1. To change car brakes, you need:

    • new brake pads–consult your owner’s manual for the right kind
    • socket wrench & appropriate socket (try them), extra leverage if needed (a pipe or breaker bar)
    • a lift, or a jack and jackstands
    • hex wrench or screwdriver if there are screws on the caliper holding the pads on–have them on hand just in case
    • c-clamp

    Note: I’m only going to talk about disc brakes, because they’re pretty user-friendly. Drum brakes are ridiculously complicated, and should be serviced by a professional.

    1. Lift up your vehicle. If you’re using a jack, close the nut and place the bar in the lever. Pump up and down until you can place the jack stand under the car, just behind the wheel. Remove the bar from the lever and loosen the nut on the jack.
    2. Take off the wheel. Take apart only one wheel (and one brake) at a time. Use your socket wrench to remove alternate nuts all the way around until you have them all off. You might need some extra leverage if they are rusty. Set them aside in a safe place.
    3. You’ll see a big disc with a huge thing bolted to it. The disc is the rotor and the huge thing is the caliper. From now on, I will use these more specific terms. Using your socket wrench, remove the bolts from the caliper. Put those in a safe place, too. Take off the caliper. As long as the caliper is off, DO NOT depress your brake pedal.
    4. There are pistons on the caliper. Take a look. If your caliper comes apart, or you only have pistons on one side, this next bit will be easy. Put one side of your clamp against the brake pad (or both brake pads if it doesn’t come apart and you only have pistons on one side) and the other on the outside of the caliper. Tighten the clamp. Repeat for each piston. If your caliper doesn’t come apart and you have pistons on both sides, try pressing on the brake pad with a flat screwdriver or crowbar. Your pistons need to be pushed all the way back so you can reassemble the disc later. Remove the C-clamp and set it aside.
    5. Your brake pads might be held in by screws (or a hex bolt covering a screw). Remove the screws, if they exist. Once screwless, the pads should just fall out. Put these screws in a safe place, maybe near all your other loose hardware.
    6. Now is a good time to inspect the rotor. Look for a bluish tinge, scorch marks, or melted brake pad material. If any of these are present, your rotor may be warped, scratched, or dented–this creates a hot spot that decreases brake performance. If all you see is a bluish tinge, clean it with brake cleaner and check it again the next time you change your brake pads or rotate your tires. If scorching or melted brake material is present, you should take your rotor to a mechanic or buy an entire new rotor. Repair for this kind of damage is not something that can be done at home.
    7. Insert your new brake pads. They should be facing the same way as the ones you just took out. If there were screws, put them back in.
    8. Bolt the caliper to the rotor, just as it was before you took it apart. You may now depress the brake pedal safely and without making a ton of additional work for yourself. Do so. Pump the brake until it feels tight, like a brake that is working. You may need to "bleed" your brake line to achieve this. If so, find the small nut on the caliper. It should look a bit like the outlet on an oil pan. Loosen it. You’re going to need an extra person for the next part. Pump the brake bedal until a straight stream of brake fluid comes out of the brake line. You’ve now removed the air from your brake lines. Tighten the nut again.
    9. You’re almost done. Put the wheel back on. Put the nuts back on the same way you took them off, alternating until they are all on and snug.
    10. Lift your vehicle on the jack again. Remove the jack stand. Lower the jack. Repeat until you’ve changed all the brakes, then test drive your vehicle. Nothing should fall off, and you should have no extra parts–only the discarded brake pads.

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