Sick of that nails-on-chalkboard squeal every time you hit the brakes? Is your mechanic nagging you to replace your thin brake pads? Hold up before shelling out big bucks to have them changed. With a few tools and a bit of time, you can replace brake pads yourself and save a bundle. Don’t be intimidated – it’s one of the easiest DIY car repairs out there.
This step-by-step guide will walk you through the entire process, from jacking up your vehicle safely to breaking in the new pads. You’ll drive away with fresh brakes, money in your pocket, and a sense of accomplishment. So grab your jack and wrench and let’s get those worn out pads swapped for peace of mind on the road!
Why Change Your Own Brake Pads?
When those brake pads start squealing, it’s tempting to just take your car into the shop and let a mechanic replace them for you. But doing it yourself can save you a ton of money – and it’s actually pretty easy! Here are some great reasons why you should change your own brake pads.
First, you’ll save big bucks by not paying labor costs. Mechanics typically charge between $100 and $250 per axle to do a brake pad replacement. But if you DIY it, you’ll just pay for the parts – which could be as little as $25-50 per axle. That’s a savings of at least $50 per axle, or $200 if you replace pads on all four wheels. And for higher-end cars and trucks, the savings are even greater.
Another reason is that you’ll gain confidence working on your own vehicle. Brake pads are the perfect starter DIY repair to get comfortable doing your own basic maintenance. The process is straightforward, and you can do it with common tools. Once you’ve successfully swapped brake pads yourself, you’ll feel empowered to tackle other jobs like batteries, belts, hoses, and more. The savings quickly add up.
Finally, when you change your own brake pads, you understand exactly what’s going on with your car. The next time your mechanic says you need new pads, you’ll know what’s involved and not have to worry that you’re being overcharged or upsold on unnecessary work. You may even spot issues like worn rotors early and can address them rather than waiting until bigger problems develop.
When Do Brake Pads Need Replacement?
The ideal time to replace brake pads is when they are wearing thin but before they damage the brake rotors. Here are signs that your pads need fresh ones:
- Brake pad thickness 1/8 inch or less
- High-pitched squealing or grinding noise when braking
- Vibration in steering wheel or brake pedal when stopping
Many brake pads have built-in wear indicators that squeal as a warning. But Waiting for noises isn’t ideal, since that means the pads are already thin. Inspect them periodically so you can replace pads while they still have some life left.
Gather the Tools and Supplies You’ll Need
Replacing brake pads isn’t complicated, but having the right gear makes the job much easier. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Floor jack and jack stands
- Lug wrench
- Wheel chocks
- C-clamp or large pliers
- Wrench for caliper bolts
- Turkey baster or syringe
- Brake pads for your vehicle
- Brake pad grease
- Brake fluid (DOT 3 or 4)
Optional handy tools
- Mechanic’s gloves
- Drip pan
- Brake pad spreader
- Torque wrench
Safety is critical when lifting a vehicle, so don’t skip the jack stands. It’s also smart to chock the rear wheels so the car doesn’t roll at all. Gather all these items beforehand so your brake job goes smoothly.
Step-By-Step DIY Brake Pad Replacement
With your tools and supplies ready, you’re set for a successful DIY brake pad swap. Refer to your vehicle’s manual for specifics, but here is the general process:
Stage 1: Getting Access
First, loosen the lug nuts on the wheel with the worn brake pads. Then safely jack up the vehicle and secure it on jack stands for safety and stability. Remove the lug nuts completely and take off the wheel to gain access to the brake assembly. Locate the caliper bolts that hold the caliper in place and remove the lower bolt.
Stage 2: Removing the Pads
Now swing the caliper up out of the way, being careful not to detach the brake hose. Visually inspect the pad thickness and confirm they do in fact need changing. Slide out the inner and outer brake pads from their positions. Remove the old pad hardware and set it aside to reuse during reinstallation of the new pads.
Stage 3: Installing New Pads
Use some brake pad grease on the new hardware so the pads will slide freely and not squeak. Insert the new inner and outer brake pads into their correct positions in the caliper. To make room for the thicker new pads, retract the caliper piston with a C-clamp or large pliers. As you slowly retract the piston, keep an eye on the brake fluid reservoir level. If needed, remove excess fluid with a turkey baster to prevent overflow. With the piston fully retracted, swing the caliper back into place over the new pads. Reinstall the caliper bolt and tighten it to the specified torque with a torque wrench.
Stage 4: Finishing Up
Remount the wheel and hand tighten the lug nuts to hold it in place. Repeat the entire process for the other side’s brake pads, keeping watch on the fluid level. Once both sides are done, torque the lug nuts to the vehicle spec with a torque wrench. Top off the brake fluid if needed. Finally, make a series of gentle stops to help seat the new pads against the rotors, while checking for any issues.
And that’s it – you just saved yourself money by changing your own brake pads!
Tips for DIY Brake Pad Replacement Success
Changing brake pads on your own may seem intimidating at first, but follow these handy tips and tricks and your brake job will go smoothly.
Work on one side at a time from start to finish before doing the other side. This allows you to focus on one brake assembly. It also prevents any mix-ups since you are only working on a single side. Finish the full process on the first side, then repeat everything on the other side.
Angle the steering wheel to better access the brake assembly. Since you’ll be working on one wheel at a time, turn the steering all the way in that direction. This angles the wheel outward, giving you much easier access to reach behind and work in the brake area.
Use mechanic’s gloves to keep your hands clean. Changing brake pads can be messy as brake dust coats the assembly. Wearing gloves keeps grease and grime off your hands. Disposable nitrile gloves are ideal.
Place a drip pan under the caliper to catch any brake fluid. This prevents fluid from leaking onto the floor of your garage. Position the pan to catch drips before uncapping the reservoir or compressing the caliper.
Use a brake pad spreader tool to easily compress the caliper piston. This specialty tool is made to safely retract the piston without damaging it. If you don’t have the spreader, you can use a C-clamp or large pliers instead. Place wood pieces between the tool and piston.
Confirm proper torque on caliper guide bolts and wheel lug nuts. Under- or over-tightened bolts can cause issues. Use a torque wrench to tighten them to the vehicle manufacturer’s specs.
Adjust the parking brake cable if the braking feels weak. Replacing pads can loosen cables. Tightening the adjuster may be needed to restore full braking force.
Avoid hard braking for the first few stops to properly seat pads. Take it easy as the new pads fully mate to the rotor surface. Aggressive braking right away can glaze pads and reduce effectiveness.
Following these handy tips will set you up for success replacing your own brake pads. Take your time, use the right tools, and enjoy the satisfaction of DIY car repair.
FAQ – Common Brake Pad Replacement Questions
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about changing brake pads:
How often should brake pads be replaced?
For most vehicles, brake pads last anywhere from 30,000-70,000 miles depending on driving conditions. Check them at least once a year.
Which brake pads are best?
For most drivers, quality aftermarket pads offer the best value. Choose ceramic or semi-metallic compounds for longer pad life.
Do I need to bleed the brakes when changing pads?
Bleeding is not necessary since you won’t open any hydraulic lines. Simply top off fluid as needed.
Can I drive without brake pads?
Absolutely not! Driving without pads would damage rotors and be extremely dangerous.
How do I compress the piston to change pads?
Use a C-clamp or large pliers to slowly retract the piston. Place wood pieces between the tool and piston.
Should I lubricate brake caliper pins?
Yes. Apply brake lubricant to the caliper pins and brake pad contact points to prevent squeaking.
What problems cause brake squeaking?
Common causes are worn-out pads, improper pad break in, or lack of lubrication on pad hardware.
Changing your brake pads is one of the most straightforward DIY repairs you can perform on your vehicle. With some basic tools, standard parts, and the step-by-step instructions provided, you have all the information needed to successfully swap out old, worn pads for fresh new ones.
Not only will you save money compared to paying a mechanic, you’ll gain confidence working on your car and know exactly what maintenance was performed. So don’t ignore noisy, ineffective brakes – get in there and replace those pads yourself. You’ll be amazed how easy it is, and your vehicle will stop smoothly, safely, and quietly once again. The next time your brakes need attention, roll up your sleeves and do the job yourself!