How to Change Out Your Brake Pads

Published: 29th August 2012
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Braking is the single most important action that your car performs. It doesn't matter how fast your car can accelerate in however many seconds. A beast of a machine that can do 0-60mph in less than 4 seconds can be the most awesome way to put yourself into a wall if your brakes don't work properly. As important as this function is, our brakes sometimes fail, usually due to neglect.
In order to make sure that your brakes always work, you must maintain maximum friction pad depth to insure full performance of the braking system. In other words, you have to change your brake pads. Before you change them, you need to know what kind of brakes you have. There are two different types of braking systems: disc brakes and drum brakes. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but we won't get into that. You just need to know that, on most cars, disc brakes are on the front and drum brakes are on the back. And since 90% of the brake pads that you'll ever change in your life will be on the front; that will be our area of focus.
Disc brakes are the most effective system for stopping a vehicle. They utilize a caliper to apply the brake pads on either side of the rotor to halt wheel motion. Unless blocked by wheel rims, you can see them through the spokes on your wheels. This is the first way that you can tell if you need to do a brake reline. If the pads are less than 1/4 inch thick, you'll need to replace them soon. If they're less than 1/8 inch thick, get out the tools right then and there. The other way to tell that you need to reline your brakes is by listening to them. Noise-making devices are built into the pads to let you know when they need changing. If you hear a screeching sounds when you apply the brakes, you're due for a reline. If it sounds more like metal scraping metal, you've probably already damaged your rotor and need to replace the pads immediately if not the rotor as well.
First, you need a basic tool kit, a tire iron, a jack and jack stands and new brake pads. Consult your owner's manual on what kind your vehicle needs. Once you have all of those things, we can begin.
Park your car on flat, smooth ground, preferably in the shade. This procedure will take a while.
Once it is in park with the parking brake on, block off the tires and loosen the lug nuts on your wheels with the tire iron. Don't take the lugs nuts all of the way off.
Jack up your car and move the jack stands into place. Release the car slowly off of the jack and onto the jack stands. Make sure that they are in good condition and working properly. Your hands will be under the car. Do this for both sides so that you can change both front brake pads without having to jack up the car twice. The front end is what we're after, so make sure both jack stands are set to equal heights and focused at the front of the vehicle.
Once the car is up, remove the wheels. Work on one wheel at a time and use the other as a reference to ensure a proper rebuild. The caliper is designed to squeeze the brake pads against the rotor in order to create friction and halt motion. The brake pads hover on either side of the metal plate. They attach to the inside of the caliper with either clips, bolts or both. The rotor is the shiny metal disc that you should be able to see yourself in. If the surface of the rotor is not even vaguely shiny, it should be serviced or replaced.Remove the bolts holding the caliper in place. Slide it out and away from the rotor gently. Now inspect the inside of the caliper. The pads will be held in place by a bolt or a series of clips. Remove the bolts, or clips, and remove the pads. Inspect the pads for excessive wearing to help you define the amount of wear on the rotor. If they're worn all the way to the bolt, look for excessive scarring and scoring on the rotor. Run your fingernails along the surface of the rotor, careful to make sure that it's not still hot. If the rotor has any grooves in it at all, it must be replaced. If you're short on money, a mechanic can "turn" the motor for you; this is shaving off the metal until it's once again smooth and shiny. However, this is not recommended because it reduces the rotors thermal capacity and may shorten your brakes lifespan. If your rotor is fine, let's move on.
Remove the pads from the caliper. Use a small amount of grease to lubricate the BACK of the new brake pads. This grease goes between the metal plate that attached to the caliper and the back of the pads. If you skip this, you'll hear an unearthly screeching every time you apply the brakes. Once you've lubed the back of the pad, attach it and the metal plate back to the caliper.

  • Now, you pretty much just put everything back. Be sure to gently replace the parts, as the rotor and other parts of your braking system are semi-sensitive.


    Brake relining can be one of the single most important pieces of maintenance that you can provide to your vehicle. If you're unsure of how to complete this procedure correctly, take it to a professional. As I said at the outset, braking is the single most important action that your car performs. Proper replacement of your braking systems components is essential to avoiding emergency roadside assistance.

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