Like all good things, your car’s brake rotors aren’t designed to last forever.
So, when you smell something hot and funky at the bottom of a hill, feel your brake pedal shake each time you touch it, or hear nasty grinding noises while driving, it might be time to install a new set of brake rotors.
Having your brakes serviced at a shop is expensive, so we put together these easy-to-follow steps so you can replace your rotors in your driveway – and save a few bucks in the process.
1. Find a flat surface to work on your car
- Look for a driveway or garage with a concrete floor.
- Lift your car by the chassis with a floor jack and firmly rest it on the jack stands.
- Once it’s supported, gently attempt to rock your car – if you can move it, move the jack stands to better locations on the chassis.
- Pro Tip: Before you raise your car, slightly loosen the lug nuts (do not remove them). Otherwise, you’ll have to keep the tire from spinning while removing each lug, which isn’t easy.
2. Remove the lug nuts and wheels
- Use your fingers to remove loose lug nuts (if you followed my hint), or if they’re still tight, a star wrench or impact wrench.
- Once the lugs are removed, the wheels can easily be pulled off the wheel hub.
- Pro Tip: Watch your toes when removing big truck tires. They’re surprisingly heavy and it’s easy to drop them when you remove them from your truck.
3. Inspect the condition of your brake pads
- If they’re thinner than the minimum specified thickness, missing chunks of material on the edge or the backing is severely rusting, get a new set. You can replace your old pads after you remove the brake caliper. This is also a good opportunity to inspect your car axles while you have access with the wheel off.
4. Remove the brake caliper assembly
- It should be held in by a few bolts or spring clips. Remove them and slide the caliper away from the rotor.
5. Compress the brake caliper piston fully (if you’re replacing brake pads)
- Slightly loosen the brake bleeder screw on the back of the caliper, until fluid starts to leak out.
- Retract the caliper pistons using a disk brake compressor or large C-clamp. You’ll lose some fluid from the bleeder screw, but this method makes it far easier to compress the caliper. It also prevents you from damaging the caliper’s seals.
- Once you fully compress the caliper, tighten the bleeder screw and remove the clamp.
- Pop out your old brake pads by hand or with a small prying tool. Do not use a screwdriver!
- Mount the included shims or use anti-squeal compound on the back of the new pads and install them in the caliper. Avoid touching the friction surface.
6. Remove your brake rotors
- Most rotors can simply be pulled off the wheel studs at this point. Otherwise, remove any bolts connecting the rotor to the wheel hub, and pull it free.
- If it’s been a while since your last brake service or if you live in a wet area, your brake rotors might not come off easily. Some rotors feature threaded holes on the rotor hat, so you can screw bolts into them, pushing the rotor away from the wheel hub. If no holes are present, tap the rotor hub lightly and near the wheel studs with a hammer. This will loosen any rust that might be holding the rotor in place.
- If your vehicle has a rotor & hub assembly, remove the dust cap in the center of the rotor and the large nut under it. Your rotor & wheel bearings will easily slide off the spindle. This is a perfect time to pack your bearings with fresh grease.
7. Install your new brake rotors
- Make sure the wheel hub’s clean – dirt, mud and rust on the hub won’t allow the rotor sit flush.
- Check the condition of your wheel studs. If you find pitting or other types of corrosion on the studs, replace them.
- Place your new rotors on the wheel hubs, being careful not to touch the friction surfaces. Install any hold-down bolts you previously removed.
8. Grease the caliper
- Apply a light coating of high-temperature brake grease to the caliper’s pins and slides. If the slides look worn, replace them. Lubricate shiny spots on the caliper’s body, as these are noise-causing friction points. Also, once adequately greased, you car’s caliper will slide smoother, allowing the pads to wear evenly.
- Avoid touching the friction sides of brake pads & rotors. If you get some grease on them, use brake cleaner to blast away the crud. Brake pads are harder to clean though, so be extra-careful when handling them.
9. Reinstall your calipers
- This is the easy part. Simply slide the brake caliper & pad combo over the rotor.
- Reuse the caliper bolts and pins you removed or install new hardware.
10. Bleed your braking system
- The goal here is to get any residual air out of the brake lines. Any time you open a bleeder screw, air can creep in. Bleeding your brakes ensures your hydraulic braking system will work properly.
- There are many methods and tools to bleed a brake system. If you’re familiar with brake bleeding, continue. Otherwise, be sure to read our guide to bleeding brakes.
- Check your brake fluid level and refill if necessary.
11. Let the rubber meet the road
- Reinstall your wheels and tighten each lug by hand until snug.
- Using your floor jack, slightly raise the vehicle and remove the jack stands under it.
- Carefully lower your car onto its wheels.
- Tighten each lug nut to specification in a star pattern – with a torque wrench only!
- Bed-in your brake pads per the pad manufacturer’s recommendations, or according to our guide on How to Bed-In Brake Pads.
- Stop your car confidently and quietly.
We dread taking our cars to the shop for repair, but with this guide, you can tackle one of the easier aspects of automotive
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