How to Change Brake Pads and Rotors
Changing your own pads and rotors is a great way to save on brake replacement costs. Not only is this a great way to save money, it's a relatively straightforward job that can be done by a moderately skilled DIYer in a couple of hours. This article is a general guide to replacing brake pads and rotors.
You can find out if you need new brakes by visually inspecting the pads for signs of wear. You should do this immediately if you notice any bad brake symptoms. These might include issues like squealing, squeaking or grinding, pulsation from the pedal, steering wheel shimmy (or shaking). After you change them, it's smart to keep track of when you replaced them so that you will know when it's time to change your brakes, or at least inspect them, next.
Check out the video above or keep scrolling for general steps outlining how to change brake pads and rotors in the most vehicles. If you aren’t confident that you can do this job, check out our list of recommended repair shops in your area.
How to Replace Brake Pads and Rotors
2. Check the brake fluid level
Open the hood and check the brake fluid reservoir. If it’s full, some fluid needs to be removed. This will help avoid spillage due to overflow when compressing the brake caliper piston.
3. Raise the vehicle and remove the wheel
Loosen the lug nuts with a breaker bar and socket while the wheel is on the ground and stationary. Raise the vehicle with a hydraulic jack from a secure point. Place a jack stand or stands under the appropriate points and safely lower the vehicle onto the jack stands. Remove the lug nuts and the wheel.
4. Remove the bolts and the caliper
You should be able to reach the caliper bolts pretty easily. Turning the wheel left or right will provide easier access. Once the caliper is removed, suspend it with a bungee cord. Note: Removing the caliper may require different steps on your vehicle.
5. Remove the old pads and rotor
Inspect the old pads for uneven wear patterns. Uneven wear is an indicator of the pad or pads ‘sticking’ due to lack of lubricant, worn pad or caliper hardware, or a sticking caliper piston. The brake pad box will have a guide to reference when inspecting for uneven wear.
Once the pads are off, remove the rotor. On many vehicles, you’ll need to remove the caliper mounting bracket in order to remove the rotor. The brake caliper bolts to the brake caliper mounting bracket which bolts to the spindle assembly. To remove the brake rotor, first remove the brake caliper and then remove the brake caliper bracket. This will allow access to the rotor.
6. Clean the rotor mounting surface
The hub surface needs to be cleaned with a wire brush to remove rust and debris. This will ensure the new rotor sits flush on the hub and eliminates the possibility of pedal pulsation. Rust as thin as a sheet of paper can translate to pedal pulsation.
7. Clean the new rotor
Grab some AutoZone Brake Cleaner. Duralast Gold Rotors come with a rust fighting protection coating, so you can skip this step if you’ve got those.
8. Install the new rotor
Look at you. You’re doing great.
9. Install brake hardware
Replace the brake hardware with new hardware. When worn, old brake hardware creates vibrations that is heard in the form of brake noise at low stopping speeds. These clips should be replaced with each brake job. Make sure to apply brake lubricant at the slider contact points before installing the hardware.
10. Get brake pads ready to install
Note the wear-sensor position orientation to install the pads correctly. Different pads have varying wear-sensor placement. Some pad sets have wear sensors on just the inner pads, some on all four pads, and some do not have wear sensors.
11. Install new brake pads
Looking good over here!
12. Inspect brake caliper and piston, then compress
Look at the brake caliper and piston and inspect it for any brake fluid seepage. If the caliper and piston are clean, use the front/rear disc brake pad spreader set to safely seat the caliper piston. You can borrow the spreader set for free from any AutoZone through Loan-A-Tool.* On some rear disc brakes, the caliper pistons screw in, and require the disc brake pad spreader set to be seated properly.
13. Install the caliper
Take the caliper off the bungee cord and put it back on. VERY IMPORTANT – DO NOT OVERTIGHTEN the caliper bolts. This can lead to much bigger problems. Start tightening the bolts with a socket, then use a torque wrench to tighten the bolts correctly. You can borrow a torque wrench for free at any AutoZone through Loan-A-Tool. Consult a service manual for proper torque specs.
14. Check brake fluid reservoir
Top-off to the max fill line if needed. Be sure the brake fluid reservoir cap is installed before going to the next step. This will avoid spillage.
15. Pump the brakes
This will make sure brake fluid is flowing properly and the system is working. Sit in the vehicle and slowly pump the brake pedal until it feels firm. CAUTION Do NOT press the brake pedal all the way to the floor. This may cause internal damage to the brake master cylinder assembly.
16. Check the brake fluid reservoir again
Top-off again if necessary. Always re-install the cap after topping off to avoid spillage.
17. Install the wheel and lower the vehicle
Install the wheel and tighten the lug nuts while the vehicle is raised. Raise the vehicle with a jack, remove the jack stands, lower the vehicle until the wheel is just touching, and tighten the lug nuts with a torque wrench. Consult your owner’s manual for the proper torque for your vehicle.
18. Repeat on the remaining wheels
Make sure the brake pedal is firm before driving.
19. Go for an easy drive
Go for a safe, easy drive to break in the new brakes. On a safe road, accelerate to around 50mph. Apply the brakes, not too hard, and slowly bring the vehicle’s speed down to 30mph. Continue to drive at this speed for 2 to 3 minutes to allow the brakes to cool. Repeat this process four to five times until the new brakes are ready for daily use. This process is known as bedding brakes.
Note: These steps provide a general outline for replacing brake pads and rotors on the front disc brakes of most vehicles. Some steps may vary by year, make and model. Reference a repair guide or one of our vehicle specific videos for more specific information.