It would be an understatement to say that your car’s brake line is important. It’s a crucial part of your car’s brake assembly and it makes the entire system work. We’ll be discussing brake line replacement cost, as well as how it works, and how to replace the brake lines yourself.
What is a Brake Line?
Before we get to what a brake line is, you will need to understand how a car’s brakes work. Most cars today use a disc brake system, where it uses a pair of pads and squeezes it to the aforementioned disc (sometimes also called a rotor) using a caliper. In turn, this action creates friction and slows your car down. Some cars also still use drum brakes but only for the rear wheels. Mechanically, drum brakes are different but the principle is the same: create friction to slow the car down.
So, how does the system work? Basically, your car has braking fluid stored inside a master cylinder. When you hit the brakes, the system would then send these pressurized fluids to your brakes. This is where the brake lines come in, they are the lines that are necessary to transfer the fluids into your brakes. Once the fluid reaches the calipers, it will then force the brake pads to move inwards against the rotor. When these pads come in contact with the rotor, they create friction and slows the rotation speed of the rotor, which slows your car down.
That’s basically it: brake lines are for transferring brake fluids into your brakes. If your brake lines don’t work properly, then the fluid won’t reach and the brakes won’t work. Needless to say, if this happens, you’re going to be in a world of trouble. You can learn more about braking systems in this video below:
Brake Line Replacement Cost: Signs You Need to Replace Your Brake Line
Since it’s a crucial part of your braking system, there’s really only one telltale sign that your brake line is failing or has failed: poor brake functionality. If your brake line isn’t functioning properly, then you might notice your brakes not working as effectively as they should. For example, you’ve already pushed the brake pedal quite deep but then it isn’t stopping as quickly as it should. The worst-case scenario would be a complete loss of braking, where the car fails to apply the brakes at all.
If your car struggles to brake, it could also be caused by worn-out brake pads. Trapped air in the brake lines can also affect your car’s braking, in which case you will need to bleed the system. Regardless, if you’re experiencing braking issues then we urge you to sort it out. Driving with compromised brakes is very dangerous and can put you in the middle of a terrible accident.
Other than this, there are no telltale signs of a bad brake line. That being said, you can check for physical signs of damage or wear on your brake lines. Check for leaks, tears, cracks, and rust by the hose fittings. These may affect your car’s braking performance. You can also watch out for the following symptoms, even though they’re not specific to brake line issues, keep a lookout for these symptoms as they may indicate an issue with your braking system:
1. Brake Warning Light
If you see a brake light lighting up on your dashboard and your parking brake is disengaged, then you should check your car’s braking system. Similar to the check engine light, this is a direct way of your car telling you that there’s something wrong with the braking system and it needs to be repaired. The cause of this varies from low braking fluids to a problem with the ABS unit. Best to take it in for a diagnosis and repairs.
2. Grinding Sounds When Braking
If your car makes a grinding noise when you brake, then you need to check your brake immediately. This can be caused by a variety of things, including worn-out brake pads and foreign objects caught in the caliper. Whatever the case, this is a serious issue that you shouldn’t ignore.
3. Pulling to One Side Under Braking
If your car pulls to one side when you brake, then that means only one of the brakes is functioning properly. This can either be caused by a bad brake caliper or a brake line problem. In any case, it would be wise to have it checked and fixed immediately.
4. Brake Fluid Leaks
Brake fluid leak is usually a sign of a hydraulic problem or worn brake pads. It can be hard to identify a brake fluid leak sometimes. If you suspect you have a brake fluid leak, then you should check your fluid level and see if they’re at the correct level. To do this, simply locate your car’s brake master cylinder and reservoir, and see if the fluids are at the recommended level. You will need to check with your owner’s manual to see the recommended level of brake fluid your car should have.
5. “Spongy” and Unstable Brake Pedal
If you have a problem with your car’s brake system, you will often notice your brake pedal feels weird. A spongy or unstable brake pedal means that you don’t feel a lot of resistance from the pedal as you push it. If you push your brake pedal and it just sinks to the floor, then you will need to give this a check. It’s usually a brake fluid issue where there might be a lot of trapped air in the system.
Types of Brake Lines
Many car enthusiasts will upgrade their brake pads and calipers when they want more braking performance. But it turns out that there are different types of brake lines that you can use and they can affect your car’s braking performance. Here are several types of brake lines that you can buy for your car, which are:
Rubber Brake Lines
Rubber is the most commonly used material for brake lines and chances are this is what your car uses. They are durable, resilient, and they can last for about six years without needing to be replaced. However, they tend to flex and swell under heavy use which isn’t great. If a brake line swells or flexes, then the fluid pressure will lessen and will affect braking. The braking system relies on the fluid pressure to engage the brakes. If the pressure isn’t strong enough, the brake pads won’t apply as effectively as they should, resulting in less braking performance.
On top of the swelling problem, rubber brake lines may puncture if they come in contact with sharp rocks or twigs that gets under your car. This, in turn, will cause a leak and loss of fluid pressure in the system.
Steel Brake Lines
Brake lines made of steel have a couple of advantages, the first is that there’s no need to worry about punctures. Since steel is much stronger, you won’t have to worry about your brake lines tearing if it comes to contact with sharp rocks or twigs. This is part of the reason why steel brake lines are popular with offroaders as they are more durable.
The second advantage is that steel brake lines won’t swell like rubber lines. This means that even under heavy use, the steel lines will remain strong and the fluid pressure will remain optimal. In a panic situation, steel lines are more reliable and should give you consistent braking performance. Additionally, they give a firmer feel at the pedal and a better response. You will often find steel lines in performance cars.
However, steel brake lines do have their own caveats. For one, they may corrode over time and is still subject to breakage over time as well. Secondly, since they are less flexible they can experience more stress and may ruin the connections. It’s recommended that they are checked more regularly to make sure they are still installed properly.
Braided Brake Lines
In a braided brake line, there’s usually a soft brake line tube (often made out of rubber) that’s encased in a mesh made from braided strips of steel. The purpose of this braided steel is to give an extra layer of protection for the brake lines so they won’t tear or puncture as easily as regular rubber brake lines would. They also help to prevent the tube from swelling.
In addition to being more durable than rubber, braided brake lines have a bit more flex than hard steel lines. This means less stress for the connections. However, because the soft tubing is encased in braided steel, you won’t be able to visually inspect the lines for leaks and corrosion. This means you may not notice the problem until it’s too late, and braided lines will need regular maintenance to make sure they’re always in top shape. Race cars and competitive off-road cars often use this type of brake line. Since they are regularly maintained between races, the braided brake lines pose little issues for use in race cars.
Also, there have been discussions online where braided steel brake lines are claimed to be abrasive and eat through and damage other components they frequently come in contact with. Although we can’t seem to verify this, it’s something to keep in mind if you’re interested in switching to braided lines.
Performance Brake Lines
Performance brake lines is a generic term we’re using for brake lines made out of other strong materials, such as braided carbon fiber, kevlar, and even Teflon. As you can imagine, they aren’t cheap and will greatly affect your brake line replacement cost. However, they’re worth the money since they can endure more abuse and is a lot less likely to swell under heavy use. This makes them more reliable and gives you better braking performance.
When modifying a car, a lot of car enthusiast focus on upgrading the brake calipers and pads in order to give more braking performance. However, upgrading your brake line can also help to improve braking performance, not to mention making your entire braking system more reliable under heavy use. These performance lines are usually about as strong as steel and braided steel lines, but it has less stress on the connections.
Brake Line Replacement Cost
The brake line replacement cost varies depending on your car make and model. The parts cost for most cars is usually around $30 – $60. However, with labor included then it will bring your brake line replacement cost to around $150 – $200. Also, it’s important to note that this is the cost you’re paying when you take your car to a third-party repair shop. If you’re taking your car to the dealership, then the cost can be as high as $400.
The good news is that the cost of the part is largely similar for most cars. Even with luxury cars such as the Mercedes-Benz G550, a brake line unit is no more than $80 to purchase. It’s when you buy steel and performance lines where you will see a price difference. For example, a set of steel brake lines can cost up to $120 per set. Meanwhile, carbon fiber lines can go as high as $300 per set. But if you’re buying OEM parts, it really shouldn’t cost you more than around $60.
How to Replace Brake Lines
Replacing a brake line is a moderately difficult job, so with the right tools, you can do it yourself if to reduce your brake line replacement cost. However, since this is a critical component of your braking system, we recommend not doing it yourself unless you’re absolutely sure of your mechanical skills. If you are certain you want to change it yourself, then here are two methods in doing it depending on your brake line assembly:
Replacing Flexible Brake Hoses
- Remove your wheel to give easier access to the brake assembly.
- Disconnect the hose or line from the brake system. To do this, remove the retainer clip between the hose and the steel line. Afterward, turn the connector with a wrench until it comes loose.
- Be careful not to crank too much on these connections as you may bend the metal brake lines. If you do, you will need to replace them as well.
- Remove any brackets and bolts along the flexible line. The brake line may be mounted to the strut or other sturdy points between the central line and the wheel. You will need to loosen and remove these mounting connections.
- Once the line is disconnected from the master cylinder, remove the connection to the brake. Loosen the bolt found at the end of the brake line. You will normally need a 14mm socket or wrench to do this, but the size can vary between cars. There will usually also be a washer that needs to be removed.
- Remove the old brake lines and attach the new lines to the brake caliper.
- Reattach the retainer clip, then fasten the brake line connectors leading to the master cylinder. Don’t forget to reconnect any brackets or mountings that hold the brake line.
- Refill the brake fluid to the appropriate level and bleed the brakes to remove trapped air. To do this, open the bleeder cap found on the brake caliper or wheel cylinder and have someone else pump the brakes to force the air out of the bleeder cap. Once you see fluid coming out of the bleeder cap, then the process is done and you can close the cap. Repeat this for each caliper starting closest to the reservoir.
Replacing Mounted Brake Lines
Replacing mounted brake lines is a slightly different process. Here are the steps you should follow:
- Remove the wheels to give you better access to the brake line.
- Cut all the connections to the distribution blocks. To do this, first, you should use a pair of side cutters to cut the line at the distribution block. Afterward, it will be easier for you to put a socket to the fitting and remove it from the distribution block.
- Disconnect the brake lines from the master cylinder. Be careful not to twist the lines or strip the connections.
- Remove the brake lines from any mounting clips.
- Remove the lines from underneath the car. This should only be done once all of the connections are loose so you can pull the brake lines from under the car.
- Install the new brake lines into the appropriate fittings of the master cylinder. Afterward, you can take the new lines underneath the car.
- Connect the new lines to the distribution blocks.
- Fill the system with brake fluid and bleed the system once done.
Replacing the brake lines really isn’t something we recommend that you do yourself. The process is complicated and unless you know what you’re doing, you may damage other components. In which case, you will need to replace them as well and ask a mechanic to do more costly repairs. If you’re still interested in doing it yourself, this guide below may help with the process:
Brake Line Replacement Cost: Questions & Answers
How long do brake lines last?
Most brake lines will last for about six years, with little-to-no maintenance needed. However, if you often take your car to a track day or offroading, then we would recommend checking it more often. Keep a lookout for swelling, rust, and other signs of damage.
How often should I check my brake line?
Generally about every two years. Most brake lines – especially rubber and performance ones – don’t require much maintenance, unless you do a lot of track day driving or offroading. Otherwise, checking them every two years is fine. Also, remember to check your brake fluid level as well every two years.
Should I upgrade my brake line?
If you’re on a budget and the brake line replacement cost is already a bit high for you, then no. But there are several circumstances where you should upgrade your brake lines. First, if you’ve tuned your engine and made performance upgrades, then it would be wise to upgrade your braking system in general. More performance means more speed, and more speed will require more braking performance. Upgrading your brake calipers and pads is a good idea, but you should also upgrade your brake line to a performance one to give better braking performance. Also, if you take your car to a lot of track driving, then better brake lines mean less possibility for swelling under heavy use. As a result, your braking system will be more reliable and durable.
Secondly, if you often go offroading, upgrading your brake line to a steel or braid line is a good idea. As we’ve said, steel lines are a lot less likely to puncture. This means you don’t have to worry about rocks or twigs damaging your brake lines as you go offroad. If you’re just looking to replace your brake line and don’t do either of the things we mentioned above, then there’s really no need for you to upgrade your brake lines.
If you want to learn more about steel brake lines compared to the standard rubber ones, you can watch this video below:
Brake Line Replacement Cost: Conclusion
So, to summarize, your braking system relies on pressurized fluids to engage the brake pads. These fluids are carried from your master cylinder to the calipers by using your brake line. If your brake line has swells or punctures, there will be a loss of pressure, making your braking system unable to deliver the fluids at the correct pressure. As a result, your brake pads won’t engage properly and your car can’t brake effectively. If your car can’t brake, you will be prone to accidents.
We cannot overestimate just how important your car’s brake lines are for the braking system. If you have a faulty brake line, then you should replace it immediately to keep your car’s braking system in top condition. If you suspect you have an issue, keep a lookout for signs of braking issues. Spongy brake pedals as well as loss in brake performance are some of the most common signs that you may have a brake line issue.
Brake lines are relatively difficult to replace, which is why we recommend you to leave the job to a professional. Compared to other repairs, brake line replacement cost is fairly cheap and affordable, especially when you consider just how important it is.