So that grating brake squeak you’ve been trying to ignore for weeks now has finally tested your limits of sanity; not to mention you’re tired of all the embarrassing stares you get from other drivers who have to listen to you stop next to them in traffic. But your local auto shop is asking $100+ per/axle on replacing them…and your dealership is asking $150+, and so you’re torn between getting fleeced for the work or continuing to tolerate the incessant screeching. Why not save some money and do it yourself? In fact, changing one’s brake pads is one of the easier cost-saving, self-maintenance a car owner can do.
I think the main factor causing people to hesitate changing their own brakes is location on the car. Since the work to be done isn’t in the more familiar engine compartment and requires a jack, people may reason it must require expert skills. Not so.
STEP 1: Get New Pads
Brake pads, like all car parts, come cheap or expensive. A local shop would probably go somewhere between cheap to moderate – dealership would go OEM. Though OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer – "how it came from the factory") parts aren’t as critical here, I still recommend them. Most sites have OEM designations for your convenience. Check out places like www.rockauto.com and www.autopartswarehouse.com
STEP 2: Set Up Work Area
Space, light, and proper tools are key. I recommend some additional lighting such as work lights. As for tools, your car should’ve come with the basic tools to jack and remove your wheels (refer to manual). A basic wrench set, screwdriver, and maybe pliers should round out the cache. The only pseudo-specialized tool you’ll need is a caliper piston spreader. This task can just as easily be accomplished by a simple C-clamp (see below) – and it’ll save you a few bucks. Wear some latex gloves and save yourself a few days of having grease in your fingernails.
STEP 3: Remove Wheel
Make sure you refer to your owner’s manual for lifting your vehicle, unless you have a pneumatic lift in which case just make sure you find a nice place to jack it up such as the rear differential in this case. Add some wheel chocks on the tires still touching the ground to be safe.
STEP 4: Remove Caliper
The caliper housing is what holds your brake pads in place and pushes them to your rotor as the pads wear down. You must remove the two caliper housing bolts holding the housing in place. They are located on the left and right side of the housing. They may be tight and/or rusted so give em some oomph. Spray some graphite lubricant if needed. Removing the caliper may require some oomph as well. Use a rubber mallet to loosen it if it's real stuck.
STEP 5: Replace Pads and Sensor
With the caliper removed, we can just slide out the old pads and replace them with the new ones. Some newer cars have brake pad wear sensors that need to be replaced as well (white wire in these pictures). It is recommended you use proper lubricants on the caliper housing bolts and anti-seize compound on the new pads before replacement.
STEP 6: Reset Caliper Piston
Since your caliper piston kept the worn down pads in place, you’ll need to push it back in. Use the C-clamp as shown to get it flush again with the housing, so the caliper piston can be reset to fit the wider width of the new brake pads.
STEP 7: Reinstall Components
Put everything back together as you took it apart. Don’t forget to attach the pad wear sensor wire if one is present. Be careful when putting the tire back on and make sure you remember to tighten all the bolts.
*It’s best to replace one or both axle’s worth of brake pads at once. Don’t just replace one set on one wheel.
There’s a plethora of online tutorials out there on how to do things like this…so if you’re really hesitant just prop your laptop on a chair next to you wherever you do this for instant reference.
STEP X: Stop Paying Other People to Do a Job You Can Do Yourself!
Gaining self-dependent skills like this, especially helpful mechanical skills, will greatly benefit you and your family in the coming post-apocalyptic world. Do it for them.