How to Change Brake Pads & What to Buy

Many people look at crash ratings and safety features such as air bags and crumple zones when they are considering a vehicle. However, one of the most overlooked yet important safety features of your vehicle is your braking system. When properly maintained, it can give you the peace of mind that other safety features may never be needed.This article will help you understand your braking system, how to change brake pads, and what to look for (or rather listen for) as an indication that your pads need some attention.

How to Tell If You Need to Replace Your Brakes

Neglecting to replace your pads can mean reduced safety and more costly repairs later down the road. Unfortunately, there is no specific time-frame to follow when learning how to change brake pads. There are a few factors that will affect the frequency of replacing the pads. The more stop-and-go traffic you are in, the more you will use your brakes. On the other hand, the more highways you drive, the less braking you will do which will mean less brake wear and less pad changes.

Some cars are equipped with brake sensors. These sensors will rub against the brakes causing an annoying squeal when you apply the brakes. This is usually a tell-tale sign that your pads need attention. Not every vehicle has these handy sensors. Thus, here are some other indications to keep an eye, or ear, out for:

  • Noises: Squeaking, squealing, rubbing, and grinding are all noises to use as signs you need a brake pad change. If you check and they look fine, a quick cleaning can eliminate the noise. However, persistent noises are likely worn parts.
  • Vibrating when applying the brakes
  • Your stopping distance has increased
  • Your foot reaches the floor, or gets closer to the floor than usual when applying the brake pedal.

When in doubt, a visual check can put your mind at ease. Since it is recommended that you rotate your tires once every six months, this makes it a perfect time to get a quick brake pad check in.

How to Change Brake Pads

Again, if working on your own vehicle is something you are not comfortable with, seek the help of a professional. Here is a general how-to list to help you learn how to change brake pads.

  • Place blocks behind tires that are still on the ground to minimize the chance of rolling.
  • Loosen, but do not remove, the lug nuts on the tire using a star pattern.
  • Use a jack stand to lift your vehicle slightly off the ground to take the weight off the tire you are working on. If you are lucky enough to have a lift, the process can be done in one shot. Otherwise, you will have to take care of one wheel at a time.
  • Once your vehicle is lifted and secure, you can fully remove the wheel to expose the brake pads.
  • Use a wrench to remove the caliper bolts. To remove the caliper, lift it off the rotor. It will still be attached by a brake line, so make sure to set it or secure it so you do not rip or break that line.
  • Examine the rotor for grooves or pitting. If there is severe damage you may need to replace them or get them machined.
  • Remove the old pads from the caliper. They are usually attached with pins or bolts and will slide out once they are freed.
  • The final step before replacing the pad is to reset the caliper pin. To do this, look for the cylindrical piston inside the caliper. You will notice that it has pushed further against the side to compensate for the wear of your old pads. You will need to manually pull back this piston in order for your new, thicker pads to fit back over your caliper.
  • To put the new pads in, just reverse these directions.

How Do Your Brakes Work?

Most cars use four wheels equipped with their own brakes. However, there are still a few models that incorporate a set of disc brakes in the front and drum brakes on the rear. Vehicles using disc brakes initiate the slowing of speed by pressing on the brake pedal. The pedal causes the pads to press down on a metal rotor creating friction to slow and stop the vehicle.

Over time, the pads used to create the friction erode and become worn down. This makes them much less effective. Without a decent pad you can cause damage and pitting on your rotors resulting in a loss of their effectiveness as well. It also makes the job more expensive. That’s why it is so important to keep your brakes maintained and in working condition.

While most jobs are best left up to a mechanic, brake pad replacement is something you can do in your own garage if you are comfortable and a little mechanically inclined. Learning how to change brake pads is fairly easy.

Types of Pads

The easiest way to get a proper fitting brake pad while you are learning how to change brake pads is to stop at your local parts store. There a clerk can look up your part by the make and model of your vehicle. You will likely not have many options, if any, regarding size. However, there may be different types of pads to consider.

  • Ceramic: Composed of ceramic fibers. Offers a clean and quiet option with terrific braking ability. Will not damage rotors. Tend to be more expensive and does not last as long.
  • Semi-Metallic: Uses 30-65 percent metal such as steel wool or graphite that is bonded together with fillers. Very long-lasting and has excellent heat transfer abilities. Can wear down rotors, be noisy, and has less friction during cold weather. Not expensive.
  • Organic: Made from fibers that can include rubber, glass, Kevlar, and fillers including high-temp resin. A softer pad with less noise, less damaging to rotors, but wear fast and create dust. Tend to be less expensive.

Summing Up

Do not neglect your brakes. They help keep you safe on the road. They are something you can replace yourself if you get some practice in. This article gave you a basic overview of how to change brake pads. Give it a try and save yourself some cash while gaining peace of mind.

Scroll to Top