Copper vs. Water

Copper vs. Water

Types of Brake Fluid Tests

A bit of controversy has surfaced from a small corner of the automotive equipment industry over which is a more effective brake fluid diagnostic tool: boiling point indicators or test strips. Boiling point indicators are claimed to be more cost effective and reliable. Boiling point testers measure the boiling point of the brake fluid and moisture testers measure the water in the brake fluid to indirectly predict the boiling point of the fluid. Both moisture and boiling point testers are designed to predict the safety of the brake fluid.

Brake fluid test strips are dipped into the brake fluid and a special pad on the strip will turn a color based on the level of the testing parameter, usually water or copper. Test strips are consumable meaning one strip is used per test.

Types of Test Strips

The first point of difference lies in what kinds of strips are being referred to.

Water test strips appeared on the market a number of years ago using such names as WetCheck or Mositure Alert. These water or moisture test strips failed for two reasons, First, because they worked to well. Earth is a water planet and the water in the air proved to be just as activating for the moisture test strips as any water in brake fluid might be. Secondly, there is no basis or standard for changing brake fluid based on moisture or water levels. That means there is no way to fail brake fluid using the test anyway.

The only brake fluid test strip currently on the market is not even designed to test for water, so there is literally no comparison. BrakeStrip™ or StripDip® test strips use FASCAR® technology and are designed first and foremost to test for copper in brake fluid. FASCAR® means copper test.

Boiling point testers measure water in brake fluid. FASCAR® test strips measure for signs of internal ABS corrosion in the form of suspended copper ions in brake fluid.

Boiling Point Advocate Claims

Boiling point advocates claim that strips are more expensive. But let’s look at that math. They claim a boiling point machine only costs $400, but strips can cost several thousand dollars over the course of a year. True! What they don’t tell is that a single tube of test strips costs about fifty dollars and frequently generates over $1000 in flush business for the average shop that uses them.

An independent study* reveals copper testing is 35 times more effective at identifying vehicles that require a brake flush than moisture testing. The study tested brake fluid in 469 vehicles for boiling point and copper levels. Copper testing discovered a brake fluid flush was required for 208 of the 469 vehicles tested. Only six vehicles had a boiling point below the minimum wet DOT 3 boiling point for new brake fluid.

How Much is Your Moisture Tester Costing?

In the most blunt terms, using any boiling point or moisture tester to sell a brake flush is a waste of your valuable time and resources. Let’s use the above test results as an example.

For about $.50 per test, the Brake Strip™ copper test provides you the opportunity to sell 208 brake flushes. And using the Brake Strip™ system, you could experience results similar to what other Brake Strip™ users report, as much as $8,320 in brake flush sales. Now that’s a great return!

You do the math; it's obvious to see that using moisture testing is costing you money. Your boiling point tester could have cost you over $8,000 in brake flush sales using this example.

What’s the Big Deal about Copper Anyway?

Recent government research** conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed that copper can form deposits around the sealing surfaces of ABS valves, which means your car may take longer to stop in a panic situation. Other research finds that copper levels in the brake fluid are the best indicators that the fluid's corrosion inhibitors are losing their punch and major corrosion is just around the corner. MAP puts the red-flag level of copper at 200 parts per million. Anything above, flush.

Fortunately, with FASCAR technology you can now test for signs of internal corrosion in Anti-Lock Braking Systems. Testing for water answers no questions whatsoever about the level of corrosion present in any brake system; it simply tells you the boiling point of brake fluid and remember there are no standards anywhere for changing brake fluid based on boiling point anyway.

Important Questions

Any debate over testing for water versus copper really comes down to several questions:

1. “Which method is most effective in helping technicians and consumers prevent internal corrosion from occurring in vehicle ABS components?”

In addition to the research used to develop FASCAR technology, testing conducted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and National Institute for Standards & Technology(NIST) confirmed copper as the most prevalent compound in ABS fluid leading up to the onset of active corrosion; corrosion that ultimately led to a series of unexplained ABS failures across the country that these agencies originally set out to investigate.

2. “How do you know when to fail brake fluid?”

There are no guidelines for service based on moisture. And it is not supported by vehicle or brake fluid manufactures. The only guideline for brake fluid is based on copper.

In May of 2005, the Motorist Assurance Program (MAP) made history by adopting the first automotive standard and guideline for brake fluid replacement. The MAP guideline acknowledges that testing copper levels in brake fluid is the most effective means for determining when corrosion inhibitors have become depleted and when brake fluid should be replaced. MAP evaluated over five years of FASCAR field testing, the NHTSA commissioned study, as well as a number of reports published by the Society of Automotive Engineers as the technical basis to require that when copper levels in brake fluid exceed 200 parts per million (ppm) the fluid should be replaced.

3. “If safety is an issue, which method provides safer vehicles?”

Look at the simple facts, if copper testing identifies 35 times a many vehicles that require a brake flush, then 35 times as many vehicles will have safer brake fluid if brake fluid service is performed. If safety is a concern, the copper testing is the clear answer.

4. “Which method of testing brake fluid is the most profitable for service facilities?”

A copper test is quick and easy and has the potential to identify 35 times as many vehicles requiring a brake flush. From start to finish the test takes less than 60 seconds, compared to several minutes using a boiling point tester. The test strips never break and never need to be calibrated. Your auto service technician simply dips the strip in the brake fluid and compares the color to determine the copper level. If the strip turns purple, you've got a copper problem and a brake flush service is required.

The strip maintains it color for over a month, providing proof the service was required. Many shops give the strip to the customer or staple the strip to the work order. Customers love the simplicity of the test.

The Brake Strip™ test is the only one of its kind and considered to be the most accurate method available today for determining when to replace brake fluid.

Is There Really a Debate?

So when all is said and done, one can quickly begin to appreciate that the debate initiated by water testing advocates is no debate at all.
  • Copper testing helps to prevent internal corrosion of the brake system
  • Copper plating can actually interfere with ABS components
  • The only brake fluid standard is based on copper
  • Copper can identify 35 times as many vehicles that require brake fluid service
  • Copper testing provides safer vehicles
Copper, the undisputed champion!

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