How to Replace Brake Pads

Knowing how to replace brake pads cannot only save you money; it could save your life. Brake pads are crucial to your car's ability to stop, making them arguably the most important parts on your car. On a front-wheel drive car, 90% of your brake pad replacements will be on the front brakes.

Replacing Brake Pads

  • By the book. A service manual will make your life easier when it comes to replacing brake pads. Attachment systems vary by manufacturer and a service manual will tell you the exact way to uninstall your brake pads and how to install new ones.
  • Going up. Block the tires on the wheels you won't be working on, so the car won't slip off the jack. Loosen the lug nuts on the appropriate wheels. Jack the car up and place it on the jack stands. Remove the wheels.
  • Before you begin. Using brake cleaner, remove dust and grime from the brake area. Be careful not to breathe brake dust. While working on one wheel, leave the other wheel assembled for reference. Also, loosen the cap on the master cylinder reservoir located in the engine compartment to relieve pressure during the replacement process.
  • Remove caliper. Your brake pads are controlled by a part called a caliper. On most cars, you'll need to remove the caliper to access the brake pads. The caliper is bolted to the wheel assembly. Loosen the caliper mounting bolts and remove the caliper. NOTE: The caliper is connected to a flexible tube that carries the brake fluid. Place or hang the caliper (using bailing wire) out of the way so the brake fluid hose doesn't become loose or damaged.
  • Remove pads. Remove the pads, noting carefully the position of the pads and any tabs, shims or restraining clips. Here's where a service manual comes in handy.
  • Inspect the rotor. While the caliper and pads are removed, check the status of the brake rotor (the shiny wheel that fits inside the caliper). If the rotor is dull, scored or has a haze on its surface, it will need to be replaced or refinished.
  • Reset the piston. As the brake pads wear down, the caliper piston expands to hold them in place. The piston will need to be compressed to its original position before the new brake pads can be installed. While some pistons can be compressed using a c-clamp, others need to be screwed back into position using a special tool. Check your service manual for details. NOTE: While compressing the caliper piston, be sure to keep an eye on the brake fluid level and remove some fluid if the reservoir looks like it might overflow.
  • Install the new pads. Put the new pads in place, replacing any clips or shims and making sure that tabs are properly aligned. You may want to put a coating of brake grease on the outside of the brake pads to limit noise later. Make sure not to get any grease on the rotor side of the brake pads-if you do, be sure to remove it with brake cleaner.
  • Re-install the caliper. Carefully return the caliper to its original position and secure it by tightening the mounting bolts. Now you can move on to the other wheel.
  • Breaking new pads in. Before you take your car out on the road, gently depress and release the brake pedal a few times to reset the caliper pistons. Once the pistons are set, repeatedly use the brakes slowly while traveling at a low (under 25mph) rate of speed. After a couple of dozen stops, the new brake pads will be properly seated and burnished for normal driving.
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