Car Maintenance: Taking Care of the Brakes

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How To Service Your Brakes In 5 Easy Steps

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You use your vehicle every single day. For this reason, it's important you make sure your vehicle operates safely. Without a doubt, the most important safety component built into your vehicle is your brake system. Without a properly maintained brake system, you risk causing an accident at every single stoplight or intersection you encounter. Replace your brake pads and rotors by following these five easy steps whenever your brakes show signs of wear:

Gather Your Equipment

You'll need several tools to replace your brake pads and rotors. Gather these items before removing a single bolt from your vehicle:

  • Hydraulic jack

  • Jack stands

  • Wheel chocks

  • Breaker bar

  • Socket set

  • Torsion wrench

  • Work gloves

  • Replacement brake pads

  • Replacement rotors

  • Brake piston compressor

  • Brake cleaner

If you don't already own these items, purchase them from your local auto store. If you don't have access to even one of these items, then you won't be able to safely or efficiently service your brakes. You'll need a set of replacement pads and rotors for each axle of your vehicle that is showing signs of brake wear since your pads and rotors must be replaced in pairs.

Remove Your Tires

Identify the safe lift points of your vehicle and raise one end of it with your hydraulic jack. Place jack stands (wheel ramps work too) underneath your vehicle and chock the tires that remain on the ground. Use your breaker bar and a socket to remove the lug nuts from the wheels that were lifted off the ground.

If you need to service each of your vehicle's brake assemblies, then don't lift your entire vehicle at once. Instead, lift and service either the front or rear brake assemblies before lowering your vehicle and lifting the axle with the other assemblies. By doing so, you can ensure your vehicle remains stable while you perform the necessary repairs.

Disassemble Your Brake Calipers

Your brake calipers are the clamp-like component that hangs over your rotors. To remove your pads and rotors, you'll need to disassemble your calipers. However, since caliper designs vary between each make and model, you'll need to consult your owner or service manual to determine the proper way to disassemble it. In most cases, removing the two large bolts just above your calipers will allow you to lift them off your rotor.

Once you can lift your calipers off your rotors, you can remove your brake pads and dispose of them according to your local disposal codes—some jurisdictions may require you to recycle your pads at a local auto parts store.

Turn or Replace Your Rotors

With your calipers and pads lifted off your rotors, you can remove the fasteners that secure your rotors to your wheel hubs. Most hubs have a large middle nut, one to three screws, and a linchpin that secure each rotor. Remove your linchpin and screws before breaking loose the middle nut.

Your rotors don't need to be replaced each time you replace your brake pads. However, prematurely replacing your rotors will ensure proper bedding between your new pads and rotors. If you're on a budget and can't afford replacement rotors, then you can turn your rotors with an on-vehicle lathe to prepare their surface for new pads—as long as your rotors are thicker than your vehicle's minimum disc thickness rating (which you can locate in your owner's manual).

Install Your Replacement Parts and Bed Your Pads

Slide your replacement (or turned) rotors on your wheel hubs and tighten the hub nuts with your torsion wrench to the appropriate weight (found in your owner or service manual) before installing your screws and sliding in your pins. Clean your calipers with your brake cleaner and remount them over your rotors.

Use the appropriate fittings on your piston compressor to compress your pistons until you can slide your replacement pads between your rotors and calipers. Reinstall your tires and tighten their lug nuts with your torsion wrench to the specified weight found in your owner or service manual.

Once your wheel assemblies are reassembled correctly, bed in your brakes on the freeway during non-peak hours by accelerating to freeway speed and slowly braking until you reach about 45 miles per hour. Repeat this process several times to completely bed your brakes.

If you have trouble during any of these steps, then stop and contact your mechanic to finish your brake job for you. If you continue with the repair process without knowing exactly what to do, you can further damage your brake assemblies and increase your repair costs, and click here for more information.