What Does Brake Fluid Do To Car Paint?

Brake fluid is a non-compressible, highly dense compound under hydraulic fluids and enclosed within the brake lines of cars. It stimulates the necessary parts involved in the braking process. The brake fluid is a hygroscopic liquid that serves as a lubricant for moving components and prevents corrosion or wear.

Checking the brake fluid is a part of routine car maintenance practices but DIY changing is the main cause of spillage. Car owners inspect the brake fluid along with every other part of the car. There are times when the brake fluid requires a change (at least every 30000 miles) to prevent corrosion of the metals in the braking system. It is in this process that the fluids can get spilled on the car paint if not handled properly. If you’re changing the brake fluid yourself, you need to be organized and careful while doing it to avoid spoiling the vehicle’s shiny finish.

What Does Brake Fluid Do To Car Paint

What Does Brake Fluid Do To Car Paint?

The chemical structure of brake fluid contains a chemical compound called glycol ether. When glycol comes in contact with car paint, it reacts with the chemicals in the car paint and creates an acidic effect that decomposes the layers of paint coat within 5 to 10 minutes. Although brake fluid has a ph level of 7-11, it can tear down the entire layers of a car’s paint.

Once the brake fluid comes in contact with the car paint, it becomes an aggressive solvent, leading to a quick discoloration and stripping of the paint. If left on the paint for too long, it begins to leave vertical stripes on the car’s body as it flows downwards while eating away at the paint and exposing the bare metal of the car. In situations where the spillage is left unchecked, the brake fluid can strip down the car paint, expose, and damage the car’s metal body.

How Long Does It Take For Brake Fluid To Ruin Paint?

Before deciding on the measure to take to reduce or repair damages from brake fluid on your car paint, you’ll need to know the degree to which the paint is ruined. Now, time is very important as a few minutes could be the difference between moderate and full damage to the car’s paintwork. In case of brake fluid spillage on the car paint, use this guide to determine the damage level:

Less than 5 minutes after contact: no damage is done yet. The paint is still intact.

5 minutes after contact: vague marks indicating slight damage.

10 minutes after contact: noticeable stains with damaged clear coat.

30 minutes after contact: paint is stripped off completely, and damages are evident.

Cars without wax protection or protective coat would be damaged faster and more severely.

How To Clean Off Brake Fluid

Having reviewed the stages of damages with respect to the time frame of contact, we can now talk about how to properly remove the brake fluid from the car paint within the first five minutes of contact.

Absorb the fluid

Gently place a towel on the brake fluid to soak and absorb it. Do not clean in circles to avoid smearing the fluid on a wider patch of the car paint. Keep soaking and changing the towels regularly till the affected surface is fairly dry.

Wash the car

Using a car wash detergent, or any handy detergent, wash the car thoroughly with a sponge or rag. Start from the affected spots and work your way around the car’s body. This should wash off all the residue and neutralize the corrosive effects of the brake fluid.

Rinse the car

After washing, rinse the car repeatedly to remove any lasting residue. You can wash and rinse multiple times till you’re satisfied with the results. Having done this, your car paint should look as shiny as ever.

How To Fix Damage Caused By Brake Fluid

If there’s noticeable damage or stripping of the car paint, the best bet is to go to an automotive shop or seek help from an expert. This is not a DIY job as you may end up causing further havoc on the car’s body.

Also, if you do not seek the help of an expert timely, the affected parts would rust since it is exposed to many external elements. Fixing the paintwork requires a touch-up by a professional with the right color, thereafter, your car should be fine.

However, brake fluid spillage can be prevented by hiring an expert to change your brake fluids for you instead of the DIY method.


Can power steering fluid damage car paint?

Although the power steering fluid is also a hydraulic fluid, it has a different chemical composition from the brake fluid, hence, it is not as destructive even when left on the car’s body for an hour. It can still leave smudges on your topcoat, so do not take a chance and wash it off immediately.

Can antifreeze damage car paint?

Antifreeze is less destructive than brake fluid and would not strip off your car paint in a short time if you have modern car paint. However, for older cars with ethylene glycol paint, antifreeze is dangerous and can damage the paintwork in 10 minutes. Whatever the case, wash off antifreeze as soon as it is spilled on the paintwork of your car.


Break fluid and car paint are not a good mixture and should not be in contact with each other. These damages are avoidable by simply hiring professionals to do your car fluid changes.

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