Brake Line Buyer's Guide
- Brake lines are metal tubes in which the brake fluid flows to reach the caliper pistons from the master cylinder.
- Brake lines need to be resilient to high pressure as the brake fluid travel to and from the calipers when foot pressure is applied on the brakes.
- There are four types of brake lines: steel, soft steel, nickel-copper alloy, and stainless steel.
- Brake lines fail due to physical damage that can either cause the fluid to leak and drop brake pressure or block the flow of fluid to and from your calipers.
- Among the bad brake line symptoms you can experience, as mentioned, is spongy brakes pedals.
- Brake lines on CarParts.com would cost you anywhere between $0.84 and $240.
What is a brake line?
Brake lines are metal tubes in which the brake fluid flows to reach the caliper pistons from the master cylinder. As straightforward as it sounds, brake lines are one of the most pain painstaking components to repair in a car. That’s because for you to replace the existing one, you have to accomplish bending and flaring it properly. And these are not simple tasks as you’ll need special tools to do them right.
Brake lines need to be resilient to high pressure as the brake fluid travel to and from the calipers when foot pressure is applied on the brakes. If the brake lines break or develop an opening through a crack, a brake fluid leak will be inevitable and air bubbles may start to enter the lines. Air in the brake lines is what causes spongy and less effective brakes.
Types of Brake Lines
One of the main reasons why brake line repairing or replacement can be a headache is because these lines are no ordinary cables. The tubing is made of metal and fitting them requires skill and precision. There are four types of brake lines: steel, soft steel, nickel-copper alloy, and stainless steel. Here are the things you need to know about them:
Steel Brake Lines
In terms of availability, the steel brake line is one of the most common ones you’ll find in the market. This type of brake line is made up of galvanized steel for superior durability—not to mention that it’s also relatively cheaper compared to other types. One of its downsides, however, is that steel can rust and once it does, its life span will diminish sooner than expected.
Steel brake lines can develop rusting if due to moisture that can accumulate at the top of the master cylinder. The longer your contaminated brake fluid sits without topping it off or replacing, the more it will become saturated with water. This will eventually lead to braking failures or mushy brake pedals.
Soft-Steel Brake Lines
If you find regular steel brake lines difficult to work around with, then soft-steel brake lines might be the one you’re looking for. It’s relatively easier to bend as it requires less force. Most soft-steel tubings are made of low-carbon steel to make the structure softer and more manageable to bend. Some soft-steel lines are coated with protective materials like special formulas of plastic to reinforce its structure.
The disadvantage of soft-steel lines compared to the regular steel ones is that it’s can easily bend or dent at the brunt of an impact. However, the outer coating does not chip or flake unlike galvanized steel, which is something some buyers favor. Soft-steel brake lines are commonly found as the standard equipment of modern vehicles.
Stainless Steel Brake Line
Sitting in above steel and soft-steel in terms of balanced traits is stainless steel. This type of brake line is unmatched when it comes to its resistance to rust. It is also relatively easy to bend, which makes it better than a soft-steel or steel line. It is also the most appealing of all, especially if it’s polished. When polished, it gives the impression of chrome, which is why show car owners favor them over steel and soft-steel.
However, there are a few downsides when it comes to stainless steel in general: its price and difficulty when it comes to flaring. Stainless steel is expensive, roughly thrice the price of regular steel, sometimes even more expensive than steel and soft steel combined. When flaring a stainless steel line, you’ll need a special flaring tool for the best result.
Nickel-Copper Alloy Brake Lines
Bearing the durability of steel and the rust-proof characteristics of stainless steel, nickel-copper alloy brake lines established a healthy following from classic to modern performance car owners.
Thanks to its 90:10 copper to nickel composition, the nickel-copper line is easier to bend, making it possible for elaborative twisting and turning. And unlike stainless steel, nickel-copper lines are sold at fair prices. The only downside is that nickel-copper is hard to find and supplies are more limited as compared to steel.
Symptoms of a Bad Brake Line
Brake lines fail due to physical damage that can either cause the fluid to leak and drop brake pressure or block the flow of fluid to and from your calipers. Leaks are a result of a hole or crack somewhere in the brake line. As the fluid leaks out, air enters the system causing bubbles to form inside the line and master cylinder.
Aside from air bubbles, the lines also tend to clog over time. Corrosion may form up inside the passageways and blocks the fluid of brake fluid. This can cause the pressure to rise and may also lead to a future leak. Among the bad brake line symptoms you can experience, as mentioned, is spongy brakes pedals. Lack of brake pressure is also considered a safety risk as it can lead to a loss of brakes over time.
Don’t fret, though. These problems can be dealt with accordingly with the proper and swift action.
Finding the Best Brake Line for Your Car
Just like other braking components, the brake line is constantly exposed to extreme temperatures, pressure, and moisture. All these elements create a harsh environment that can easily cause cracks and corrosion on the tubing's surface. As such, the brake line is one of your car's frequently replaced components. If your vehicle is showing signs of a busted brake line, get a replacement right away. To help you determine the best type for your car, ask yourself this question: are you a speed demon or a regular Joe when on the road?
Regular tube for the average Joe
Your driving habits have a great effect on which type of brake line is perfect for your ride. If you use your car mostly for daily commutes, regular brake tubing that's made of rubber or metal alloys is a good bet. This type is made to withstand regular use, providing just the right amount of flexibility and durability.
Performance brake line for a speed demon
If you're a speed demon, a racer, or you own a street car, investing in a steel or braided steel brake tubing is a good idea. Now which type is best for you? Here's a lowdown on the pros and cons of each material type used in performance brake tubes:
A steel line is more durable and therefore less prone to punctures and cuts when compared to a rubber tube. Since steel is a rigid material, a steel tube won't swell up even after years of exposure to liquid pressure. However, its main enemy is rust. And once steel tubes corrode, they have to be replaced as soon as possible. Its rigidity makes the connecting parts more prone to breakage especially when exposed to extreme force.
This type is basically a soft tube that's enclosed inside a mesh made of braided steel strips. Its benefits include less stress on connecting parts because it's more flexible than a pure steel line. It's also effective in preventing swelling because of the steel strips. If you want a more stylish look for your brake assembly, the braided texture adds some oomph. As a matter of fact, many racers and street car owners dress up their brake assemblies with braided steel lines. But since the soft tube is placed inside a steel mesh, it can be hard to visually inspect it when looking for signs of damage.
Aside from rubber, metal alloys, and steel, other materials used for brake lines include carbon fiber, Kevlar, and even Teflon. However, brake lines made from these materials are more expensive. Once you've figured out the brake line material type that's perfect for your needs, buying a new brake line becomes an easier task.
How much are brake line replacements?
Brake lines on CarParts.com would cost you anywhere between $0.84 and $240. The price range includes individually sold items, sets, and kits. If you look over to the left, you’ll find different categories to narrow down your search into your preferred brand, series, and budget range. You may also utilize our vehicle compatibility filter tab, where you can input your ride’s year, make, and model.
How to Fix a Leaking Brake Line
If you have a damaged brake line, whether it’s cracked, frayed, or clogged, your best bet would be to bring it to your trusted certified mechanic immediately. This will prevent the leak from getting worse, which is likely the case if you continue driving your car with a bad brake line.
Once secured in the shop, the mechanic may perform a series of brake checks and thorough diagnosis to find the leak. Brake bleeding is a necessary step when replacing the lines but the hard part is in bending and flaring the brake lines. However, at an additional cost, you may also opt for a pre-bent brake line to save time and hassle. Just remember that the said component is 100% compatible with your car.
Avoid Peril on the Road by Replacing Your Car's Brake Line
If you are a skilled automotive DIYer, feel free to replace your brake line yourself. Check out this helpful guide:
Difficulty level: Moderate
- Floor jack
- Jack stand
- Lug wrench
- Drain pans
- Brake cleaner
- New brake fluid
- New brake line
Step 1: Park your vehicle on a clear, level surface, and engage the parking brake.
Step 2: Use the lug wrench to loosen the lug nuts of the front wheel on one side. After that, jack up the car until you reach a comfortable working height. Support the vehicle with the jack stands.
Step 3: Remove the lug nuts and the front wheel you are working on. After they've been placed aside, you will see the caliper mounted on the rotor, and a hose attached to the caliper which is already a part of the brake line.
Step 4: Clean the area using a brake cleaner or a recommended type of lubricant. Let it settle for about an hour.
Step 5: Place a drain pan near the hose, and detach the end of the hose that's connected to the metal brake line near the frame. Make sure to plug the metal brake line and don't let it seep.
Step 6: Remove the bolt that connects the other end of the brake hose to the caliper, and detach the hose afterwards. Discard the old washers properly.
Step 7: Attach the new brake hose with the new set washers, and bolt it to the caliper.
Step 8: Connect the other end of the new hose to the metal portion of the brake line near the frame, and secure it with the fittings. Repeat the process for the brake line on the other side.
Step 9: Open the hood, locate the brake fluid reservoir, and fill it with the new brake fluid.
Step 10: Place your wheels and lug nuts back, bleed the brakes by stepping on the brake pedal three times, and test drive the vehicle to see if there's still a leak.
Installation safety tips:
- You should wear protective eye wear and gloves while doing this replacement. The brake fluid is slippery, and it may have an effect on your vision or your handling.
- If the brake fluid reaches your car's paint, rinse it using cold water. The fluid can melt your car paint if not removed immediately.