- Brake Pads
- Socket Set
- Brake Cleaner
- Scotch-Brite Pad
- Zip Ties
- Breaker Bar
- C-Clamp Piston Compressor
- High Temp Grease
Changing your brake pads and rotors can save you a couple hundred bucks and a trip to the mechanic shop. Here’s what you’ll need to complete the job: brake pads, screwdriver, socket set, brake cleaner, grease, Scotch-Brite pad, gloves, zip ties, breaker bar, rotor, C-clamp, and high temp grease. I’m Larry Kosilla, pro detailer and trainer for the last 15 years.
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How often should you change brake pads and rotors? – Depends on the type of vehicle you drive, the pad material, and how hard you drive the car. Some of our race cars go through a set of brake pads in one day. Some of the procedures you’re about to see will vary from vehicle to vehicle. Consult a shop manual or an online resource for your specific car. Brake pads have a squealer that tells the driver when replacement is necessary.
Some are metal and make noise; while some are electronic and trigger a warning light. Be sure you’re replacement pads have this feature as this is vital to your safety. For step one, Joe turns the steering wheel to give me easy access to the front and back of the brakes. Then, we remove the slide pins, which hold the caliper on the rotors. This may require an Alan key, torque, or other special socket, depending on your particular vehicle. If the pin happens to be rusty, you can use penetrative oil and a breaker bar, which is basically a longer ratchet, giving you more leverage to easily loosen the bolt.
Some calipers have a spring retention clip that may need to be popped off with a screwdriver. Next, remove the caliper, and use a screwdriver if needed, especially if it’s rusted. Then, slide the old brake pads out. It’s a good idea to hook a zip tie through the caliper and connect it to the shock, so it’s not resting solely on the brake lines, which will damage the rubber and cause it to leak.
In order to remove the rotor, you first need to completely remove the caliper holder with two rear bolts. Now, remove the rotor from the hub, but on some cars there’s a screw holding it in place, like this one here. At this point of the rotor won’t come off, and especially if you’re not reusing it, you can gently hit it with a hammer to quickly remove it from the hub.
Afterwards, scrub the hub with a Scotch-Brite pad or a wire brush. So the new rotor can sit flush on the hat. Before installing the new rotor, wash it quickly with brake clean, to remove its protective coating applied from the factory to protect it in shipping. Then add a bit of high temp grease to prevent the rotor from sticking to the hub the next time we change them. Hand tighten a lug nut to hold the rotor in place, or in our case, a screw is used to hold the rotor on the hat.
Next, clean the caliper holder quickly with a Scotch-Brite pad, and add a little bit of grease to the areas where the outer metal shims touches the caliper and the piston. This is done to help minimize squeaking and potential seizing in the future. If you’re using original equipment that came with the car, then your torque specs will be in your manual. However, if you’re using aftermarket parts, the bolts and the type of threading may be different, so consult your manufacturer for specific torque specs.
Apply grease or high temp silicone to the slide pins to help them, well, slide in and out smoothly as the brakes are compressed and released. We’ll need them in a minute, so put they close by. Now it’s time to put the new brake pads in the caliper. But since the new pads are thicker than the old pads, we need to compress the hydraulic piston back into the caliper, so they fit properly. You can do this in two different ways.
Any basic C clamp that fits in the bottom of the piston and simply twist, or this inexpensive piston compressor. Place the tool in the caliper, squeeze the handle, and compress the piston until it’s flush against the housing. By doing this, we’ve created more room in the caliper for the new thicker brake pads to fit over the rotors. Before installing the new brake pads add grease to the back of each pad prior to placing it in the caliper for a smooth and squeak free movement.
The pad with the metal clip on the back snaps into the piston connected to the caliper. And sometimes this can take a bit of force to clip in. Try to avoid touching the friction side of the pads with greasy hands. With the pads in place, snip the caliper zip tie, and hold the weight from tugging on the brake line. Carefully place the caliper over the rotor and the other pad. Once in place, install the slide pins we lubricated earlier and torque them down to your vehicle’s spec.
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This is an extremely important step; you don’t want the bolts too loose or too tight. If you’re unsure, call your local parts department for advice. Some, but not all calipers have an extra metal clip to secure the pads and the calipers in place. Likewise, if your car has an electronic brake pad sensor, like this modern car, clip them in now. Once you’ve finished all four corners, and reinstalled the wheels, be sure to gently apply the brakes at first when driving, known as betting the brakes.
To do this properly, get the car up to 35 miles an hour, and slowly apply the brakes until you get to about 10 miles an hour. Then, speed up to 35 again, and repeat the process a few more times. Avoid hard braking at first, to keep from glazing the pads and rotors. The goal here is to gradually build up heat in the rotors and the pad compound, which will lay down a thin layer of film on the rotors surface, for better performance, and ultimately smoother braking for the life of the pads. The brakes of any car are it’s the most important feature and should be given special care and attention to ensure the proper safety of its passengers and our fellow drivers on the road.