I spent my childhood helping my dad fix up cars. One of the oldest memories I have is sitting in an old Land Rover listening to my dad, “down, up, down, up, hold it there.” It made me feel important, like a proper mechanic. I was actually bleeding the brakes on the old crate or at least that’s what I thought.
Not everyone has a son or a daughter who can stand-in as an extra pair of hands (or feet as the case may be.) Not everyone gets on with their neighbors, so the task of bleeding brakes can be difficult.
You need to be able to keep an eye on the brake fluid level, pressurize the system, open the bleed valve. You need three pairs of hands and two pairs of legs, unless, of course, you have a bleed kit.
See also: The 7 Best Brake Fluid Reviews
Brake Bleeder Kits – How They Work?
Essentially, a brake bleeding kit works in one of two ways. Either through pressurizing the system or by sucking the fluid through from the brake caliper or slave cylinder. Sounds simple enough.
I’ve used both types, in fact, I have both types, but my preference is for a kit that sucks the fluid, rather than forces it. Pressurizing the system works if you can get a decent airtight seal on the cylinder, which isn’t always possible. Of course, some kits require you to remove them to top the fluid up. It’s not only a pain but also puts you squarely back into trying to make it airtight again.
You should also consider where the air pressure is coming from. Not everyone has an air compressor in their garage or workshop, so you need either a pumping system, or worse still, a connection to the tire valve. Have you ever tried pushing 35+ psi of pressure through a brake system?
The kits that suck fluid are much simpler. Attach it to the bleed valve, crack it open, and suck the fluid out. A controlled kit that moves the fluid gently will almost guarantee no air, no mess, and no fuss.
The Best Brake Bleeder Kit
The Motive Products European Power Brake Bleeder has been designed to fit pretty much any European car that uses the 45mm threaded master cylinder cap fitting. Although it also fits some of the GM clutches. It’s a hand-pumped pressure tank that will hold up to 2 quarts of brake fluid. Simply attach it to the master cylinder and pump the pressure up.
It’s made from corrosion-proof materials and is petty much maintenance free. It should last for a few years without the need for touching it. The difference between this and some other pressure bleeders is that it’s portable. You don’t need a compressed air source to power it. The kit includes everything you need to bleed your brakes: tank, pump, 1100 adapter, hose, gauge & gasket.
The pre-fitted gauge is accurate, which helps to give a controlled pressure, but there is a drawback. There is no swivel-movement between the cap, tube, and adapter so fitting them can result in a kinked hose unless you’re extremely careful. Ideally, it needs some sort of quick-release coupler fitting between the cap and adapter.
Aside from that one minor objection, it’s a great piece of equipment that just works. However, as I mentioned in the intro, sometimes getting a pressure system to seal can be awkward.
The MV6835 Vacuum Brake Bleeding Kit made by Mityvac is near identical to my large (I have a smaller system for motorcycles) professional vacuum bleeder that cost me over twice as much. And I don’t have the master cylinder refill kit either.
Let’s start with the good things. It’s robust and durable. It’s also easy to use and very controllable thanks to the variable thumb control lever arrangement. It can bleed up to 2-quarts per minute, and you won’t want to use it like that in practice. You’ll need to slow the suction down for bleeding the brakes.
With a 1.8 liter capacity, you can run through and flush the whole system without having to stop halfway through. The 40 oz. fill reservoir (with hook) is great for ensuring that you won’t run the master cylinder dry.
Now on to the cons. There really aren’t any aside from the fact that you will need a compressed air source from a shop compressor, so it’s not really portable.
It comes with everything you need to get started, minus the air compressor: 6’ of hose, master cylinder evacuation hose, hanging hook, adapters, fill reservoir and vacuum bleeder.
This is like a simpler (and cheaper) version of the above Mityvac. It’s designed to work on all braking and ABS systems. It’s large enough to cope with a full system flush (and more) but doesn’t come with any way of automatically topping up the master cylinder. This means you’ll constantly be having to check the fluid level so it doesn’t run dry.
The system has an integrated silencer fitted (which sounds a bit of a novelty, but you’ll appreciate it if you use the bleeder often.) It’s all controlled with lever integrated into to the handle. Squeeze the lever to start the sucking. Again, similar to the Mityvac, you need a shop compressor to attach to it.
The set is all you need: bleeder, 40” silicone hose and rubber adapter for the bleed screw.
- Rating: 3.7 / 5
- Brand: HFS
Cheap and cheerful, but it works and does a bit more than a standard bleeder. It’s based on a design that has been used by other, more well-known brands.
The idea is simple. It’s a little hand-held pump & vacuum that works with a little cylinder that you pump by squeezing the grips together. Depending on which way you have it set, it will either create a vacuum or pump air. This means it could be used either way; to pressurize the master cylinder or vacuum from the caliper.
It’s also a great tool for checking other sensors on the car or creating a vacuum with the vacuum lines attached to a motor. I can think of a dozen uses, but let’s keep with brake bleeding. The kit comes with everything you need, including a small 4 oz. reservoir. It all fits within a hard storage case.
The pressure gauge isn’t exactly precision but, for bleeding brakes, you don’t need that. The pump itself is made of metal. It’ll last a while as along as you don’t get brake fluid in the mechanism.
- Rating: 4.0 / 5
- Brand: Phoenix Systems
This is something completely new to me, but the process makes sense.
Essentially, what you’re looking at is bleeding the brakes backward – pressurizing the system from the caliper so that any trapped air works its way upwards (as it naturally wants to do). Great idea. However, there is no method or equipment for emptying the master cylinder. That means you’ll end up having to find some sort of syringe (turkey baster?) to remove the excess fluid. Not great.
They say it removes more trapped air than any other form of bleeding, and it’s ideal for ABS brake modules. The Phoenix Systems V-5 is also capable of every other form of bleeding – pressurizing the master cylinder, vacuuming from the caliper and bench testing, so it’s a handy bit of equipment.
This tool is made from plastic and is quite flimsy, but careful use will see it function well. I’d have to say that if they made it more durable, perhaps beefed it up with a metal pump, I’d probably spend my own money on one of these kits.
Let’s just be clear, this isn’t a brake bleeding kit. It’s an accessory kit to be used with something like the Motive Products pump. I’ve included it within this list for two reasons. It looks great and it helps to alleviate the problem of pressurizing the master cylinder and keeping it airtight. This is the problem that most pressurized systems have.
What you’re getting is 12 color-coded, anodized aluminum caps that fit the top of most different master cylinders. They have a quality hose coupling attached and expandable O rings to ensure a proper seal, all contained in their own blow-molded storage case.
Realistically, due to the price, these are professional-grade and for professional users. It’s doubtful that any home mechanic will want to lump out the kinda money on these for one or two cars. With that said, if your garage is wall-to-wall tool chests, then a few hundred bucks may not phase you.
Obviously, writing about bleeding your brakes wouldn’t be complete without an advisory:
Your brakes are literally all that stops you from having an accident. You shouldn’t attempt to work on them, repair them, upgrade them without the suitable knowledge that you’ve done the job correctly.
If you’re at all unsure about what the problem is, how to fix it or what state your brakes are in, take some professional advice.