Do-It-Yourself Guide to Master Cylinder Replacement for Your Brakes

How do you know if you need a new master cylinder? Most of the time, if a brake component needs replacing, it leaves a trail to follow. This trail is made of stinky brake fluid. That's the good news. Following a trail of brake fluid will usually lead you to a current or future brake problem. There are lots of brake components that can go bad. You've got wheel cylinders, master cylinders, discs, boosters, ABS systems, and even brake pads. Any of these things can make your brakes more exciting than you ever hoped. Excitement is not something we want out of our brakes.

If you think you need to replace your master cylinder, check out our brake troubleshooting checklist to be sure it is necessary.

What You'll Need

  • Open end or box wrenches
  • Line or flare wrenches
  • Screwdrivers
  • Small pry bar or throwaway screwdriver
  • Turkey baster
  • New or rebuilt master cylinder
  • Brake cleaner
  • Brake fluid
  • Brake lube
  • Safety glasses
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Clean up Before You Start

Master cylinder and brake lines
All of this gunk needs to be gone before you start the job.


Before you start wrenching on your braking system, you need to thoroughly clean all of the parts involved. The inside of a brake system is very sensitive to dirt and debris. Even the smallest piece can cause wear and malfunction. Spray the master cylinder, brake lines, and other components liberally with brake cleaner. Let it soak and do it again. If it's extra gooey in there, you might need to steal your kid's toothbrush to take care of it. No matter how you do it, be sure the area is clean before you even remove the brake fluid cap.

Once you've got everything spic-n-span, remove the fluid reservoir cap and suck the old brake fluid out with your turkey baster. Don't worry about getting every drop; you're just making the next steps a little cleaner.

Note: Brake fluid can severely damage automotive paint, so keep it off the car!

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Loosen the Brake Lines

Flare wrench loosening the brake lines
Loosen the brake lines, but don't remove them just yet.


If your car has a "low brake fluid" sensor in the fluid reservoir cap or any other wiring (such as ABS) on the master cylinder, unplug them.

Now take your line wrench and loosen all four brake lines at the master cylinder, but don't unscrew them all the way yet! You want to leave them in there just a little bit. You'll see why in the next steps.

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Unbolt the Master Cylinder

Brake master cylinder bolts
Remove the brake master cylinder bolts.


With the brake lines loosened but not removed, you can remove the bolts that hold the master cylinder in place. It's usually bolted to a brake booster of some shape or size, but you can look at your new master cylinder to see exactly what you should be removing.

With the master cylinder bolts removed, you can lift the master cylinder up slightly (if needed) and remove the four brake lines. We left them screwed in slightly because often you aren't able to pull them all the way out because of shock tower clearance. It's not fun having to rethread all the brake lines so that you can get them out enough to remove.

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Retrieve the Rear Master Cylinder Seal

Pushrod for brakes
Remove the rear master cylinder seal.


With the master cylinder removed you'll be able to see the rod that pushes the piston in the master cylinder. If it didn't come off with the master cylinder, there will also be a seal around the pushrod. Remove this seal. If your master cylinder came with a new seal, you'd be replacing it. If not, clean it up for reuse. It still needs to come out temporarily.

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Reinstall and Wrapping Up

New master cylinder installed
The new master cylinder is ready for action.


Now that you've removed the old master cylinder, you're ready to install the new part. But before you do, it's a good idea to bench bleed the master cylinder. It's much easier to get the air out now than later.

It goes in just like it came out, so in the words of service manuals around the world, "installation is the reverse of removal."

Once the new part is installed, you'll need to add new brake fluid (never try to reuse the old stuff) and bleed the brakes. Now you're ready to go!