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General E46 Forum
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Old 12-30-2013, 06:26 PM   #1
330XiNamedBif
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How long does contaminated brake fluid take to cause failure?

Recently one of my front calipers seized. Upon draining the brake system i discovered that the brake fluid seems to be contaminated as it has an obvious red tint (possibly transmission fluid). The brakes have not been serviced since two years ago. Is it possible that it would take two years for partially contaminated brake fluid to finally cause a failure?

I'm not seeking to recoup anything given the amount of time that has elapsed, but I did notify the shop that performed the brake service and they took a very defensive tone, asserting that failure would have occurred within 3-4 months. I'd love to hear some other opinions.
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Old 12-30-2013, 06:47 PM   #2
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Trans fluid in your brake system? There is no set amount of time that it would take to make something fail, but it expands and softens rubber seals that aren't made to be resistant to it so I would look into replacing brake lines as well as the caliper. I am not sure how it is even possible to get transmission fluid in your brake system but it is petroleum based and brake fluid is not. The seals in the brake system are not meant to be in contact with petroleum based fluid.

FYI they do make brake fluids that are red.
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Old 12-30-2013, 06:58 PM   #3
330XiNamedBif
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i have to assume that when the brakes were last replaced they topped off with the incorrect fluid. The fluid finally gummed up during some very cold weather and caused one of the brakes to stick in a "stop" position. I am having the lines, calipers, rotors, and pads all replaced.
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Old 12-30-2013, 09:00 PM   #4
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It's not common, but there are brake fluids that are red. Brake fluid is clear, so any color that different brake fluids have are dyes put in the fluid by the manufacturer. Just because you see red fluid doesn't mean it's not brake fluid. Seized calipers are very common, and the car is 8 years old. It's certainly not out of the realm of possibilities.

I wouldn't go through the trouble of replacing all the brake lines in the car without first fixing any issues that yield symptoms, then flushing the system with (and filling with) a known trusted fluid. You've been running that fluid this long, so clearly the car isn't going to explode tomorrow. If you have additional issues, then replace additional parts. But I think assuming the entire system is contaminated to the degree that you need all new calipers and lines is jumping the gun quite a bit. If you're going to do that, replace the ABS modulator and the clutch system as well, along with master and slave cylinders. But, IMO, it's simply not warranted based on the info provided.
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Old 12-31-2013, 07:31 AM   #5
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Old 12-31-2013, 07:47 AM   #6
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I agree with Five on this. Brake calipers are a common failure on all cars. Take the old one apart and see why it seized if you like. Probably just a bad caliper. Flush the brake fluid and see how things go.

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Old 12-31-2013, 08:49 AM   #7
330XiNamedBif
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The tear-down has already been done. The brake seized due to the contamination and the gelling of the fluid. My mechanic feels it would be best to replace the caliper (not expensive), but if I were doing the work myself I would be more likely to follow Five and Bob's advice.
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Old 12-31-2013, 11:21 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bmwbob89 View Post
I agree with Five on this. Brake calipers are a common failure on all cars. Take the old one apart and see why it seized if you like. Probably just a bad caliper. Flush the brake fluid and see how things go.
Working as a mechanic and haven't seen a brake caliper failure yet. Change brake/clutch fluid annually and you won't.
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Old 12-31-2013, 11:36 AM   #9
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I went through this twice on my previous vehicle, a Toyota 4Runner and know that to be a common problem with that vehicle. Based on what I've seen here it is NOT a common problem for the e46. My intention for the thread was to elicit opinions on whether it was most likely the shop that replaced the brakes two years ago who contaminated the fluid or if someone added another fluid inadvertantly during a completely unrelated service?
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