Upgrading to high-performance brake fluid isn’t the flashiest modification you can make to your vehicle, but if you ever intend to compete in an autocross event or try your car out at a track day, it’s a must-have. Moving to enhanced brake fluid is one of the most important upgrades you can make to any vehicle that will be driven quickly, and fortunately, it’s an easy one, too.
On a track, your brakes can generate significant amounts of heat as they bring your vehicle down from speeds you might not normally reach on the street. Over the course of a driving session, this heat can build up so much that the temperature of your brake fluid reaches past its boiling point, causing it to vaporize.
Vaporized brake fluid can be responsible for the spongy feeling you might notice in your brake pedal after a period of intense driving. Fluids don’t compress — which is the basis of any hydraulic braking system — but gases do, and if your brake fluid has boiled, then those gases are now present in the lines. In addition to sponginess and softness, you’ll also notice increased fade, which is the term for when you press down on the brake pedal but don’t get back the same level of stopping power as you had earlier in the session.
There are four Department of Transportation standards for street brake fluid, each with its own “dry” boiling point (“dry” referring to fresh-out-of-the-bottle fluid), ranging between 401 degrees and 518 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s perfectly fine for daily driving, but in a more hardcore environment that range is usually too low to be considered safe.
Enter high-performance brake fluid. This fluid still meets DOT standards, but features a much higher dry boiling point. How is this accomplished? By refining out as many impurities as possible, engineers are able to boost the heat resistance of the fluid by an impressive amount. In fact, some fluids boast a boiling point of 644 degrees Fahrenheit, although most hover around or just above the 600-degree Fahrenheit mark.
Plug and Play
The best news about high-performance braking fluid is that as long as it’s compatible with your vehicle’s braking system, you can flush out the stock fluid and fill it up with the race-ready stuff with no further modifications. We mentioned making sure the fluid is compatible with your vehicle’s braking system because some fluids are not meant for use with anti-lock braking systems, so do your research. Most track-oriented braking fluid is DOT 4 or DOT 5.1 compatible. It’s also important to keep in mind that you should still check, bleed and refill this type of brake fluid as needed in order to keep everything running safely and smoothly.
Not all vehicles headed to the track require high-performance brake fluid. If your car is relatively light and modestly powered, fresh synthetic fluid is most likely enough for your needs. For heavier, more muscled track steeds, however, high-performance fluid is well worth the switch.
After a hard day at the track the entire brake system should be flushed and refilled with fresh fluid. The extreme heat cycles that the brakes endure during a race or hot lap session will cause the brake fluid to break down and begin to attract moisture (thus degrading the fluid). Even if you are not hitting the track, if your vehicle is equipped with a high performance brake system it should have the fluid serviced at least once a year. Check your owners manual for the correct brake fluid flush and refill specifications.
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Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.