How to Install Brake Pads
If your car makes an annoying squeal when you press the brake pedal or you need more stopping power, you probably need to swap in a new set of brake pads. And while your car’s braking system seems to be locked behind a daunting wall of wheels, changing your worn or weak pads is an easy task if you have the right tools and follow the steps below.
- Safely lift your car on a flat surface
- A driveway or garage with a concrete floor is ideal
- Using a floor jack and jack stands lift and support your vehicle by the chassis, or on a unibody chassis, the manufacturer's recommended location (typically on the pinch weld)
- Try to rock your vehicle once it’s supported by jack stands—if you can move it, you need to reposition the stands
- Pro Tip: Just before lifting your car, loosen the lug nuts a turn or so (do not remove them). This will make it easier to unscrew the lugs when your car is safely on stands
- Loosen & remove the lug nuts and wheels
- Spin each lug nut off with your fingers (if you followed my hint), a star wrench or go NASCAR style with an impact wrench
- Pull each wheel off of the vehicle
- Pro Tip: If you’ve got a truck with big tires, watch your toes when you remove the wheels, they’re heavy
- Inspect your brake rotors
- If they look smooth, proceed. If you see deep grooves or a rough surface, you’ll want to consider new rotors too. Now is also a good time to inspect your CV shafts for torn boots on independent suspension vehicles since you'll have easy viewing access.
- Remove the caliper hold-down bolts or pins
- Once the bolts or pins are removed, you should be able to slide the caliper and brake pads away from the rotor
- Compress the caliper piston and remove the brake pads
- Before compressing the caliper, check your brake fluid reservoir and ensure it wont overflow when the fluid level starts to rise. Fluid can be removed with a syringe, baster, or simply dipping in a clean towel if necessary.
- Use a caliper compressor or a large C-clamp, squeeze or push the caliper pistons back into their bores. This will allow the appropriate room for the new, thicker brake pads to fit properly. Some people leave the old pads in place while compressing, others choose to remove them. If you have enough room, it can be beneficial to leave the old pads in so they protect the pistons and provide even surface area to apply pressure to.
- Remove your old brake pads—they’ll come out easily by hand or with a small pry bar or flat head screw driver.
- Clean the brake caliper areas where the brake pad makes direct contact, a small wire brush works well.
- Pro Tip: If you are having trouble compressing the caliper pistons, you can loosen the brake bleeder screw on the back of the caliper, just enough to see a slight leakage. This will make it easier to compress the piston. Close the bleeder once the piston is compressed.
- Mount your new brake pads inside the brake caliper
- Apply antiseize or brake component lubricant to the sides of the pads. This will allow the brake pads to slide easily as the pad surface wears over time. You will also want to apply a thin layer of anti-squeal paste to the pad backing where the pistons contact and caliper make direct contact with the backing. This will reduce the likliness that the pad will oscillate under braking which will reduce or eliminate unwanted brake noise.
- Slide or clip the pads into caliper, being careful to touch the pad’s friction surface as little as possible.
- Grease your braking system
- Apply a light coating of high temperature brake grease to caliper guide pins and any part of the caliper that slides against bare metal. Shiny spots in the caliper’s body are friction points, lubricate them. This will prevent squeaks & squeals caused by high-frequency vibration and will allow your brakes to wear evenly
- Keep the friction side of the brake pads or rotors as clean as possible. If you get some grease on the rotor, you can easily clean it off with brake cleaner.
- Reinstall the caliper assembly
- Slide the brake caliper & pad combo over the rotor. If it doesnt slide over easily, the pistons in the caliper probably need to be pushed in further which will gain more clearance to clear the rotor.
- Fasten the caliper in place with the same hold-down bolts or pins you previously removed if they’re in good shape. If they’re not, install new bolts or pins
- Bleed your brakes
- Your braking system functions best with no air in its lines. If you opened the bleeder screws to compress the caliper pistons, air could have entered, so its best practice to bleed those particular calipers. If you never cracked a bleeder screw, it is not entirely necessary to bleed the system.
- There are many effective ways to bleed a brake system. If you have experience bleeding brakes, proceed. If you need some pointers, feel free to take a look at our guide to bleeding brakes
- Check your brake fluid level and refill if necessary
- Put your wheels back on and hit the road
- Put each wheel back on and tighten the lug nuts by hand until they’re snug
- Use the floor jack to slightly raise the vehicle and remove the jack stands under it
- Carefully lower your car onto its wheels
- Using a torque wrench, tighten each lug nut to specification in a star pattern
- Follow the brake bed-in procedure that came with your pads or follow our guide
- Enjoy your new brake pads
See how simple it is to replace your own brake pads? The steps above work well for most cars, trucks, SUVs and more, so you can save a few bucks vs. taking your car in for service, no matter what you drive. You can find a wide selection of great brake pads and the best set for your ride, with our guide on How to Shop for Brake Pads. Best of all, you can get a better idea of what goes into swapping out your old pads, by checking out our brake pad customer reviews.
- Comfortable with opening the hood, moving seats, etc
- Familiarity with upgrade location and removing any existing covers or casings
- Comprehensive knowledge of the parts you’re upgrading
Common Tools Needed
- Basic Hand Tools
- Caliper Compressing Tool (Some Vehicles)
- Wire Brush
- Anti-squeal Paste