example of red car paint damaged after long exposure to brake fluid

Brake Fluid On Car Paint? Here’s What to Know and Do

Last Updated on August 30, 2023 by Chase Manhattan

Accidental spillage of brake fluid on your car’s paintwork is a common mishap experienced by many car owners. This accident, however, can lead to significant damage to the car’s paint job if not promptly and appropriately addressed.

This article provides an in-depth understanding of the effects of brake fluid on car paint, how to remove it safely, and the consequences if it remains on the paint for an extended period.

Chase Manhattan

Understanding Brake Fluid

Brake fluid is composed of chemicals, primarily glycol-ether based, which can have detrimental effects on car paint. When the brake fluid molecules mix with the car paint, they form an aggressive solvent capable of damaging the car’s paintwork over time.

infographic showing the chemical composition of brake fluid
Here’s the general chemical composition of brake fluid.

How Brake Fluid Damages Car Paint

The damaging effect of brake fluid on car paint begins with a chemical reaction. The glycol-ether molecules in the brake fluid react with the paint, essentially acting as an aggressive solvent. As a result, the brake fluid starts to erode the coating layer of the car’s paint job, potentially exposing the underlying metal.

The Timeline of Damage

TimeDamage Level
Less than 5 minMinimal visible damage
5 to 10 minWeakened clear coat, dull marks
Beyond 30 minSevere damage, clear coat erosion

The extent of the damage caused by brake fluid on car paint is primarily dependent on the duration for which the fluid remains on the paint.

Less than 5 Minutes:

In the initial stages (less than five minutes), there’s minimal to no visible damage to the paint. However, it’s crucial to clean the brake fluid immediately to prevent the chemical reaction from starting.

5 to 10 Minutes:

If the brake fluid stays on the car paint for about five to ten minutes, the clear coat that provides protection to the underlying paint starts to weaken. Dull marks may begin to appear on the paint surface, signaling the commencement of damage.

Beyond 30 Minutes:

If the brake fluid remains on the paint for more than half an hour, the damage becomes severe. The clear coat may be completely eroded, leaving visible stripes and significant paint damage. At this stage, the brake fluid may have penetrated multiple layers of the paint, potentially reaching the bare metal surfaces.

Read more: What is clear coat protectant?

Preventing Brake Fluid Spills

  • Wear protective gloves (latex)
  • Keep a clean rag handy to catch spills
  • Place a clean cloth around the brake fluid reservoir area
  • Work carefully and mindfully during maintenance tasks

Prevention is always better than cure. Here are some tips to prevent brake fluid spills on your car paint:

  1. Wear Protective Gloves: Latex gloves are a great option as they are inexpensive, disposable, and readily available at auto parts stores or online.
  2. Mindful of Drips and Spills: Always have a clean rag handy during maintenance tasks to catch any spills before they land on your automobile’s surface.
  3. Use a Clean Cloth for Protection: Professional mechanics often place a clean cloth over the area surrounding the brake fluid reservoir while working on it. This provides an extra layer of protection against any potential drips or spills.

Steps to Remove Brake Fluid from Car Paint

  • Blot away excess fluid with a clean towel
  • Rinse the affected area with water
  • Clean the area using car soap and a soft sponge
  • Thoroughly rinse and dry with a microfiber towel

If you accidentally spill brake fluid on your car paint, swift action can prevent significant damage.

Step 1: Blot the Fluid

As soon as you notice brake fluid on your car’s paintwork, use a clean towel or rag to blot away the excess fluid. Avoid rubbing too hard as this might further damage the paint.

Step 2: Rinse with Water

Next, rinse off any remaining traces of brake fluid from the car’s surface using water. Ensure to soak the affected area gently to avoid causing chips or discoloration, especially with older paint jobs.

Step 3: Clean with Car Soap

Following the rinse, apply car soap using a soft sponge or mitt and gently scrub the affected area. Rinse thoroughly afterward and dry off with a microfiber towel.

Dealing with Brake Fluid Damage

If the brake fluid has caused visible damage to the car paint, consider getting the paint job evaluated by a qualified auto body shop.

Mild Damage:

For mild cases of brake fluid exposure, touch-up work may suffice. This involves restoring the original paint color through expert color matching techniques.

Severe Damage:

For more severe damage, a full paint job may be necessary. This process involves sanding down and refilling holes caused by the corrosion. Such repair work should only be undertaken by professionals who understand automotive coatings and finishes.

FAQs and Related Questions

What are the consequences of brake fluid spills on car paint?

Accidental brake fluid spills on car paint can lead to significant damage over time, as the fluid’s chemicals react aggressively with the paint, causing erosion of the coating layer and potential exposure of the underlying metal.

How does brake fluid affect car paint?

Brake fluid, primarily composed of glycol-ether-based chemicals, reacts with car paint, acting as a potent solvent. This reaction weakens the protective clear coat, resulting in dull marks, stripes, and possible severe paint damage if not promptly treated.

How should I address brake fluid spills on car paint?

Swift action is crucial: blot excess fluid with a towel, rinse with water to remove residue, and clean the area using car soap and a soft sponge. Prompt response can prevent costly repairs and maintain the quality of your vehicle’s paint. If damage occurs, professional evaluation and repair may be needed.

Final Thoughts

While brake fluid is essential for car safety, it can be detrimental to car paint. Thus, understanding how to handle brake fluid spills can save car owners from costly repairs and potential devaluation of their vehicles. Remember, swift action is key in addressing brake fluid spills on car paint.

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