Vehicle Maintenance: Replacing Rotors and Brake Pads

    January 28, 2016

So, you’re hearing a rubbing or grinding noise in your brakes? You know what that means, even if you are not accustomed to fixing your own car: it’s time to change the brake pads. 

You could rely on repair shop for the fix. Replacing the brake pads will cost you around $150 (more or less, depending on your car). Not bad, but not ideal. It gets worse when the mechanic adds that dreaded word “rotors.” That could run you a couple hundred more dollars. 

The good news – you can make these repairs yourself, even if you’re a novice at automobile maintenance. All you need are the right tools and a little instruction. 

brake pads and rotors

Here is how I recently completed this repair: 

1. Have the right tools.
To change your brakes, you’ll need: 

  • a lug wrench to remove the tires

  • a bottle jack or floor jack

  • jack stands

  • an allen wrench for the caliper bolts (car dependent)

  • a torque wrench

  • a c-clamp to compress the caliper pistons

  • a block of wood to place over the caliper boot during compression

  • wire to support the caliper assembly during brake pad and rotor replacement

2. Before lifting your car with a jack, chock all wheels that will not be worked on. 
Before you start, make sure your car is parked on flat ground with the parking/emergency brake engaged. Next, chock all of the wheels you aren’t working on. You can go out and purchase wheel chocks from your local auto parts store, but a wedge of wood or other sturdy material from the garage can also work. Once the wheels are chocked, lift the vehicle with a floor jack high enough to release a major portion of weight from the tire assembly. 

3. Loosen the lug nuts with a tire iron, and support the axle with a jack stand.
Use your lug wrench to loosen the lug nuts. Once they’re loose, lift the vehicle until the tire is clear off the floor. At this point, it’s also a good idea to support the axle with a jack stand as an extra safety precaution. 

4. Once you feel the car is not going to move, remove the tire, then loosen the caliper slide pins/bolts.
If the brake you’re changing is on the front of the car, it’s helpful to turn the steering wheel so the caliper is facing away from the car. This will give you easier access to the caliper bolts. Loosen the top and bottom bolts that are holding the caliper to the knuckle, making sure to not back them all the way out just yet. If you’re not sure which part of the assembly is the caliper, this video should help: 

5. Secure the caliper assembly, and then completely remove the bolts.
Before you completely back out the caliper bolts, be sure to support the caliper assembly with wire, rope, or something similar so the caliper doesn’t fall. If it does, you risk damaging the brake line. Once you completely back out the bolts and remove the caliper from the axel assembly, hang the caliper in the wheel well anywhere you can.   

6. Pull the rotor toward you to release it from the axle assembly. 
Now that the caliper is out of the way, you can remove the rotor. This is the first step that may be a challenge. If it won’t move, a torch might be required to heat the rotor, causing it to expand and break free from any rust or corrosion.

To prevent this from happening again, I used LOCTITE® LB 8070™ Heavy Duty Anti-Seize Stick on the rotor backing plate. The black anti-seize blended in well, so it may be hard to make out in the photo. I worked the material between all the studs and hub to alleviate rusting. This will make it much easier to remove the rotor next time around.

rotor anti seize 

7. Slide the new rotor over the studs.
Once you slide the new rotor on, it’s a good idea to screw one of your lug nuts back on by hand to hold the rotor in place.

8. Reinstall the caliper bracket and torque bolts to specification per your manual.
Before you torque your bolts to specification, you should use apply some Loctite® 243™ Blue Threadlocker to each one. Wheels are exposed to a lot of vibration, so the threadlocker ensures that those bolts won’t back out on you.

9. Remove old pads and install the new caliper clips with a coating of grease or anti-seize.
You can now remove the old brake pads and brake pad clips from the front of the caliper. The brake pad clips are located at the highest and lowest points where the rotor comes into contact with the caliper. They should come out with the help of a flat head screw driver or something similar. Before reinstalling the new caliper clips, you should coat the section that comes into contact with the pads with some brake grease or anti-seize.

10. Check to see if you need to compress the caliper piston.
You may find that the caliper piston needs to be compressed to accommodate the new, thicker pads. To do this, first relieve pressure in the brake cylinder reservoir by removing the cover. This will help accommodate the rising level of the fluid from the compressing of the caliper piston. Brake fluid can be harmful to components and paint, so be ready to clean it up immediately if there is any overflow. This generally isn’t an issue, but it’s good to be prepared. If you do lose some brake fluid, you should add additional fluid to the full level indicator, but not before all pistons have been compressed.

To begin compressing, place a block of wood over the caliper piston and tighten your c-clamp to push it in. Compress the caliper piston until the new pads will fit into place. 

brake pads

11. Install the new brake pads.
Just as with the caliper clips, you should coat the back of the brake pads with grease or anti-seize, making sure not to get any on the front of the pads. This will prevent rust and keep them looking great. You should then install a new pad on each side of the rotor.

Once this is completed, you can close the caliper and tighten the final caliper bolts to specification. 

12. Reinstall the tire and torque all lug nuts to specification.
Now that the brakes are replaced, you can reinstall the tire to complete the fix.

13. Remove the jack stand, lower the car and repeat the process for the other side of the vehicle.
It’s important to remember that you always need to replace both the driver’s side and passenger side brakes at the same time. You may not need to replace both the front and the rear brakes at the same time, though.

Regular maintenance and replacement of brake pads is a very important safety measure. Depending on where you drive (city driving tends to wear pads out quicker), brake pads usually last between 30,000 – 35,000 miles. With this particular repair, it’s not a matter of “if” but “when.” Luckily, you can avoid a long day at the mechanic’s shop and a sizable repair bill by doing it yourself.

Over to You
What’s the most you’ve seen someone get charged for a brake job? Let us know in the comments, and then send the person who was on the receiving end of that charge this blog!

About the Author, Mike Oliveira

Mike Oliveira is an Application Engineer for Henkel. His present and previous employment has given him experience in assembly equipment, robotics, and electrical related items. Mike has used these job related skills to perform general automotive and household repairs. He earned an Associates Degree in Electrical Engineering Technology and a Bachelor's Degree in Industrial Technology.

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8 responses to “Vehicle Maintenance: Replacing Rotors and Brake Pads”

  1. Nice Blog and and totally agree when hearing a rubbing or grinding noise in your brakes in vehicles then needs to changes or replace new brake pads and rotors.

  2. Devon Horn says:

    I love the whole blog. It is just because it tells us how to change the brake pad and rotor by our own. Though it is a lengthy process, still everyone should have to know this. Because a time will come when we face some difficult with our car in such a area where there is almost difficult to find a good mechanic. So, if we gain some knowledge from this blog, then I am sure that it will help everyone a lot to resolve the issues related to brake system. One point we must keep in mind that if we hear rubbing or grinding noise while applying brake then it means that our brake pads as well as rotor need replacement. It happens because if we don’t replace the brake pads in appropriate time then it damages the rotor which is costly to replace or repair.

  3. BRAKE PARTS says:

    An excellent educational blog and very useful for those who do not understand the junk …

  4. Adam Baker says:

    Wow! Such an unparalleled info you have glossed here. I really liked it. I just wanna say that almost all car owners know that their brake pads need replacement over a certain period of time. But I think most of them are unaware of one thing i.e about the replacement of brake rotor. Yes, it is one such part of the braking system which doesn’t last forever. Hence, like brake pads, brake rotor also has to be changed timely, so that the braking system of a vehicle always remain in excellent shape. In fact, brake pad and brake rotor are interconnected with each other in the way that a rotor deteriorates every time when the brake is applied. Hence, one should inspect both brake pad and rotor on a regular basis and replace it at the right time by taking the help of car professional in order to make a safe and comfortable ride.

  5. Brandon Lane says:

    Unquestionably, an automobile is a major purchase that an individual usually makes. Well, after making the investment, every buyer wants to keep their vehicle in the first-rate working order. It cannot be possible without proper care and attention. A vehicle consists of a number of moving parts and each part has its own significance. But unfortunately, the braking system is frequently overlooked until any major breakdowns arise. The brake pad and the rotor are tow constituents of the braking system. When we apply the brake, then caliper pushes the brake pad against the rotor’s wall that causes the friction and thereby slowing down the vehicle and allowing it to stop evenly. But with gradual use, the brake pads get worn to shreds and the rotor goes bad. This makes the braking system defective which can cause squealing and grinding noise, fading, unwanted vibration etc. So, whenever you notice these symptoms, you should call an auto specialist and replace the brake pads and rotor to improve the vehicle’s safety and reliability.

  6. Janice Carla says:

    To run a vehicle for long ,it’s well maintenance is very important. If any type of rubbing or grinding noise comes from the brakes, that means it is the time for change of brake pads. To change the brakes, we shall need some tools like lug wrench to remove tires,a bottle jack or floor jack,a c-clamp to compress the caliper piston etc. Before lifting the car with a jack, all the wheels that we are not working on must be chocked. Wheel chocks can be brought from local auto parts store. Once the wheels are chocked, the vehicle is lifted with a floor jack to release some amount of weight.

  7. Whether you buy a new car or a used car,if you are not concern about your maintenance and try to avoid it. Then the issue will be critical and the brake need to be replaced .Although many will let a mechanic to do this work,but it is not so difficult anyhow. You can do it by alone also. First the car needs to be raised in order to gain access to the brake rotors and pads and check manual book for the proper jacking points. Remove the wheel and the brake will accessible. Now get the rotors and brakes pads. The brake caliper needs to be removed. A wrench should be used to hold the caliper pin in place and a socket wrench to remove the two bolts at the back of the caliper to gain access. At this point, the pads can be removed as well. The rotors may be swing once,before placing rotor on. Be ensure there will be no residue on it. Then, install the new pads, replace the hardware, and the work will be done.

  8. Mira Edorra says:

    When we hear a rubbing or grinding noise in the vehicle while applying brakes,it indicates that it is the time for change of brake pads. Although it is a lengthy process we all should know about this. Because in some remote areas it is not possible to find a good mechanic. In that situations this knowledge will be helpful to us for resolving issues relating to braking system. If we don’t change the brake pads in time,it damages the rotor which is difficult to repair or replace. So we must check the brake pads on a regular basis and replace it at the appropriate time in order have a safe & comfortable ride.

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