to allow each tire to bleed for about one hour.

What You’ll Need: 

  • Hammer
  • Vise Grips
  • Automotive jack and stands
  • One quart brake fluid
  • Oil Drain Pan
  • Bleeding wrench or screwdriver
  • Lug wrench

Instructions: 

STEP 1

Lightly loosen your lug nuts and then use the jack to raise your vehicle. Once high enough, place a jack stand underneath. Repeat until the entire car sits upon jack stands.

STEP 2

Remove the wheels, as this will grant you better access to the brake calipers.

STEP 3

Locate the brake fluid reservoir and loosen the cover, putting it to the side.

STEP 4

Place an oil pan beneath the tire you plan to bleed.

STEP 5

Loosen the “bleeder caps” using the vise grips.

STEP 6

Allow the cap to drop for roughly one hour. During this time, gravity alone will force both air and fluid out of the brake system.

STEP 7

Replace the bleeder cap.

STEP 8

Top the reservoir up with fresh fluid while discarding the brake fluid contained in the pan.

STEP 9

Repeat for all tires, topping up the system with fresh fluid each time.

Conclusion

No matter your level of automotive expertise, it should be easy to see that brake bleeding is a simple yet essential part of maintaining your car. Though we focused on how to bleed brakes by yourself, numerous other approaches necessitate only one or two more hands. Best of all, each of our three highlighted methods is cost-effective and easy to do without a lot of tools.

Keep in mind, however, that the braking system of a car is not only incredibly important, but also very fragile. It is crucial that all bleeding caps be secured and replaced by a professional if broken. It is also essential for each user to properly reevaluate their car’s ability to stop anytime they do work on the brake system—just to be sure.

Enjoy learning how to bleed brakes by yourself, and enjoy getting back on the road.

Featured Image by (Joenomias) Menno de Jong from Pixabay

Recent Posts