A tutorial on when and how to change your own brake pads
Few automotive components are as critical to your safety as your vehicle’s brakes. You should not, however, let this fact prevent you from saving hundreds of dollars (or more) performing brake maintenance from home – brake pad replacement is relatively easy.
Your ability to drive depends on a well-maintained braking system, of which your brake pads are an essential component. Average-distance drivers should check the condition of their brake pads every 6-12 months. Some pads can be seen and inspected through the wheel – a pad thickness of ¼ inch is generally a sign that replacement is needed. Most pads are equipped with a wear indicator, which will make a squeaking noise when your vehicle is braking, indicating that the pads should be replaced.
Preparing for the task ahead
If you’ve determined that your brake pads need replacing, don’t worry – the process is relatively quick and easy. Before you begin, ensure you have all the tools you’ll need. Obviously, you will need a new set of brake pads for each brake unit you intend to service (it is recommended you replace them in pairs). You will also need a car jack and jack stands, a lug wrench, a socket, adjustable or Allen/hex wrench (depending on your vehicle), and a C-clamp. You will also want to have a small hammer to hand in case the brake unit is difficult to manipulate.
Removing the old and worn brake pads
Loosen your wheel’s lug nuts while the vehicle is on the ground, and then raise your car from the ground using the jack. Move the jack stands into position under the car, and lower the vehicle until its weight is fully distributed onto the stands (never perform vehicle maintenance on a car using only a jack – doing so can be dangerous). Remove the lug nuts and the tyre, exposing the rotor and brake unit. Most modern brakes use a ‘sliding calliper’ unit. To access the brake pads, remove the lower bolt on the back of the calliper and slide the unit upward. Be careful not to remove the hose attached to the calliper unless you plan to remove and replace your existing brake fluid. Once the calliper has been moved, your old brake pads should be easy to remove.
Installation of the new equipment
Once you have removed the old pads, slide your new brake pads into the unit. The calliper you removed previously is equipped with a piston that applies pressure to the pads, adjusting them automatically to the brake-pad thickness as the pads are worn down. You will therefore need to attach the C-clamp to the piston and push it back in to allow enough clearance for the calliper to slide over your newer, thicker brake pads. Once you have reset the piston, rotate the calliper back over the unit, and reattach the bottom bolt. After replacing the tyre and lug nuts, lower the car and pump the brakes a few times to allow the piston to readjust to the newly installed pads.