So you have decided you want to change your brake pads yourself and now you need to know what steps to take. This article will explain what you need to do in order to change the brake pads on a car with disc brakes (which is almost all vehicles these days). First off, you need to determine if it is time to change you brake pads. In order to do that you should first take a look at the pads themselves. Often times you can do this by looking in between the spokes of your rim on your vehicles’ wheels. Other times it is necessary to remove the tire in order to be able to see the pad depth. The illustration below shows where you can find the brake pads. If the brake pad is about ¼ inch thick or less, then it’s a good time to replace them. If it’s less than 1/8 inch, then it’s critical that you change the brake pads as soon as possible to avoid damage to the vehicles’ rotors.
Once you’ve decide that it is time to replace the brake pads you’ll need to purchase a brake pad kit. These can be located at your local auto parts store or the links provided on this page. Depending on your specific vehicle, the kit will typically include new brake pads, new mounting bolts, metal brake pad clips, and brake pad grease. Now it’s time to get to work.
List of what you’ll need:
1. Brake pad kit
2. Wooden blocks to block off the wheels from rolling
4. Two jack stands
6. Metal wire coat hanger or other thick metal wire
7. Torque wrench (Optional)
Safety is the most important thing to remember when working on your vehicle. It’s also a good idea to only do two of the wheels at a time. If you need to change the brake pads on all four wheels, complete two of them before moving onto the next two. First make sure the vehicle is in gear (or park if it’s an automatic) and the emergency brake is on. You’ll want to put wooden blocks in the front and back of the two wheels you aren’t changing the pads on. This is to prevent the car from rolling once it’s jacked up. Now if your vehicle has hub caps or any other covering over the lug nuts (or the bolts holding the wheels on) take that off first. Now loosen all the bolts holding the two wheels on about one turn each.
After the bolts are loosened you’ll need to jack up your vehicle. Since you are only doing two wheels at a time (either the front two or the rear two) you will only need to jack up the half of the car you are going to work on. See your owner’s manual for your vehicle to see the best area to jack the car up at as to not cause damage underneath the car. Now that the vehicle is jacked up place two jack stands underneath the car and lower the vehicle down so the weight of the car is shared between the jack and the two jack stands. This is done for extra safety because now you effectively have three different ways in which the car is being supported so it is far less likely to fall.
Now you can pick the wheel you are going to start on and take off all the lug nuts for that vehicle. Put the lug nuts somewhere they won’t get lost as you’ll need them to put the wheel back on after you’ve completed the brake job. Once the lug nuts are off you should be able to slide the wheel straight off the wheel studs. If the wheel won’t come off easily try smacking the wheel with a rubber mallet or giving it a firm kick with your foot. This will break the wheel loose and allow it to slide off easily. Once the wheel is off you should have a good view of the brake rotor, caliper assembly, and pads.
At this point it’s best to check the rotor for any damage. A damaged rotor will have heavy scratches or “grooves” worn in it from the studs in the brake pads grinding away the rotor. This will only happen if the vehicle is continuously driven after the brake pads have been worn out completely. Very small scratches are normal but if you are able to catch your fingernail on any of the scratches it’s probably damaged and should be repaired or replaced. Brake rotor’s can be “turned” by your local machine shop or auto parts store for a small fee. Turning your rotor smoothes out the smaller grooves that may be present due to a lesser degree of neglect. If the groove(s) are too deep then you’ll need to replace the rotors with new ones. See the links on this page for ideas on where to get them or see your local auto parts store.
Ok so your car is jacked up, the wheel is off, and your brake rotor isn’t overly damaged. Your next step is to remove the brake caliper assembly. Before you do, locate the brake line. This is usually rubber hose that runs from your wheel well into the brake caliper. This hose carries brake fluid to and from the brake caliper. If this hose bends too much it can split or break. In order to avoid that, take your wire coat hanger (or other thick metal wire), straighten it out, and secure it to something in the top area of the wheel well. Have the other end of this wire hanging close to the brake caliper because once you take off the caliper you’ll want to hang it from the wire as to take the pressure off the rubber hose. Do NOT let the rubber hose bend or flex more than needed and never let the weight of the brake caliper hang from this hose or you will likely cause damage.
There are two long bolts securing the caliper in place. Loosen these two bolts and you’ll be able to wiggle the caliper lose and slide it off of the rotor. Sometimes it’s necessary to give the caliper a light tap with a rubber mallet to break it loose. Now secure the wire around the caliper so it can hang freely from the wire and not put stress on the rubber hose. At this point look at the caliper and the brake pads and take note with how the pads are positioned in the caliper. You’ll need to put the new pads in the same way. Take the brake pads out making note of how you do this. Usually there will be some small metal clips that are holding the brake pads in place. If this is the case, bend this back carefully and remove the pads one at a time.
Now you should have the caliper hanging from the metal wire with the brake pads removed. You’re almost done! Now there is usually one (sometimes two) metal pistons in the brake caliper that needs to be depressed down. It will usually be a circular metal piece that pushed against the back of the brake pad. This is what squeezes the pad against the rotor to slow your vehicle down. You’ll need to get this piston to depress back into the caliper in order to make room for the new (and thicker) brake pads. First try pressing this down into the brake caliper assembly by applying pressure with your hands until the piston is flat with the caliper. Often times this won’t work as you need to apply a lot of pressure. If you can’t get the piston to depress back inside the brake caliper with your bare hands try using a large C-clamp or channel lock pliers (and a rag so you don’t do damage to the piston).
Now follow the directions that came with the brake pad kit in order to prep the pads. Usually you apply the provided brake grease onto the back of both pads and then put the metal clips (usually provided with your brake pad kit) onto the pads. Now you clip the brake pads back into the brake calipers the same way in which the old ones were positioned.
Once the pads are in the caliper, make sure the metal wire is off the caliper and place it back onto the rotor. Once your caliper is back on, line it up with the bracket it came off of and put the bolts back in. Before you tighten the bolts down it’s a good idea you use a torque wrench and tighten these bolts down to the manufactures recommended torque ratings. Look online, or call the manufacturer for these numbers. Once it’s back on, place the wheel back onto the wheel studs and tighten up the lug nuts. Again, it’s a good idea to tighten them the right amount by using a torque wrench and tightening them to the recommended specifications. Now you’re done with that wheel! Follow the same steps on all the other wheels in which you are changing the brake pads on until you are finished.
Before you drive the vehicle for the first time, pump the brake pedal two or three times to seat the pads onto the rotor. When you move the car for the first time drive very slow at first and test the brakes a few times. Make sure they are working properly before taking your car out onto the street. It’s normal to hear a small amount of scratching or grinding in the brakes for the first day while the pads get fully seated onto the rotors. That’s it; you’ve now completed a brake pad replacement job yourself and saved a ton of money in labor in the mean time!