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Bleeding My Brakes

The brake fluid on my Volvo S40 is actually pretty bad. I like to usually take care of simple car procedures myself. I have used the help of someone else in the past to bleed brakes on previous cars, but I am looking for a one man option. Are there any products anyone knows of that can help me flush out my system by myself?

Speed bleeders. They replace your bleed valve with one that’s equipped with a ball valve. You crack them open like a normal bleeder. When you press on the brake, the pressure opens the ball valve and fluid comes out. Let up on the brake and the ball valve closes and stops air from getting back in. Remember to tighten them back up when you’re done or you’ll shoot your brake fluid out as you drive.

A better option if you have a compressor is a vacuum bleeder. You can get an inexpensive one at Harbor Freight. It sucks the fluid through the system - no one needs to be in the car pressing on the pedal.

Before you do either of these, check the service manual for your car. Some cars with ABS, which yours most likely has, require a special tool to actuate the ABS module during bleeding. If that’s the case with yours, you’ll have to take it in to be bled.

Brakes are not something to mess up. Check with a few places for replacing the fluid with the correct fluid and bleeding. You might find that it is not that expensive. Sometimes the Volvo dealer is not that far off other places prices.

If OP has bled brakes before with a partner, I don’t see why he can’t do it solo with the proper equipment. Provided his car isn’t poorly designed enough to require a scan tool to cycle the ABS module, brake bleeding is easy and a good DIY project.

Bleeding brakes is not rocket science. I don’t care how cheap it is…it’s an easy job and I’d just do it in my garage.

I did not mean to imply the person could not do his own fluid change and bleeding. After buying the bleeder tool and fluid if it has to be reprogrammed it might be cost effective to have it done. It isn’t like you have to do this that often.

I’ve a follow-up question since I’ve never changed brake fluid myself before. How do you test whether you did it correctly? Does simply pushing the pedal while stopped a good enough check?

After buying the bleeder tool and fluid if it has to be reprogrammed it might be cost effective to have it done.

What needs to be reprogrammed and what vehicle has this? If you replace the ABS control module and after bleeding the system you’ll have to reprogram the new module (on some vehicles). But I don’t know of any vehicle that requires you to reprogram the ABS after you bleed the brakes.

Some ABS systems require the ABS module to be cycled in order to bleed the fluid through them. Some GMs are somewhat famous in DIY circles for requiring a scan tool in order to accomplish this.

Other ABS systems don’t have any special requirements and you can bleed them as you would any non-ABS system. It’s important to check to see what your vehicle requires before you get elbows deep into the job and discover you can’t bleed the brakes and have to have it towed.

@boilerengtn I came to believe that you should run several checks after a friend of mine bled his brakes at a race track just before going out for a few fun laps, forgot to test the brakes until he was up to speed, only then discovering that he had no brake pressure. He ended up going off at a corner, hitting a berm, and flipping the car onto its roof, killing a very nicely modified car and almost killing himself in the process.

With the car still in the air and the wheels still off, but the brake lines all closed up, press on the brake pedal, hard. If it sinks to the floor, you need to bleed more. Then get out and walk around the car. See a puddle of fluid under any of the corners? You forgot to close the bleeder valve completely. Then put the wheels back on and inch the car forward slowly, braking several times. Make sure the brakes still feel firm and the car stops properly. Then drive it around the block, braking at every intersection. If you make it back home without losing brake pressure, you’ve done it right.

Some ABS systems require the ABS module to be cycled in order to bleed the fluid through them. Some GMs are somewhat famous in DIY circles for requiring a scan tool in order to accomplish this.

And yet another reason I won’t buy a GM vehicle.

Some ABS systems require the ABS module to be cycled in order to bleed the fluid through them. Some GMs are somewhat famous in DIY circles for requiring a scan tool in order to accomplish this.
And yet another reason I won’t buy a GM vehicle.

That’s not unique to GM vehicles.

@asemaster Oh I know - I was just using them as an example. Sorry for not being clear.

May not be unique…but every vehicle I’ve owned - never had to do that. I’ll make sure when I buy a new vehicle it’s something I check out before I buy. But GM has many other issues to solve before I become a customer again. This is just added to the list.

It’s getting harder and harder to buy a car that you can work on yourself. I’m amazed at how much I can do on my '07 Acura without needing a $1000 scan tool or making some computer somewhere angry. I suspect it’s the last car I’ll ever own that I can do that much on.

Before too long people will be happy if they can rotate the tires without a scan tool (and in fact on some cars you can’t because the TPMS is not smart enough to figure out that the wheel sensors are on different corners now, and you have to do a re-learn procedure).

And even the Acura has its modernity annoyances. If I change the battery without hooking a constant power supply up via the OBD2 port or cigarette lighter, I have to jump through all sorts of hoops, including entering a code for the radio and nav system, teaching the windows how to roll up and down again, etc.

I made my own tool to allow one-man brake fluid changes. I bought an extra brake reservoir cap and drilled and tapped a 1/4 pipe thread and then screwed in a quick connect air fitting above the cap’s rubber seal. Swap caps, set the air pressure to 5-7 psi, attach the air line and you now have a pressure bleeder.

Either suck out the old fluid in the reservoir first with a vacuum pump (or turkey baster) or blow the fluid through the system out the nearest bleeder. Make sure the fluid doesn’t all blow out, just gets low. Stop, add fluid, repeat until clear. Then work your way around each bleed screw checking fluid level before each new bleed screw. Takes me about a quart to fully flush any system.

Start the car, test for firm pedal. I’ve never had a soft pedal after using this method. You can buy tools for this, too.

BTW, I hate vacuum bleeders. They don’t work nearly as well as this.

There is bleeding and their is flushing. You bleed the system to get any air out of it. If you don’t have any air in the brake system, then you can simply flush it with some aquarium tubing. I get a package of small clear vinyl tubing from the pet department of any department store, about $3.

Put the car up on jackstands and remove the wheels. Get a small bucket of some kind, even empty soup cans or vegetable cans will work, or margerine tubs. You need one for each wheel.

Cut a length of tubing that will go from the bleed valve, up over a spring or something a couple inches above the bleed valve and then down to the waste container of choice.

Use a suction bulb like a baster or a battery bulb from an auto parts store to suck out most of the brake fluid from the master cylinder. Refill slowly with fresh brake fluid. Now open one of the rear brake bleeders and let the fluid gravity feed. It needs to go up first in the tubing so that it cannot suck air back into the wheel cylinder/caliper. Run a little out until the remaining old fluid in the master cylinder has gone into the brake lines and only fresh remains.

Keep the master cylinder full, but you can open as many bleeders as you feel comfortable with. If you allow the master cylinder to go dry, you will have to bleed it. Let it gravity feed until the vinyl tubing is clear. Close the bleed valve at each wheel as it starts running clear. Once all the tubes have run clear and you have closed the valves, then top off the master cylinder and you are done.

If you are not changing the pads, make a mark on the master cylinder to mark the beginning level and only refill back to this mark. When the brake fluid is down to the minimum, check your brake pads and you will find that they are due for new ones. The fluid drops in the master cylinder as the pads wear down and the min mark on the master cylinder is a pretty good indication that the pads are worn down to the minimums. If you keep topping off the master cylinder, you wont have any way to gage your pad wear.

I have used the above mentioned gravity method over the last few years with great results. It is a bit time consuming but beats getting in an argument with my wife on how to pump the pedal. I just do other stuff around the garage/yard and keep an eye on the master reservoir.

I’ve bled my brakes myself using the “push the pedal” method, just need to come up with a way to prevent the pedal from moving back up until you set the bleed screw. I don’t recommend this method though, whether you do it yourself or with a helper, b/c it is easy to damage the seals in the master cylinder if you push the pedal too far out of its normal range.

I’ve used speed bleeder screws too, but have found them to leak sometimes. So I’m no longer using those.

The gravity method is what I mostly use now. But I’m thinking of making a pressure bleeding gadget to speed things up, based on the same idea used by this product, something which you can buy.

I’m a big fan of gravity bleeding. I am pretty patient, especially on a nice sunny day but not all my cars gravity bleed well. The brand of ABS seems to be the culprit here. That’s why I built a pressure bleeder.

I’ve been looking over a lot of the comments on the tools that can help accomplish bleeding the brakes by myself. I looked at a couple of these products, like the one from Harbor Freight and the other from Motive Products. I was looking up a couple others online and found a brake bleeder kit that looks fairly simple to use. Info on any experience anybody may have with this product would be awesome.