One of the least talked about parts in your braking system are your brake lines. They’re unnoticeable yet play a crucial role in your road and off-road safety. But what exactly are brake lines, and what are the different types of brake lines used today? Then, I’ll go over the three most common symptoms of brake line problems and how often you’ll need to address them.
What Are Brake Lines?
Brake lines are an important part of your braking system, responsible for delivering the brake fluid from the vehicle’s master cylinder to the brake calliper in disc brakes or wheel cylinder in drum brakes. Brake hoses are similar to brake lines, except they’re made of more durable material, making them better suited for use in rougher environments.
Brake lines are rigid metal tubing that runs along the length of your vehicle. These tubes channel brake fluid from the master cylinder to areas close to your wheels. They don’t go all the way to the brake callipers or wheel cylinders, as it would break when the wheels turn sideways or when your vehicle moves up and down as you drive over a speed bump or turn the wheels sideways. For this reason, off-roaders go for extended brake lines. They’re flexible, and serve as a line between the rigid brake line and the brake callipers or wheel cylinders. Since they’re flexible, they can adjust to the movement of your wheels without an issue.
Brake hoses, on the other hand, are made of rubber or plastic. Rubber brake hoses are the most common, and are made of flexible rubber. Sometimes, they’re layered with fabric netting to provide extra protection. Rubber hoses enhance braking performance, and are capable of operating in a wide hydraulic pressure and temperature range. They’re also more affordable than their stainless steel counterparts. However, as they start to age, they can develop cracks. At some point, the structural integrity of the hoses will degrade, resulting in brake fluid leaks.
Stainless steel hoses feature sheaths of stainless steel on the exterior side. They’re extremely durable and rigid, and are less prone to the elements and physical damage. On the downside, they’re more expensive than rubber hoses. In any case, it’s important that safety is your number one priority, especially when off-roading. If you notice any issues, go to a professional mechanic as soon as possible to diagnose the problem and check whether the issue lies within a worn down or broken brake hose.
Common Symptoms of Brake Line Failure
As aforementioned, brake lines won’t last forever, and it’s important to pay attention to their effectiveness. These are three common symptoms to watch out for.
Soft Brake Pedal
If the brake pedal feels soft or mushy as you depress it, the brake hose assembly may be the reason why. Defective brake hoses can cause brake fluid leakage, and as the brake fluid level drops, the hydraulic pressure of your brakes plunges. As a result, the stopping power of your vehicle will be greatly reduced, and the pedal will feel soft.
The brake lines can degrade, develop cracks, or simply wear out as time goes by. This is due to the fact that they’re constantly exposed to the elements and are subjected to high hydraulic pressure from braking, turning, flexing and abrasion. All of these factors wear the brake lines down. Worn-out brake lines are more likely to leak, and can ultimately lead to brake system failure. A visual inspection is all you need to know about the state of your brake lines. If you’re inexperienced with vehicle parts, however, you won’t know what to look for. Some of the things to look for are cracks, tears, bulges and loose hanging threads.
If your brakes stop working altogether, which should never happen, it might be due to the brake lines. Generally, there are early signs of poor brake line conditions, such as soft pedals, brake fluid puddles, etc. But if the brake lines get severed for one reason or another, the link to the brake callipers or wheel cylinders will be cut off. And if this happens, the safety of you and your vehicle is at great risk. Keep in mind, however, that inoperable brakes can be the result of the brake calliper itself, a vacuum brake booster, or any other brake part. In any case, if the brakes fail, go to a professional mechanic at once.
How Often Do Brake Lines Need Replacing?
Most mechanics argue that you should replace rubber brake lines every five or six years. However, if you go off-roading and have extended brake lines, you might need to do it more frequently. On the flip side, stainless steel lines can last up to ten years, or longer. There’s no rule predicting how long the lines or hoses last, since everyone’s driving habits are different, and the environment and quality of the brake lines can also vary.