How to Change the Brake Pads on Your Car

Car wheel.

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Brake pads are small, but vital pieces of your vehicle. With the rotor, caliper assembly and a little help from some brake fluid, they’re responsible for bringing your car to a stop, keeping the roads safe. If you need to replace them, you should know how to change brake pads the right way.

How Much Does it Cost to Change Brake Pads?

The cost will vary depending on whether you decide to change the brakes yourself or hire a professional, but the final expense should fall within the following price ranges.

  • Parts and tools cost between $35 and $150.
  • Labor costs between $80 and $120 per axle.
  • Total cost: between $115 and $300

If you opt for a DIY project, you only need to acquire the right parts. Keep in mind that auto manufacturers price their parts differently, so your car’s parts might be more expensive than other vehicles. If you want to hire a professional, their hourly rates have a wide range and will have the most impact on the bottom line. Make sure you research at least a few body shops in your area to get the best deal.

How to Change Brake Pads by Yourself

Changing brake pads by yourself isn’t necessarily easy, but the process is straightforward enough compared to other mechanical fixes. First, make sure you have enough space to complete the project. A flat driveway or one-car garage should suffice. Then, you have to purchase the right parts and tools. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Brake pads, rotors, fluid and cleaner
  • Disc brake pad spreader set
  • Floor jack, jack stand
  • Torque wrench, other essential tools
  • Eye protection, gloves

Once you have everything you need, park your car and clear out the surrounding area to have more floor space. You’re ready to get started!

1. Inspect the Brakes

First, you should perform a close inspection of your current brake pads. They usually wear out at around the 50,000-mile mark, but that number dramatically varies. Consult your owner’s manual for the correct estimate and look for the telltale signs. Worn-down brakes tend to make squeaking and grinding noises when the car slows down and a slight bounce when the car comes to a stop. 

You should also check your brake fluid level. If the reservoir has too much fluid, it can move around and spill onto other parts while you work on the car. Remove a little bit of fluid if necessary.

2. Loosen the Lug Nuts

Loosen the lug nuts on your wheels with a breaker bar and socket so they’re easier to take off when you lift the vehicle into place. The disc brake pad spreader set should include these tools.

3. Lift the Car into Position

Put the floor jack into place and slowly lift the car. Place the jack stands in spots that support the vehicle’s weight, then slowly lower the car again until it rests comfortably on the stands. With the car in place, you’re ready to begin removing parts.

4. Remove the Lug Nuts, Wheels and Caliper Bolts

Take out the lug nuts that you loosened earlier, then remove the wheel. Now you should see the caliper bolts. If they’re not visible, turn the steering wheel slightly until you can see them. Use the torque wrench to unscrew them. Removing the caliper bolts will allow you to take apart the other important parts of the caliper assembly.

5. Remove the Old Brake Pads and Rotor

Remove the old pads and inspect them for uneven or excessive wear. Those patterns usually mean that the brake pads lack enough lubrication, which can significantly decrease the pads’ lifespan. From there, remove the brake caliper, brake caliper bracket and rotor in that order. These parts should come off if you unscrewed the caliper bolts correctly. A rusty rotor might stick, so get help from a rust penetrant or a hammer if necessary.

6. Prepare the Rotor Mounting Surface, New Rotor and Brake Pads

With all of the parts removed, you can prepare to install the new brake pads. Start by cleaning the rotor mounting surface with a wire brush, steel wool or another thick substance to remove rust. Use the brake cleaner to wipe off the rotor and new brake pads (they might be new, but you should still clean them before attaching them). Your new pads should come with their own clips, but if they didn’t,  clean off your old clips as well. 

7. Attach the New Rotor and Pads

Attach the rotor, then apply brake lubricant at the clip contact points. After using the lubricant, install the brake pads in the same position as you found the old pads. It’s helpful to take photos during this process so you can reference them later on.

8. Inspect the Brake Caliper and Piston

Check the brake caliper and piston for any fluid leaks. If everything looks dry and clean, use the disc brake pad spreader to secure the caliper piston. Once the piston is secure, you’re ready to reinstall the brake caliper.

9. Adjust the Caliper Assembly

Put the brake caliper back into place. Tighten it only as much as you need to. If a caliper is too tight, it restricts the braking process and can quickly damage the brake pads. Use a torque wrench to get adequate tightness.

10. Make Sure the Brake Fluid is Working

Look at the brake fluid reservoir for any spillage or overflow. If you have a sufficient amount, pump your car’s brakes lightly to make sure the fluid has reached the brakes and is doing its job.

11. Reattach the Wheel and Lower the Vehicle

Put the wheel back into place and secure it with the lug nuts. Use the jack to raise the vehicle off the stands, remove the stands and promptly lower the car back down to the ground. If you got this far, you’ve successfully changed a brake pad on your vehicle!

12. Bed the Brakes

To be 100% sure that your DIY project worked, take the car out for an easygoing test drive. Accelerate to a decent highway speed, then slow down to about half the speed and stay in cruise control for a few minutes. Repeat this process several times so you successfully “bed the brakes” and prepare them for full-time use. 

Know Your Vehicle

Every car owner should be well-versed in mechanical terms and practices, because you never know when you’ll have to fix something yourself. Professional body shops are valuable resources for major fixes, but you should know the basics of how to swap brake pads and make other small changes to your vehicle. If you think you’re up to the challenge, follow this step-by-step guide to changing brake pads so you can get back on the road!

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