Brake bleeding can be a pain in the ass, but with the proper tools, life is a ton easier. That said, you don’t need to rush out and buy an expensive brake bleeding kit. I’m a mechanic, and I’m going to show you how we can MacGyver the shit out of a plastic water bottle to fashion a brake bleeder worthy of AutoZone.
To bleed vehicle brakes without a professional brake bleeder, we’ll need to make our own homemade brake bleeder. We’ll need an empty clear plastic bottle and a two-foot length of 3/16 in hose, clear preferably. The four-step assembly process is as follows:
- Drill a 5/16 hole in the plastic bottle cap
- Feed the hose through the bottle cap
- Fit the cap on the bottle
- Adjust the hose so that it’s just clear of the bottom of the bottle
In this post, you’ll learn how to make a homemade brake bleeder in a little more detail, and you’ll learn how to successfully bleed your own brakes MacGyver style.
- Home made brake bleeder components needed
- How to make a brake bleeder
- Tools you’ll need to bleed brakes
- Brake bleeding procedure
- Typical brake bleeding issues
- Sum up
Home-Made Bleeder Components Needed
The components needed to fashion a brake bleeder are basic. A small clear plastic water bottle with a plastic cap is easy to find. A little harder is a two-foot approx. length of 3/16 rubber hose; the clear hose is preferred but not essential.
If you are interested in going pro, you could buy some clear hose from your parts store; the 3/16 by 5/16 is a common size. Or, if you have an old car lying about, you’ll always find some intake system vacuum hose that will likely do the job.
Tools – We’ll need a drill bit to drill a hole in the plastic bottle cap. I’m saying a 5/16 drill bit, but it depends on your hose size. Ideally, the hose will fit snuggly in the cap hole. You’ll see what I mean later.
How To Make Brake Bleeding Kit
As a kid, I grew up watching MacGyver and, of course, the A-Team; these guys really did make a mark on me. I’ve always loved the idea of making my own kit. I love the idea of being independent and resourceful, and now I’m just guessing here, but I think you may have been a fan of MacGyver and the A-team too.
Anyhow, here’s the simple 4-step DIY home brake bleeder I’m going to call the MacGyver.
1 Drill a 5/16 hole in the plastic bottle cap
2 Feed the hose through the bottle cap hole
3 Fit the cap on the bottle
4 Adjust the hose so that it’s just clear of the bottom of the bottle
Tools & Supplies You’ll Need To Bleed Brakes
Bleeding car brakes is a relatively straightforward job, we don’t need very much in the line of tools, and as we’ve made our own bleeder kit, there are no other special tools needed.
You may find the brake resources page useful, it’s a fluff-free guide to DIY brake repairs.
You’ll need the following tools:
- Jack and wheel brace – Lifting and removing wheels
- Axle stand – Support the vehicle weight while working under the vehicle
- Box (ring) wrenches – Open bleed valves 7mm, 8mm, 9mm, and 11mm are all common bleed valve sizes
- Wire brush – Great for cleaning around bleed valves before opening
You’ll need the following supplies:
- Brake fluid – This must be compatible with the fluid in your vehicle. DOT 3, 4, and 5.1 are compatible, but DOT5 must not be mixed with any other type. Your fluid reservoir cap details your fluid type.
- WD40 – Useful for cleaning corrosion and debris from around bleed valves before opening
- Brake cleaner – Useful for cleaning splashed brake fluid from around bleed valves
- Axle grease – Great for sealing bleed valve threads during the bleeding process
Brake Bleeding Procedure
Now to the serious business of bleeding brakes. You should know in advance, especially on older vehicles, that brake bleed valves, also known as bleed nipples, can cause some headaches.
We’ll touch on these now because once opened, your brakes will need to be bled, meaning if you encounter an issue with a bleed valve, such as it breaks off, then your vehicle is rendered unsafe to drive until you get the bleed valve issue resolved.
Anyhow, we cover typical brake bleed issues below, and you can check them out here.
Now, let’s use our MacGyver brake bleeder. I’ve included a video below that covers the procedure pretty well.
The process is as follows:
- Locate and open the brake fluid reservoir cap
- Fill the reservoir with the appropriate fluid type – Use the fluid type detailed on the fluid reservoir cap.
Ideally, you should use only the DOT type marked on the reservoir cap; that said, it is possible to mix DOT 3, 4, and 5.1 as they are compatible, but DOT5 must not be mixed with any other type as it is not compatible with any other brake fluid type.
- Remove the wheel furthest from the fluid reservoir, usually the offside rear (right-hand rear), and support the chassis with an axle stand
- Quarter fill your brake bleeder bottle with fresh brake fluid and refit the cap making sure the brake hose is submerged in the fluid
- Using the wire brush, clean the bleed valve threads
- Now spray with WD40 (avoid spraying rotors pads etc.)
- Fit appropriate box wrench on the bleeder valve
- Fit bleeder hose to the valve
- Apply axle grease to bleeder valve threads but also around the bleeder hose to valve union – this helps to seal these areas and reduces the risk of air sneaking in a while bleeding
- Open the bleeder valve – If you are having issues, check out typical brake bleeding issues below
- Now pump the brakes three to four times; a helper allows you to view the hose for air bubbles, but this isn’t necessary, as this is a one-person bleed procedure.
- Now tighten the bleed valve, remove kit and clean the valve thoroughly with brake cleaner
- Top up the brake fluid reservoir again
- Press the brake pedal four times
- Inspect the bleed valve for signs of fluid leak and refit the wheel
- Now empty out and replenish your brake bleeder bottle, but only if the fluid is murky
- Go ahead and move to the nearside rear wheel (left-hand rear) and repeat the process, not forgetting to top up the vehicle brake fluid reservoir
- Now move to the offside front (right-hand front) and repeat the process
- Finally, repeat the process on the nearside front (left-hand front)
Your brake procedure is complete. Nice work, you, or should I say MacGyver!
Typical Brake Bleeding Issues
Mostly DIY brake bleeding goes without a hitch, but sometimes things don’t go as planned. This section is dedicated to those days. Here we’ll look at some typical issues folks meet when bleeding their own brakes.
I know I don’t need to tell you brake bleeding is serious business, and if you are in any doubt about your brakes, you should bring it to a licensed mechanic.
Here’s the list of common brake bleeding issues listed by symptoms:
- Brakes won’t bleed – Check fluid level and for a fluid leak. Try opening all bleed valves and allow gravity bleed before bleeding with the bleed kit.
- Brake pedal won’t build pressure – Open line or possible master cylinder fault. Clamp each flexi line in turn and test, then try clamping all lines. If the pedal doesn’t show signs of improvement, suspect a faulty master cylinder.
- The brake pedal won’t hold pressure – It sounds like air is sneaking into the system. Clamp each wheel flexi line, in turn, to see if the pedal improves; if it does, you find your problem area.
- Brake pedal feels spongy after bleeding – Air in the system, try bleeding again or check for leaking bleed valve
- Brake caliper won’t bleed – Possible frozen caliper
- Bleed valve won’t seal – Remove and clean the caliper seat and valve seat and try again; if the problem persists, replace the bleeder valve.
- Bleed valve stripped off – Replace the bleeder valve
- Bleeder valve open but won’t bleed – possible grit or corrosion in the bleed valve passage. Remove and try cleaning with a small drill bit. If not, replace it.
Brakes are serious business; if you aren’t confident they are right, go to your local mechanic and have them checked. Alternatively, check out the JustAnswer link below, where you can talk to a mechanic directly right now.
Brake bleeding at home is possible without expensive brake bleeding tools. You can fashion up a simple brake bleeder with a clear plastic bottle and some hose pipe, clear preferably.
Drilling a hole in the bottle lid to fit the hose, feed the hose into the bottle, and that’s it. That’s a homemade brake bleeder that is more than capable of bleeding your car brakes.
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John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. He’s been a mechanic for over twenty-five years and has worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Land Rover, and Jaguar dealerships.
John uses his know-how and experience to write fluff-free articles that help fellow gearheads with all aspects of vehicle ownership, including maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting.