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The Problem With Living in the ‘Now’

I once had a shop manager who concentrated on the “now.” Every day was a mad dash to complete the jobs at hand. He wanted to know who was working on what, where the parts were and when everything would be done. He was constantly reacting to a customer’s...

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ASE G1: Drive Belt Inspection, Replacement

The ASE G1 Certification test contains 55 scored questions, plus 10 unscored ­research questions, that cover a range of skills and knowledge related to maintenance and light repairs in engine systems, automatic transmission/transaxle, manual drivetrain...

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Amateurs and Hacks Provide Job Security For Automotive Service Professionals

Two cars pull up in front of my shop. The drivers didn’t come in, but I heard the commotion from my office window. The boyfriend opens the hood of his girlfriend’s car. They both stare at the engine; she tells the boyfriend that she was supposed...

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Inside Import Car Collision Warning, Automatic Braking Systems

Anything that moves under its own power also has to stop, so brakes have been a safety feature on cars since day one. Over the years, technical innovations such as antilock brakes (ABS) have ­improved the ability to stop with minimal skidding on...

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Intermittent Engine Misfire Analysis

Even for an experienced diagnostic technician, ­attempting to diagnose an intermittent misfire ­condition that occurs only under specific driving conditions can be a frustrating exercise. Let’s begin by getting the basics out of the way. As we know,...

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Honda: Easy Fix for Engine Noise

We often encounter engines that have a cold-start knock or ticking noise. In this case, the 3.5-L V6 engines installed in various Honda models can make a knocking or ticking noise at idle and only when warm. The cause of the problem is that the rocker...

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Analyzing the Cylinder Pressure Waveform from a Running Engine, Part 3

By Vasyl Postolovskyi and Olle Gladso Contributing Writers and Instructors at Riverland Technical and Community College in Albert Lea, MN   In Part 1 of this Maximizing Tools series, we discussed an alternative approach to diagnosing an engine...

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Mac Tools Is Wrenching for a Cure

In support of Breast Cancer Awareness month, Mac Tools is featuring a variety of Wrenching For A Cure products available for purchase in the Flyer 11 through Nov. 2. Featured pink products include clothing, accessories, flashlights, pint glasses, and...

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5 Tool Storage Tips

  As a technician, you likely own thousands of dollars worth of tools and equipment, and require tool storage capacity to hold them all, along with carts and accessories to help move those tools around your work area. Here are a few items...

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Toughest Spark Plug Changes

We have all been there before: scratched arms, busted knuckles and an aching back caused by a difficult spark plug replacement job. If you think they are getting tougher every year, you are right. Every new engine design is putting the plugs deeper...

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Improving the Head Gaskets, Fasteners Relationship

The relationship between head gaskets and head bolts is an intimate one. The clamping load applied by the head bolts is what allows the head gasket to maintain its seal. For this marriage to last, there has to be constant tension – not too much,...

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Top Ten Fuel Pump Fails

10. Strainer Blocks Fuel-Level Sender A fuel pump inlet strainer may be installed that is interfering with the travel of the fuel-level sensor’s float arm, which causes an optimistic fuel level reading. Dented fuel tanks may also cause a false reading...

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Home Brakes Brake Fluid Q & A

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Mike Evangelo of Dynamic Motorsports and Rossion Automotive e-mailed me with six questions about brake fluid. I like a challenge, so here are my answers.

1. What are the fundamental differences between synthetic fluid and conventional DOT 3 and 4?
Simple, it all comes down to the base stock. Both synthetic and conventional brake fluids start from the same “polyethylene glycol” stock. But, to make synthetic brake fluid the manufacturer will “synthesize” the original base stock and make the molecules better and more consistent. They could make the chains longer or add other molecules to enhance the performance. Almost every synthetic brake fluid manufacturer does it different.

To the base stock they add the additive package. This is a mixture of anti-corrosion, anti-foaming and other secret chemicals that give the fluid the desired performance characteristics for operation in vehicles.

DOT 5.1 is a high-performance certification (higher temps than DOT 5). To meet the performance criteria, it takes a synthetic or really good conventional base stock.

Silicone is a synthetic substance. But, don’t confuse Dot 5 with synthetic polyethylene glycol-based fluids like DOT 5.1.

2. What is the compatibility between synthetics and conventional DOT 3 and 4 in most vehicles?
Is a complete flush with new rubber a better choice? Is there any chance of seal swelling or disintegration in older vehicles say from the 1930s, 1940s or even in the 1960s?

All DOT 3, 4 and 5.1 brake fluids are compatible with each other and with all systems. All polyethylene glycol-based fluids will not harm healthy rubber parts. Also, the additive packages will not damage or distort any rubber parts. Even if an older rubber part that has a high concentration of natural rubber, they will not be damaged by new DOT rated brake fluids.

What kills rubber parts is when the additive package breaks down. The additive package controls the pH of the fluid and the viscosity. If the brake fluid becomes unable to control the pH or other corrosive elements, the rubber and metal parts will deteriorate over time.

If you have an older vehicle and are worried about boiling the fluid, use DOT 4 or 5.1 brake fluid.

3. Can synthetics be mixed where DOT 5 silicone was used or is it recommended that the rubber be replaced when changing back?
Silicone is an inert substance, this is why it is safe for breast implants. Technically it should not damage the rubber parts.

Polyethylene glycol based fluids (conventional or synthetic) will not mix with silicone fluid (DOT 5). It will lump together somewhere in the system. Also, they will not react when it is mixed. So, if you perform a good flush, the rubber parts and the system should be OK..

4. Now that it is known that copper contamination is the main reason that brake fluids degrade, what property do synthetics have to address this problem?
Copper comes from the copper brazing in the walls of the hard brake lines. copper can be a problem for ABS and some valving. But, it is an indicator of the state of the brake fluid. The more copper that is present, chance are greater that corrosion is happening in the system. When there is corrosion, it is a sign that the brake fluid’s anti-corrosion additives are depleted.

If your base stock and additives are of higher quality, chances are that they will not break down as easily as low-quality ingredients.

5. Compared to conventional fluid what life span can be expected from synthetics?
In my opinion, it is about the same. Synthetic fluid might be able to last a little longer because the fluid can absorb more water before the fluid drops below a critical boiling point. But, it is the additive package and environment that has the greatest impact on life span, no matter what type of base stock.

6. Some have said that they have noted a better pedal feel with synthetic fluids. Is this possible?
Some very high-end synthetic DOT 4 and 5.1 synthetic fluids can give a better pedal. But, it is so small of a difference that only the very, very, very best drivers can feel it. It is mostly in their head.

Some silicone-based fluids can give a softer pedal because it is more compressible than glycol-based fluids. But, some high-tech silicone ester-based stuff that some race teams use is less compressible than glycol-based fluids. But, this stuff can run $90 a liter! Also, it does not have some critical corrosion inhibitors and is not DOT certified.

DOT 5 brake fluids still have their place. Owners of show cars can use the fluid if they are concerned about damage to the paint.

Thanks Mike!

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Andrew Markel

Andrew Markel is an ASE Certified Technician and former service writer, and he brings this practical knowledge to the Brake & Front End team as editor.

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