How to Change Your Car’s Brakes Like a Pro

How to Change Your Car’s Brakes Like a Pro

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Usually we size up a car's performance in terms of how fast it accelerates or how tightly it grips through corners.

Lost in the conversation is the part of a vehicle’s road manners vital to safety and its ability to negotiate varying conditions: the brakes. 

Your vehicle's stopping capability is what allows you to safely pause at traffic lights and stop signs, slow down for that next sharp corner, or avoid accidents.

But what about when it's time for brake pad replacement? Can you install new brake pads on a car yourself? Or do you have to visit a repair shop?

Let's take a step-by-step look at changing the disc brakes on a car.

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How the brakes on a car work

Like extra insurance, your car's brakes are a safety net that protects you from surrounding traffic and allows you to finesse your way around various roads.

But how do the brakes on a car work?

It's a straightforward process where the force from the brake pedal transmits through hydraulic fluid, causing the brake pads to clamp down on a metal disk.

Various mechanical systems multiply the force of your foot against the brake pedal, causing the caliper's metal pistons and pads to clamp down on the disc.

As the brake pads inside of the caliper press on the disc, they produce friction, causing the wheels to slow down and bite into the road surface.

The harder you press on the brake pedal, the more friction produced, and the faster you come to a stop.

Brake pads and discs are subject to wear and tear, just like your tires or engine oil, and require occasional replacement.

And it's also a good idea to have the brake fluid level checked now and then. Your mechanic might advise you to bleed fluid from the braking system or change it altogether, increasing stopping performance.

With a vehicle's braking system being so essential to its road manners, you'll want to buy a used car with one in excellent shape. And wouldn't it be nice to purchase your new-to-you vehicle without leaving home? You can buy any of Shift's cars directly online from the comfort of your home, know it has no hidden issues (from our 150-point inspection) and get a fair, up-front price. Shift's website has a large selection of fully inspected cars located across the country that are ready to go. The website is user-friendly, and you'll be able to find various makes and models to suit your needs and budget.

Servicing brakes on a car

1. Gather tools

Though changing brake pads and rotors is a straightforward process, first, you'll need to assemble the correct tools for the job. While every vehicle is different, typical tools include:

  • Hydraulic jack
  • Jack stands
  • ⅜" ratchet and sockets
  • ½" ratchet and sockets
  • Various open-ended wrenches
  • C-clamp

2. Purchase rotors and new pads

The nice thing about changing the brakes on a car yourself is you can select the rotors and pads of your choice. And buying components designed for your particular vehicle ensures optimum performance and longevity. 

3. Loosen lug nuts

Now it's time to loosen the lug nuts (loosen, but don’t fully remove) on your wheels. To increase safety, using wheel chocks or having the parking brake on helps keep your car in place. 

4. Jack up the vehicle

Raise your vehicle off the ground with the hydraulic jack, ensuring you use a designated jack point. Typically, these are metal protrusions with a dimpled surface. Or, if you have a German make, the jack points may be black rubber pads. 

Next, place the jack stands underneath your car, checking for even weight balance between all four corners. With that completed, further loosen and remove the lug nuts and the wheels. 

5. Loosen caliper and remove the carrier

Typical brake calipers use two 12-millimeter or 14-millimeter bolts to hold them in place. Once you unscrew them, the caliper should slide right off. With that accomplished, rest the caliper somewhere that doesn't strain the attached brake lines.

With the caliper assembly out of the way, it's time to undo the two 17-millimeter or 19-millimeter bolts securing the caliper carrier. Since these bolts are usually tight, you may need a breaker bar or a mallet to get them moving.

6. Remove the rotor

Many brake rotors have a small locating screw, so first, you'll need to remove it. Then you may need to use a hammer to break the seal between the rotor and hub. Once you break the seal between the rotor and hub, remove the rotor and set it aside.

7. Install the new rotor

Before you put on the brake discs, it's first wise to scrub off the hub surface with a wire brush to remove any corrosion and prevent any in the future. Spraying some WD-40 on the surface can provide a nice protective layer too.

To ensure the rotor sits flush against the hub, secure it with a lug nut before tightening it down.

8. Assemble and compress the caliper

Now it's time to reinstall the carrier bolts — be sure to take extra care to make sure they're good and tight — and reassemble the carrier. 

Then, using an old brake pad against the caliper piston, slowly compress it using the C-clamp until it's pushed even with the caliper housing. However, make sure the cap's off the brake fluid reservoir; otherwise, you risk blowing out a brake line.

9. Put on pads and caliper

Before you place the pads inside the carrier, rub some anti-squeal grease on their opposite side, ensuring quiet performance. With the pads inside the carrier, reinstall the caliper and tighten the caliper bolts. 

10. Install wheels

With your brake job completed, it's time to put the wheels back on and go for a drive. On each wheel, screw on all lug nuts by hand, then tighten them down once you lower your vehicle to the ground. 

Try pumping the brake pedal a few times to build up pressure in the system, and break in the pads and rotors per the manufacturer's recommendations. This usually involves performing some easy stops from designated speeds to bed-in the friction material on the rotors. 

When it's time to purchase a pre-owned vehicle, you'll want one with an optimally functioning braking system. But with the used car market full of different ads and claims, where can you buy a vehicle in excellent shape that lasts? With Shift's best-in-industry service contracts, you know your car's good to go, mile after mile. With a Shift Vehicle Protection plan, not only are essential components covered, but you receive roadside assistance if you run into trouble. Whether you happen to be in the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, or Canada, help is just a toll-free phone call away, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

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Author
Shift Editorial Team