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How to Change the Brake Fluid in a Honda CRV

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Under the hood of a CRV. Brake fluid reservoir at top right of engine.

Under the hood of a CRV. Brake fluid reservoir at top right of engine.

Have You Been Neglecting Your CRV?

Your vehicle's braking system is probably the most important system in your car. If the motor doesn't work, you simply don't go anywhere. If your brake system fails, you are headed toward a very unpleasant, if not fatal, experience. Unfortunately, the braking system is one of the most neglected routine maintenance items.

Modern engines have been designed to be as maintenance-free as possible. Spark plugs and transmission fluid can last up to 100,000 miles depending on the vehicle type. Most drivers know that the engine oil needs to be changed when the “maintenance due” light comes on, but there isn't a reminder light for other important oils, like transaxle and brake fluid.

You should consult your vehicle's owner's manual for routine maintenance intervals, but generally, brake fluid needs to be changed every 2 years or 30,000 miles. Brake fluid is also the most neglected fluid change, despite a driver's life depending on it. The good news is, brake fluid is inexpensive and an extremely easy DIY maintenance task. If you can't remember when your brake fluid was changed last, it's time. Here's how to do it.

Close up of the brake fluid reservoir.

Close up of the brake fluid reservoir.

1. Have the Right Parts

You really only need four items:

  1. a bottle of brake fluid,
  2. a simple hand pump,
  3. a small jar or cup,
  4. and (if you decide to drain the brake lines) a wrench the size of the nut on the brake fill nipple.

When buying braking fluid, ensure you get the type recommended for your CRV, which will be DOT 3 or DOT 4. Check the cap on the brake fluid reservoir and it will have the needed type molded into the cap. There is a 99% chance it is DOT 3. I prefer to use genuine Honda brake fluid; that way I know it is formulated specifically for my CRV.

Brake fluid reservoir cap.

Brake fluid reservoir cap.

2. Prep Your CRV

Park on a level area, engage the parking brake and open the hood. You might also check to see if your city or neighborhood allows working on vehicles on the street if you do not have a driveway or garage. There is always that old lady in the window that will call the city the second your hood goes up. Know your local regulations. Most places it is perfectly legal or the city doesn't care.

Genuine Honda brake fluid.

Genuine Honda brake fluid.

3. Get Ready to Pump

Under the hood, locate the brake fluid reservoir. It is in the far upper right as you are looking at the engine. It is white translucent plastic. The minimum and maximum fluid levels are shown on the reservoir. Unscrew and remove the cap and remove the debris screen underneath. The screen pulls right out. If you are doing this on a windy day or there is a lot of airborne debris, place a rag over the open reservoir until you are ready to pump the old fluid out.

Fluid pump set up.

Fluid pump set up.

4. Pump Out the Old Fluid

Stick the pump hose that sucks into the reservoir, close to the bottom. Place the other end into a small jar or cup. Pump the old fluid out until it is just below the minimum mark. Reverse the ends of the pump, placing the sucking end into the bottle of new brake fluid, and pump new fluid in until just over the maximum mark. The fluid in the reservoir is now 80-90% new fluid. Repeat the process to get the new fluid percentage as close to 100% as possible, stopping at the maximum mark on the last fill.

Old brake fluid.

Old brake fluid.

5. Decide How Complete You Want the Fluid Change to Be

Most folks, including the big-name auto maintenance garages, will stop here and call it done. If you change the fluid on schedule that is plenty. At this point you can call it done and replace the screen and cap. BUT, if you want a more thorough and complete brake fluid change, you will need to grab a helper and use the following steps. Be warned that you will have to lay down on the ground and get dirty, and be a bit of a contortionist.

Brake fluid nipple.

Brake fluid nipple.

6. Prep Each Brake Line

Brake fluid goes from the reservoir under the hood through the brake lines to compress the brake pads and stop your vehicle. Once you replace the reservoir fluid, there is still old fluid in the brake lines. There is a brake line leading to each wheel. Locate where the brake line enters the caliper on your wheel assembly. Next to it will be a nipple that normally has a plastic cap on it. Remove the cap.

Pump tube attached to brake fluid nipple.

Pump tube attached to brake fluid nipple.

7. Drain the Brake Lines

Some people use a system of starting at the wheel closest to the driver and working their way around the car in a counter-clockwise motion. You can if you want, but it really isn't necessary. At the wheel of your choosing, get down on the ground and put the sucking end of the pump hose over the nipple, ensuring it is a snug fit. Place the other end into the cup or jar with the old brake fluid in it.

Have your helper get in the driver's seat and be ready to pump the brakes. Place the wrench on the nipple and tell your helper “down.” They will slowly depress the brake, you will turn the nut to open the nipple and brake fluid will begin squirting out. Use one hand to engage the pump to suck the fluid as it enters the pump tube. As soon a good squirt comes out, tighten the nipple nut and tell your helper “up” so that they release the brake pedal. The fluid that squirted out will be an old brownish color. New fluid is bright and slightly yellow. Repeat this process until new fluid begins coming out of the nipple. Refill the reservoir to maximum and repeat for the remaining three wheels. Check the reservoir after each wheel. Once that is completed, you have replaced all of your CRV's brake fluid. Don't forget to place the caps on the nipples.

Ensure that you keep the end of the pump submerged in the old oil when draining the lines. If you let off of the pump, it will lose its vacuum, and if the other end is not submerged, it can suck air into the line causing you to have to repeat the process more than needed. You can also just use a piece of clear tubing that fits snuggly around brake nipple. If you do, keeping one end submerged in the jar of old oil is even more important.

You can also use the drain method to remove any air that may get into your brake lines. If your brakes become squishy, air in the lines is the most likely culprit. That usually happens when the reservoir becomes too low. Just use the above method until bubbles quit coming out.

Reservoir filled with fresh brake fluid.

Reservoir filled with fresh brake fluid.

Are You Really Done With Maintenance?

The brake fluid should be changed every 30,000 miles. If you have an all-wheel drive CRV, the fluid in your rear differential also needs to be changed every 30,000 miles. A differential oil change is also an easy DIY maintenance project. Why not get both fluids on the same schedule and knock them both out at the same time? You will already be dirty. And an extra special routine maintenance tip. You might hear people talk about changing the power steering fluid. Relax, the CRV has electric, not hydraulic power steering. There is no power steering fluid to change.

Drive With Confidence

With new brake fluid you can be assured that, assuming your brake pads are not overly worn, you will stop when you use the brakes. If not, running a stop sign will the be least of your worries. If you decide to just skip that maintenance, please leave me something nice in your will.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.