A New Brake Fluid Test Busts A Myth

Of all of the fluids that course through your vehicle’s vital systems, brake fluid is probably the most misunderstood. Most drivers can tell you very little about it, aside from the vague understanding that if you don’t have any, your chances of stopping are virtually nil.

Then there’s the mistaken belief, now earning the distinction of “urban legend,” that water is brake fluid’s worst enemy and the slightest trace of it demands an immediate system flush or dire things might happen. So ingrained is this unwarranted fear, many costly flushes are needlessly performed and any unused fluid promptly discarded lest it absorb water while awaiting a future top-off.

Now, new technology and standards are finally putting the decades-old moisture myth to rest. Especially since today’s Anti-Lock Brake Systems and brake fluids are designed to reduce or eliminate moisture related problems. In fact, GM, Ford and Chrysler have no recommendation for brake fluid service based on moisture because it’s not considered a safety threat or service issue.

But while car owners can stop being hydrophobic about their brake fluid, a new guideline developed by a consumer protection group called the Motorist Assurance Program (MAP), points the finger at another culprit that over time can cause serious problems with ABS components. Copper. And it’s an inside job. Recent government research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed that copper can form deposits around the sealing surfaces of ABS valves, which means your car may take longer to stop in a panic situation. Other research finds that copper levels in the brake fluid are the best indicators that the fluid’s corrosion inhibitors are losing their punch and major corrosion is just around the corner. MAP puts the red-flag level of copper at 200 parts per million. Anything above, they require the fluid be flushed and replaced.

Great. As if life wasn’t complicated enough, how does one go about measuring the copper content of their brake fluid? No need to worry, thanks to a breakthrough technology by Phoenix Systems called FASCAR® (for you technophiles, that means “Fluid Analysis by Stimulation of Copper Alpha Reactions”), which accomplishes this very feat. In fact, it was Phoenix Systems who provided the research that convinced MAP to establish these new standards for copper contamination in the first place. This approach for testing brake fluid is so revolutionary, Phoenix Systems and inventor Jon Petty were awarded several US and foreign patents.

FASCAR® technology is sold under the more memorable brand name, Brake Strip™. The test is quick and easy. From start to finish it takes less than 60 seconds. Your auto service technician simply dips the strip in the brake fluid and compares the color to determine the copper level. If the strip turns purple, you’ve got a copper problem and a brake flush service is required.

The Brake Strip™ test is the only one of its kind and considered to be the most accurate method available today for determining when to replace brake fluid. FASCAR Technology’s Brake Strip™ is currently available to professional automobile service and brake technicians and is widely used by major auto service and repair facilities. And please don’t let your repair shop sell you brake fluid service based on moisture or color; they may not be up to speed with the new standard. You can contact your state Attorney General for more information about vehicle fluid service recommendations.

Jon Petty of Phoenix Systems suggests it’s a good preventive measure to have your brake fluid checked each time you bring your car in for an oil change. “If your auto service center doesn’t currently offer it,” says Petty, “we urge you to request that they do. We believe this simple test can go a long way toward preventing costly repairs, or worse, later on. Brake fluid will fail a Brake Strip™ test before the safety of your brake fluid is in question. So if you see purple, change your brake fluid.”

Distribution of the Brake Strip ™ product directly to consumers is currently being planned, so vehicle owners will soon be able to perform their own tests…and put the brakes on their brake fluid concerns for good.

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