5 Symptoms of a Brake Fluid Leak (and Repair Cost)

A vehicle will not be driveable without properly functioning brakes. If your braking system were to ever malfunction, it may very well be attributed to a brake fluid leak.

There are four places in the braking system where a leak could take place. There could be one in the brake master cylinder, the front brake caliper, the brake line, or the rear brake caliper.

Regardless of where the leak is coming from, the symptoms of a brake fluid leak should allow you to easily recognize the problem.

Common Brake Fluid Leak Symptoms

1) Warning Light

abs light comes on

The first symptom that you should notice is the brake warning light on your dashboard turning on. You may not even feel any serious brake problems at this point.

But if you see the warning light on, this is an early indication that something is wrong with your brakes and that you should pull over and have them looked at right away.

2) Strange Brake Pedal Feel

spongy brake pedal

The brake lines should only have brake fluid inside of them. If there is a brake fluid leak and air gets mixed with the fluid in the brake lines, then the fluid will not be able to flow correctly.

As a result, when you press your foot down on the brake pedal, it will feel squishy or spongy. In other words, the brake pedal will feel very soft.

3) Brake Pedal Goes Too Far Down

brake pedal goes to floor

This problem relates to number 2 on this list. If air continues to get inside your brake lines while there is a leak, then it will bring airborne contaminants into the braking system. Furthermore, condensation will begin to form which will eventually cause the brake pedal to move all the way down when you press on it.

After you fix the leak, you need to “bleed the brakes” to remove any air from the brake lines and replace all the old braking fluid with new fluid.

4) Visible Fluid Coming Out

brake fluid leak symptoms

If you see fluid leaking from underneath your vehicle (especially around your wheels) and you’ve experienced one of the first three symptoms already, then you definitely have a brake fluid leak.

You should immediately pull over and check your brake fluid level and either (depending on the severity of the leak) drive immediately to a mechanic or have it towed there. The more fluid that comes out, the less fluid you’ll have in your braking system and the more dangerous it will be.

5) Car Does Not Stop

car accident

The worst possible symptom will surely be noticeable. You should not get to this point without experiencing the previous symptoms first. But if you have ignored those symptoms, then expect your brakes to eventually fail altogether.

Then, you will end up driving your car without the ability to stop. This, of course, will result in a car accident which could leave you with vehicle damage and possibly severe injuries or worse.

Brake Fluid Leak Repair Cost

The cost to repair a brake fluid leak will depend on where the leak is coming from. As previously mentioned, there are four main locations in the braking system where fluid could be leaking from.

Most of the time, you can repair these locations without having to actually replace the part altogether. If replacement is required, then you are looking at parts and labor costs.

With just a repair job, the cost of labor and parts are pretty evenly matched out. In total, you should expect to pay between $100 and $300 for a brake fluid leak repair job.

If there is a leak in the brake master cylinder, then you can expect to pay an average of around $100 to $200 for the parts and $100 for the labor. If there is a leak in the brake line or the front brake caliper (one side), it is also between $100 and $200 for the parts and $100 for the labor.

The cheapest repair job is if there’s a leak in the rear drum cylinder or rear brake caliper. This will be around $80 in labor and $20 in parts, totaling $100.

13 thoughts on “5 Symptoms of a Brake Fluid Leak (and Repair Cost)”

  1. I have a brake line leak up by front drivers side ,double line the repair man said that the seal that separates the flow of brake fluid was leaking ,he said it was a 400 hundred part ,but found a used one for 20 bucks ,something dont sound right ,I have a 04 Pontiac grand prix ,any answers.

    Reply
    • Compared to a brand new OEM part, a good find at a salvage yard can be an order of magnitude cheaper. Some parts can be reused worry free, but critical wear items should usually not be salvaged (brakes, timing belts, thermostats, etc.). Without knowing the exact part he picked up, it’s hard to say. I’d get a second opinion if you are concerned.

      Reply
  2. I like that you said I should immediately pull over and check my car if the brake warning light on my car’s dashboards turns on. I agree that you must pay extra attention if your brakes are functioning well to avoid getting to a point where you can’t stop your car, which can severely injure or even kill you. If I ever notice any brake fluid leaks or if the brake pedal feels squishy, I’ll immediately take my car to a car shop that does brake service.

    Reply
  3. With the stay at home order I haven’t used my vehicle much in the last 2 months. Today, I drove it about 50 miles round trip, no problem…but a mile from home, I went to stop at a red light, and I heard a loud “pop” sound, I mashed the brake pedal almost to the floor and the vehicle barely stopped, and I saw smoke coming from the engine area. I was able to get the car home safely (where I also noticed the brake warning light was on) but I was able park it. I popped the hood, and I noticed the brake fluid reservoir is almost empty and I saw fluid leaking (which I’m guessing is brake fluid). Any ideas? Does this sound like the master cylinder went out, or something else…and how much could I expect to pay if I take it to the dealership? The vehicle is a 2009 Hyundai Sante Fe…with about 73K miles.

    Reply
    • The brake master cylinder is a good guess. If you can determine where the fluid is coming from, it should help you determine what part failed and maybe even why. Expect to pay $400-500 at a dealership. An independent shop will probably be cheaper.

      Reply
  4. Sean, thanks! I popped the hood, the reservoir is bone dry, and I could see the fluids in the engine compartment below the master cylinder area. I made an appointment at the dealership, the tech on the phone was trying to insist that it was most likely the brake pads and rotors that need to be replaced, but I will make sure they fully inspect the master cylinder and brake lines. I imagine I will need a brake line flush and fill, which they told me is $150…so I guess that will be added to the $400-$500 cost you listed? Thanks again

    Reply
    • Don’t drive before you fill the reservoir with fresh brake fluid, and be very careful even after that – if the reservoir is bone dry, you more than likely have air in the brake lines so the brakes will feel spongy and your car will not stop well. Get a feel for the car on a road with no traffic and if it doesn’t feel safe, it’s better to call a tow truck than risk an accident.

      I’m not sure if the flush and fill will be included in the cost.

      Reply
      • Sean, thanks! I had the vehicle towed to the dealership on Thursday afternoon. They called me yesterday, and said 2 brake lines had corroded, the front rotors and pads needed to be replaced, and they needed to do the brake fluid flush and fill, plus an oil change (since I hadn’t changed engine oil since December). The originally quoted me $1500 (high I think) but we haggled a bit on the phone (he was able to give me a discount for being a disabled Veteran, plus they are giving 10% off for labor to all customers thru May 31st) so he quoted me $1300 plus tax. I still think it’s a little high…but all in all, I don’t have to tools or skills to do all this myself, plus I’ve had bad experiences with a few local shops (Meineke, Midas, and the few local gas stations I used for an older car) in the past. I called today..they are waiting on parts…so the tech said they hope to have it finished late Monday or Tuesday. Does that sound fair?

      • $1300 sounds a bit high, but I suppose it depends on how involved the brake line replacement is.

        If you’re concerned you can always call around for a second opinion. I still would not drive that vehicle anywhere before it’s repaired.

  5. How do you stop a brake line seeping at connector to ABS pump? Right front line connector seeps at ABS port.

    Reply
  6. Wow the information helped me a lot understanding what’s wrong with my car. Last year November 7 I noticed their is a red brake light. I could bearly brake and I ignored it and didn’t go to a shop. I think after a week I was driving to college and my car could not brake at all. Thank God nobody was near me but if it was I could have be dead. How much you think they will fix my car for, is it going to be over a 1000?

    Reply
    • The red brake light was indicating that you had low brake fluid. That needs to be fixed immediately. It probably won’t be too expensive, and I doubt it will be over $1000.

      Reply

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