How to Change Brake Pads
Better brakes may not mean better gas mileage. However,
better brakes improve safety. This is an overview of brake
pads, changing brake pads, brake
rotors, and brake fluid. Or learn
about Big Brake Kits.
EBC Brake Pads
Getting performance brake pads are a great way to
improve safety and fun. Brake pads are easy to install. A set of
performance brake pads cost about $10 more than the common brake
pads. It's a cheap upgrade that provides immediate gratification.
The brands I would recommend are EBC, Bendex and Power Stop. If
there's a Wilwood brake pad available for your car, by all means
get that! It's the author's opinion that Willwood makes the best
EBC is an English company that manufactures performance
brake pads. Like most brake pad manufacturers they offer several
different levels of braking performance. Each level has its own
set of compromises. A low-priced brake pad is usually a noisy semi-metallic
brake pad that leaves dark brake dust on wheels. A performance brake
pad is usually ceramic, quiet, produces little brake dust, and costs
about $10 more. A race-ready brake pad will usually be noisy, dirty,
and very effective.
The EBC Redstuff is the performance ceramic brake
pad. The performance brake pads usually offer the best of all compromises.
The test car was fitted with EBC Redstuff brake pads on the rear
Photo of the brake pad installation:
How to Change Brake Pads
• a jack
• 16 inch tongue and grove pliers
• open end or socket wrench set (make sure you have a metric
• lug nut wrench, preferably a breaker bar
• long flathead screwdriver
• new brake pads
Prepare to get dirty ;-)
If you have a hubcap, pull it off. Loosen the lug
nuts first. This could be the most painful part of the process if
a shop previously used an impact wrench to tighten the lug nuts.
This is why a breaker bar is recommended. A breaker bar is a long
non-ratchet bar with a 0.5 inch socket attachment at the end. If
necessary, use a hollow pipe placed over the handle of the breaker
bar to gain more leverage. Once all lug nuts have been loosened
a half turn, place the jack under a jack-point recommended in the
car's user manual. Using a specified jack point will prevent the
chassis from being damaged. Any ole place won't do. Choose wisely!
Jack up the corner of the car until the tire no longer
contacts the ground. A quarter inch of space between the tire and
the pavement is sufficient. Remove the lug nuts and wheel. Find
the two caliper bolts. Be careful to find the bolts and do not to
loosen the bleeder valve (it looks like a bolt too). The two bolts
hold the caliper to the knuckle. Use an open end wrench or socket
wrench to remove the two caliper bolts.
Pull the caliper out. It will pull out perpendicular
to the axle. Use the long flathead screwdriver to pry it out if
necessary. Use the 16 inch tongue and groove pliers to compress
the piston all the way into the bore. Put one jaw right in the middle
of the inside brake pad and the other jaw on a flat spot on the
back of the caliper and squeeze. The piston will sink into the bore.
On a floating caliper, the outside brake pad is clipped on and the
inside pad usually snaps into the piston. Use your fingers to remove
the brake pads. Do NOT damage the piston seal with a screwdriver
in an effort to pry them out.
Press the new brake pads in with your fingers. Do
not damage the brake pads. With the new brake pads in place, slip
the caliper over the rotor. The steel sleeves that allow the caliper
to float may need to be pulled back to allow the caliper to fully
seat. Reinstall the two caliper bolts. Be careful NOT to cross thread
the bolts. The bolts should go in by turning the bolt by hand. Then
tighten with an open end or socket wrench. Tighten the bolts firmly.
Do not go crazy trying to get it super tight. Over-tightening can
damage costly parts.
Reinstall the wheel and tighten the lug nuts with
a wrench till they are just hand tight and hold the wheel firmly
to the hub (the wheel doesn't wiggle). Lower the car and remove
the jack. Tighten the lug nuts in a crossing pattern. NEVER tighten
one bolt all the way and then the next bolt! Tighten each lug nut
a little at a time. Tighten one lug nut a little bit and then tighten
the lug nut opposite of that one a little bit, and then another
lug nut opposite of that one until each lug nut is tightened the
same amount. Continue this sequence until all lug nuts are tight
to 75 - 100 ft lbs. That's a lot of force! Never use an impact wrench
to tighten lug nuts (or anything else on a car!).
Follow the break-in procedure outlined by the brake
pad manufacturer. This usually involves some regular light braking.
There is a lot of hype about performance rotors. There
are slotted rotors, cross-drilled rotors, coated rotors, cryogenically
treated rotors, and slotted rotors that are cross-drilled and cryo-treated.
These custom rotors can cost $50 - $500+ per rotor. I have never
seen any believable data that supports an improvement in braking
distance due to these custom rotors. I have seen evidence that cross-drills
and slots are the source of thermal cracks at the outer edge of
Custom rotors are all marketing hype. There is no
benefit in to using these. They might look pretty, but that's it.
Coatings used on the surface of the rotor are quickly rubbed off
by the brake pads. Thermal cracks mean the rotor needs to be replaced.
Cryo-treating rotors is just silly. It does nothing whatsoever.
The best rotors to use are the plain old cast iron
rotors. The uniform surface is more difficult to crack. And the
plain old smooth faced rotors cost less and provide the same braking
performance as the more expensive custom rotors.
Never get a rotor resurfaced or 'turned.' This makes
the rotor thinner. A thinner rotor is not able to cope with the
heat and warps (I've seen this many times). All the kinetic energy
of a moving car is turned into heat that the rotor absorbs. Thicker
rotors can absorb more heat without deforming. A deformed rotor
makes a car dangerous. The vehicle and steering wheel shakes under
braking. And it gets worse over time. The vibrations lengthen braking
distance and reduce the control a driver has over the car. It can
also adversely affect the anti-lock braking system.
Fitting a super thick rotor in a stock car is not
really an option. It just won't fit between new brake pads. If a
mechanic tells you that the rotors need to be 'turned' tell him
to replace the rotors.
This is something that's often horribly neglected.
Brake fluid does not compress. This quality is very important for
brakes. Stepping on the brake pedal pushes fluid from the brake's
master cylinder to the calipers that squeeze the rotors. If the
brake fluid is compressed, stepping on the brake pedal will not
stop the car.
But brake fluid can compress! It can compress if it
absorbs water. Unfortunately brake fluid is very good at absorbing
water. Water reduces the boiling point of brake fluid. If the brake
fluid boils because the brakes are hot (and they do get very hot),
the gas bubbles can be compressed. This means that stepping on the
brake pedal won't stop the car.
Use the brake fluid recommended by the car's manufacturer.
And change it every time the brake pads are replaced. I prefer DOT
5 or better brake fluid because of the higher boiling point and
it won't destroy paint or plastic. However DOT 4 should work well
for the average commuter.
For the Do-it-yourselfers out there, I highly recommend
Speedbleeders. These are one way check valves that replace the conventional
bleeders. This enables one person to bleed the brakes and prevent
air from getting into the brake fluid. These can be purchased online
at Speedbleeder.com or at CarQuest, O'Reilly's and similar auto
Learn about the big
brake kit installed on the test car.
Performance brake pads are great!
I recommend EBC, Bendex, Wilwood, and Power Stop
The simple smooth faced rotors are the best value.
Change the brake fluid every time the brake pads are
Step3: Improved Maintenance
Wiper Arm Adjustment
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