When it’s time to change the brakes, you can save a lot of money by replacing them yourself. Of course, you want to install them correctly and there are methods and best practices to follow so the new brakes parts and other parts don’t end up damaged and call for a costlier repair. This video and guide reviews how to change brake pads, rotors, the brake caliper, and more brake parts, and what not to do so you don’t have a problem after install.
How to Change Brake Pads, Rotors, the Brake Caliper, and More
Find out how to change the brake pads, brake rotors, brake calipers, brake lines, and brake fluid and what to look out for during the repair with these tips from our expert mechanic.
Brake Installation Tips for How to Replace Brake Pads, Brake Rotors, Brake Calipers, Brake Lines, and Brake Fluid
- How to Change Brake Pads: Make Sure the New Pads Are Similar to the Old Ones, Grease the Pads in the Right Areas, Position the Brake Pad Slides Correctly on a Cleaned Brake Caliper Bracket, and Put the Brake Pads on Correctly
Make Sure the New Brake Pads Are Similar to the Old Ones
Find out how to change the brake pads with the right replacement by checking and comparing the old brake pads with the new brake pads, and make sure sure they look similar. They may not look identical, but you want to make sure they are roughly the same size and that the ends of all the pads look the same.
Grease the Pads at the Ears
When installing the new brake pads, put brake grease on the brake pad tabs at the end of the each side of the brake pad. You can also place it on the back of the pad. Do not put it on the brake pad material. Also, if there is grease on your hands, try not to touch the brake pad material.
Clean the Brake Pad Slides/Anti-Rattle Clips and the Contact Points on the Brake Caliper Bracket
The brake pads sit in the brake caliper bracket, and it has pieces of metal called brake pad slides or anti-rattle clips. These keep the pads secure and from breaking loose and rattling around. If you place them on the caliper bracket incorrectly, they could rub against the rotor, and sometimes they are side-specific and can cause other issues if installed incorrectly. Make sure they are in the right area and not rubbing against the brake rotor.
If you want to reuse the anti-rattle clips, clean them with a wire brush and brake parts cleaner, or consider replacing them if they’re in bad condition. Sometimes new metal slides will come with new brake pads. Don’t throw them away or install the brake pads without them. They are an integral part of the braking system.
Clean any rust off the brake caliper bracket with a wire brush. The entire caliper does not have to be cleaned, but remove rust from contact areas like where the brake pad slides will sit. Otherwise the pads can stick in the bracket and the brake pad material will scrape away as the rotor contacts the pads while driving, shortening the lifespan of the brake pads.
Install the Brake Pads in the Right Direction
Do not put the brake pads on backwards. Make sure the brake pad shim material is facing the rotor, since this is what is used to create friction and slow the car down when the brake pedal is pressed. If the brake pads are on backwards, you will hear a scraping or grinding sound, and the rotor will be deeply scarred and may need to be replaced from the damage. The brake pads will also need to be replaced.
When installing, you can look at the outside of the pad to tell where it needs to be placed. For example, the inner brake pad will have dimples and the outside won’t. If the inner brake pad is placed where the outside brake pad should go, the pad will not sit flatly or securely.
Some brake pads have squealers, and you want to match their position with the position of the ones on the old pad. Generally, the squealers are usually placed at the top of the brake pad for calipers placed at the front of the rotor and at the bottom of brake pad for calipers placed at the rear.
- How to Change Brake Rotors: If the Rotor Is Seized, Tap the Rotor Hat with a Hammer to Loosen It. Before Installing the Rotor, Clean the Wheel Hub and Apply Copper Anti-Seize to Its Surface, Clean the Rotor with Brake Parts Cleaner, and Straighten the Backing Shield
For a Stuck Rotor, Tap the Rotor Hat with a Hammer
Sometimes the brake rotor will slide off easily, and sometimes it may be stuck. If the rotor is seized, tap the rotor hat with a hammer in between the lug nut studs to loosen it without tapping and damaging the lug nut studs. This will loosen the rust or other compound that is seizing it. Do not hit the outside of the rotor to not damage the wheel hub. The goal is to hit the points that are binding it to the hub and causing it to seize.
You can also try spraying rust penetrant into the holes where the rotor meets the wheel hub and let it soak if the rotor is still seized. You can also try tapping the rotor from the backside of the rotor, but you want to make sure you get the rotor off. If you use too much force and the rotor still won’t remove, you risk damaging the rotor beyond reuse.
Clean the Wheel Hub and Apply Copper Anti-Seize
If the hub surface is dirty and rusty, clean it with a wire brush. Make sure the wheel hub surface is smooth and clean. Before installing, make sure the back of the rotor is clean also. Debris and dirt can cause the rotor to sit crookedly and cause pulsating brakes. To prevent rust from forming on the wheel hub, apply copper anti-seize to the hub before installing the rotor. This will prevent some corrosion and from the rotor sticking to the wheel hub.
Clean the Rotor with Brake Parts Cleaner
A lot of new brake rotors have an oily, protective coating to prevent rust. Clean this off with brake parts cleaner before installing the rotor. Even if the rotor doesn’t need to be sprayed with brake parts cleaner, cleaning them is also useful for removing grease, like greasy fingerprints, from the rotor before installing.
Check and Make Sure the Backing Plate Is Straight
Sometimes the backing shield will be bent or rusted. If this is the case, you’ll hear the noise if you put the rotor on and turn it. This can create a scraping sound heard when driving. If all of the brake parts are installed, it can be difficult to adjust and turn the backing shield, so make sure isn’t rubbing on the rotor before installing all the new brake parts.
- How to Change the Brake Caliper: Inspect and Regrease the Brake Caliper Slide Pins, Check the Condition of the Brake Caliper Boots and Piston, and Install the Caliper in the Correct Position
Check the Condition of the Brake Caliper Slide Pins and Grease Them
Brake caliper slide pins can bind if moisture gets inside. Remove the slides and inspect them for rust and debris. Clean the slides with brake parts cleaner and re-grease them with grease. Test and see how well they can slide in and out of the brake caliper bracket. Inspect the condition of the boots. If the boots or torn or broken and not sealing properly, moisture and debris can get inside and damage the slides.
Check the Condition of the Brake Caliper Boots and Piston
The brake caliper needs to have a piston that can extend and compress for the brakes to work. You want to test the caliper piston properly. Pressing the piston too quickly can damage the rest of the hydraulic braking system. A brake caliper piston tool and an old brake pad can be used to test and compress the piston to confirm if it’s working properly. You just need to place a brake pad against the piston, put the tool against the brake pad, and turn the screw on the tool to see if the piston is working properly. You can also open the bleeder screw while compressing the brake caliper. If the bleeder screw doesn’t look too rusty, open it with a wrench, compress the caliper, and let the fluid come out of the bleeder hole instead of traveling back to the master cylinder reservoir. Close the bleeder screw right before the piston is fully compressed. This will remove any air that may have snuck inside the brake master cylinder during the brake pad repair.
Sometimes while compressing the caliper you may notice the brake caliper piston boot sometimes expands as if there is air inside of it. Gently lifting it with a pick or a small screwdriver can fix this. Do not prick or damage the boot. If it is damaged, the boot or the entire caliper will need to be replaced. If there is brake fluid underneath the boot, a seal inside the brake caliper probably needs to be replaced, and to fix this you’ll need a new brake caliper.
Install the Brake Caliper in the Correct Position
Make sure the brake caliper bracket is reinstalled on the correct side. Sometimes the caliper brackets are machined differently and need to be installed on a specific side.
Make sure the brake hose is straight and not twisted when reinstalling the brake caliper. Often the brake line can end up twisted by the caliper being installed incorrectly. This can cause the hose to rub against the wheel and damage it to where you lose braking ability, which is not safe. Check before removing how the brake line is supposed to be position and how it is supposed to look when reinstalling. This can be fixed by spinning the caliper around until the brake line is in position and not twisted.
Remember to put the brake caliper bolts in and torque them properly. If a bolt loosens or isn’t installed, the caliper can hang, loosen, and drag on the wheel. This will cause a scraping and grinding noise, and you’ll have to replace the brake caliper and the wheel.
When installing the brake caliper, make sure the bleeder screw is at the top of the caliper, which is an indication that the caliper has been installed correctly. If, for example, the passenger side brake caliper is reinstalled on the driver side, the bleeder screw will be at the bottom of the caliper.
- How to Change the Brake Lines: If Making Your Own Brake Lines, Place the Fitting on First and Don’t Kink the Lines. After Replacing Brake Hoses and Lines, Test Drive and Check for Leaks
Place the Fitting on the Brake Line Before Flaring
If bending and making your own brake lines, put the fitting on before you flare them. If the brake line is flared before the fitting is placed on, you’ll have to restart. Also, make sure you are using the correct brake line fitting tool for a bubble or double flare. Don’t put a single flare on a brake line.
When Bending Brake Lines, Do Not Kink the Metal
Don’t kink the brake line when bending them. It’s easy to do, and if it happens, cut this section of the brake line off and start over. A kink compromises the brake line and weakens it, and this area will be prone to damage and leaking.
Make sure the brake lines are looking as close to factory as possible. The bends may not be as perfect, but, for example, you do not want a longer brake line dragging down and potentially catching on a object underneath the car, and you don’t want to wire-tie them to other parts like the exhaust pipe.
After the Repair, Test Drive the Vehicle and then Check the Brake Lines and Hoses for Leaks
When replacing brake hoses and brake lines, double check after the repair is complete for brake fluid leaks. Take the car for a road test, clean the brake lines, and double check for any leaks.
- How to Change the Brake Fluid: Use the Right Brake Fluid, Don’t Use Brake Fluid from an Open Bottle, and Don’t Contaminate the Brake Fluid with Other Fluids
Use the Right Brake Fluid for Your Vehicle
Use the correct brake fluid required for your vehicle. It’s normally on the brake fluid reservoir’s cap, but check the owners manual as well. Most vehicles use DOT 3 or DOT 4 brake fluid.
Don’t Use Brake Fluid from an Open Bottle
Its not a good idea to use a brake fluid bottle that has already been opened. Moisture can get inside and contaminate the fluid, which defeats the purpose of flushing the brake fluid.
Don’t Mix Other Fluids with the Brake Fluid
It’s important not to mix any type of brake fluid in with the brake fluid. If you mix oil or any other kinds of lubricants in with the brake fluid, it will damage the entire braking system. These fluids may appear the same, but it can warp, swell, and damage the rubber seals and components in the system like in the brake calipers, brake hoses, the ABS unit, and the master cylinder.
This will call for replacing the entire brake system if the fluid is mixed. All of the seals will be leaking, the brake caliper will be leaking, and if this fluid gets on the brake pads or the brake shoes, you’ll have to replace those also. Even a small amount of cap-sized engine oil can damage these parts.
Do More than Change the Brake Pads and Rotors! How to Fix More Parts on Your Car
Learn how to do more than change the brake pads. Replace parts on many makes and models with our how-to videos. Our videos have step-by-step instructions from real mechanics to help you with all kinds of repairs.
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