There will come a point in every car owner's life where you will need to have your vehicle’s brakes serviced. But learning how to change your brakes can be a daunting learning curve.
Considering that the front brakes can provide up to 75% of the total braking power for a vehicle, they do tend to be changed out more often. If you drive your fair share of “stop and go” traffic, have a vehicle that often carries a heavy load or live at the top of a hill, a front brake pad replacement can come around quicker and more often than one would think.
In my experience, most drivers should be able to go through two sets of brake pads before it is time to replace the rotors. You can test this by applying the brakes on the vehicle and if you do not experience a pulsation or shaking in the steering wheel or brake pedal, well then you should be able to move forward with only replacing the front brake pads.*
*Of course, it is always a good idea to visually inspect the quality of the rotors at the same time you are performing any brake service and replace it if needed.
Tools You'll Need To Change Your Brakes
- 3/8in ratchet
- 1/2in ratchet
- 10mm - 19mm 3/8in 6point socket set
- 19mm or 21mm 1/2in socket (most vehicles use 19 or 21mm for lugnuts however some vehicles can use 17mm, 22mm or 22.5mm)
- caliper piston compressor tool (or a C clamp)
- Wire brush
- Small flathead screwdriver or pick (to assist in removing brake hardware)
- Floor Jack
- 2 X Safety Jack Stands
- 2 X Tire chocks (or a couple of pieces of cut-up 2x4)
Step-by-step: Replacing Your Brake Pads
Let's get started by first lifting the front of the vehicle then securing it on safety jack stands.
With your vehicle on level ground, chock the rear tires in both the front and back of the wheel and engage your parking brake so the vehicle doesn't move while you are lifting the front end.
Locate the jack point under your vehicle and position the jack under to lift the vehicle off the ground. If you are unsure where to put your jack or jack stands, check your owner's manual for the correct jack points.
If you are using hand tools versus power-assisted tools, break loose the lug nuts before lifting the tires off the ground. This will make the process much easier.
Use a safety jack stand to safely secure the vehicle in the air.
*** DO NOT RELY ONLY ON THE FLOOR JACK TO HOLD THE VEHICLE OFF THE GROUND***
Repeat steps 2 through 3 for the opposite side of the vehicle.
Now it's time to remove the front wheels!
Using a ½ in ratchet, pneumatic or electric impact gun along with the appropriate socket, remove all the lug nuts for both tires.*
*I always recommend sliding the tires under the vehicle. In the event, a safety jack stand fails the tires can help keep the vehicle from falling to the ground completely and helping at preventing injury.
Now we need to remove the Disc brake caliper, brake pads, and hardware.
Locate the caliper bracket bolts and remove them using the appropriate socket with a ⅜ ratchet. Be mindful when breaking loose any nuts or bolts as the initial torque to break them loose may result in pinched fingers between the ratchet and other components.
It doesn't matter if this is your first time turning wrenches or if you've been in the field for 20 years, pinched fingers happen to us all.
Remove the caliper from the bracket. I like to use chicken wire or a bungee cord to hang the caliper from the upper control arm or coil spring leaving any tension off the rubber brake hose preventing any damage to the hydraulic system.
Remove the Brake pads and hardware from the caliper bracket. Clean off the surface under hardware with a wire brush.
Remove caliper sliders from bracket
Installing new hardware, brake pads and lubing caliper sliders.
Remove old grease from caliper sliders and apply fresh grease.
The easiest way to remove the old grease is with a clean rag. Once cleaned off you can scoop one finger of all-purpose grease onto the slider covering it completely.
Install freshly lubed caliper sliders into caliper bracket and move the slider in and out to make sure it moves smoothly. Wipe off any excess grease that pushes out of the slider dust boot.
Install new hardware to the bottom and top of the caliper bracket.
Install outside and inside brake pads.
Collapsing the caliper piston.
Break loose the caliper bleeder valve and use a drain pan (or hell, why not a Grypmat) under the caliper to catch brake fluid.
Using a caliper piston compressor or a large "C" clamp, push the piston back into the caliper.
***Place old brake pad in front of caliper piston to ensure the pressure is applied evenly to the piston.***
Close the caliper bleeder valve.
Installing the Caliper
Install the caliper onto the caliper bracket.
Install caliper bolts by hand first, then tighten up with a ⅜ ratchet with the appropriate socket. Typically this bolt will be tightened to 20-25 ft-lbs.
The exact torque specs can be found in a Haynes or Chiltons service manual that is specific to your vehicle.
Now repeat steps 6 - 18 for the opposite side of your vehicle.
We're almost finished!
Install wheels and lug nuts back onto the vehicle. Always start the lug nuts by hand and snug them down tight. (the wheel will spin while in the air so we will torque them down once the tires are on the ground.)
Using the floor jack, remove the safety jack stands and lower the vehicle to the ground. Welcome back to earth!
Torque lug nuts to 100 ft-lbs and complete in a criss-cross pattern. Check your owner's manual for the torque setting for your specific lug nuts and torque each lugnut in a criss-cross pattern until they are all tight.
Repeat this process for each wheel.
Sit in the driver's seat and pump up the brake pedal until it feels firm.
Start the vehicle and pump the brake pedal again a few times to ensure the pedal continues to feel firm.
Take the vehicle for a test drive and test the front brakes.
Congratulations, you have successfully learned how to change your brakes on your car! How does it feel?
Whether it is time or money that you want to save by doing your own repairs or maybe you just want to pick up a new skill, this is definitely a great repair a car owner can tackle on their own. For most vehicles makes there are no specialty tools required and you might have everything you need already in your garage to replace your brakes.
"What the heck did you just say?" Glossary
Caliper Bracket - The caliper bracket is bolted to the steering knuckle over the disc brake rotor. The brake caliper is installed/bolted to this bracket.
Disc Brake Caliper - The disc brake caliper hoovers over the disc brake rotor while holding in place the disc brake pads. hydraulic fluid is used to push the piston inside of it out. The result is the caliper squeezing the inboard and outboard brake pads against the disc brake rotor.
Caliper Sliders - Caliper sliders are free floating pins that are inserted into the caliper bracket. the brake caliper is bolted to these pins. when the brakes are applied and the caliper squeezes the brake pedals, the sliders allow free movement of the caliper to ensure the brake pads are pressed evenly and firmly against the rotor.
Brake Pad Hardware - These are stamped pieces of metal that clip into the caliper bracket. the top and bottom of the brake pads make contact with the hardware to keep the brake pads firmly in place and at the same time allow them slide closer to the disc brake rotor as the brake pads wear down.
Caliper bleeder Valve - This valve is located at the top of the caliper. when loosened, air can escape the hydraulic brake system as well as brake fluid. This valve is opened when the brakes need to be bled or when the caliper piston needs to be collapsed.
Disc Brake Rotor - This circular disc is installed over the hub of the vehicle and rotates while the vehicle is moving. Rotors are typically made out of cast iron or steel. Higher performance vehicles may have ceramic or layered rotors.
Disc Brake Pad - The disc brake pad is is what makes contact with the brake rotor when you press the brake pedal. The most common brake pads are semi-metallic or ceramic.