Brakes are a vital part of every vehicle, and important for safety, but they’re also relatively easy to replace. This article will help walk you through a DIY brake job.
As part of their normal operation, the brakes on your car, truck, or crossover wear out with use — and on occasion, you’ll need to replace worn-out brake pads and brake rotors to ensure maximum stopping power.
Once you’ve determined that your brake pads and rotors are in need of replacement, it’s time to make plans to change them. Many drivers have a service center or brake shop handle the work, though some prefer to tackle this job themselves. Brakes are one of a vehicle’s most important components but a relatively simple design of the serviceable part of the braking system makes it a prime candidate for do-it-yourself replacement.
If you attempt to change your brakes on your own, you’ll first need the required parts. These include a new set of brake pads, brake rotors, and potentially an appropriate brake pad lubricant which may or may not be included in the packaging with your new brake pads.
You’ll also need the specific instructions for changing the brakes in your particular vehicle. The process of changing brake pads and rotors is highly similar between vehicles, but differences in the required steps, tools and techniques mean that backyard mechanics are best to fully understand every step of the job — and the tools needed for those steps — before beginning.
Look for step-by-step details on how to perform the brake job on your specific ride in an online owner’s forum, YouTube videos, or by obtaining a copy of your vehicle’s service manual.
Next, prep your workspace. You’ll need to lift the vehicle from the ground with a strong jack and a set of jack stands, while making sure to block the other wheels to prevent the vehicle from moving. Safety glasses, gloves and supplemental lighting should be on hand. Finally, get a rag or two and something comfortable to sit on.
Arrange the specific tools you’ll need within reach. These will vary by application, but most how-to guides list the specific wrenches, sockets, ratchets and other provisions you’ll require. If you’ve got one, an impact gun will make it easier to remove the vehicle’s wheels, exposing the brake system parts behind them, which is where you’ll be working.
From this point, precisely follow the instructions for your specific vehicle from start to finish. We’ll provide a few further tips and tricks to keep in mind as you work.
You’ll remove the clamp-like brake caliper by sliding it up and off of the brake rotor. The caliper has a rubber length of brake-line attached to it, which should not be strained — so plan to use a metal hook or rope to hold it up and out of the way, perhaps hanging on the coil spring above. If the caliper seems hard to remove by hand, a little help from a pry-bar may be required.
Next, you’ll need to remove the brake rotor. Sometimes, heat, friction, dirt and rust can make this process tricky as the rotor disc will be ‘stuck’ to the wheel-hub behind it. A few good strikes with a hammer will typically dislodge a sticky brake rotor, making it easier to slide it off. Some brake rotors have special provisions to make their removal easier, so check the how-to guide.
You’ll also need to compress the caliper pistons back into the caliper, to ensure it’ll fit over the new brake rotor during reinstallation. Usually, you’ll use a C-clamp to squeeze the pistons back into place, with an old brake pad between the clamp and piston for some protection of the piston surface. Be sure to remove the cap on the brake fluid reservoir for this step to prevent pressure damage to brake lines or seals within the system. Note that compressing some brake caliper pistons requires a special tool. Your how-to guide has the details.
Next up, you’ll need to follow the specific instructions for installing and lubricating the brake pads. From this point, the rest of the brake job mostly involves re-assembly of all removed components, though check your specific how-to guide for the details.
Two final notes.
First, with the brake job complete and the vehicle resting on its wheels, start the engine and pump the brakes several times to rebuild pressure. Within a few stomps on the brakes, feel should improve. Do NOT begin driving until you’ve confirmed that proper brake pedal feel and pressure have been restored.
Finally, remember that your new pads and rotors likely have a break-in procedure, which may require you to follow special steps on your first post-brake-job drive to set your new brakes up for a long life of use. Specific break-in instructions can be found in the documentation that came with your new parts.
All said, with a little time, information, some new parts and the right set of tools, changing your own brakes can be a relaxing weekend afternoon activity that’s educational and saves you money.