Which Tools Do I Need to Change My Brake Pads?
Changing the brake pads on your vehicle is one of the most common and straightforward repairs that you can make. Doing it yourself is a great way to save money and learn some useful skills at the same time.
By doing the repair yourself, you can save hundreds of dollars in labor and fees. If you’re thinking that your tool purchases will eat up all those savings, consider that you will have those tools forever, so you can use them on future repairs and become self-sufficient.
Keep reading for a list of essential tools for changing your brake pads, plus a few wish-list items that you can do without, but certainly help make things easier.
Essential Tools for Changing Brake Pads
If you’ve ever lied down beneath a vehicle and tried to break a tight bolt loose, you know the feeling of junk falling in your eyes. A pair of safety glasses is an important tool to protect the only eyes you’ll ever own.
Brake pads generate toxic dust when they wear down, so a properly fitting mask will protect you from inhaling any of the offensive dust.
A set of combination wrenches are essential for any aspiring mechanic. One end of the wrench is open ended, while the other is enclosed, with multiple teeth to grip the nut or bolt and reduce slippage. If you are purchasing SAE wrenches, start at 1/4” and go up to at least 7/8” or 1”. For metric wrenches, you’ll want to go from about 7mm to 22mm. Most newer cars are moving toward metric sizes, so you might be okay to just purchase a metric set to start with.
Allen Wrenches, Hex Keys, Torx and Allen Sockets
Some people call them Allen Wrenches, some call them Hex Keys, but they are the same tool, basically a hexagonal, L-shaped rod, made of hardened steel.
Torx sockets have a 6-sided star-shape on the business end and sizes range from very small (0.031”) to almost an inch.
Some manufacturers use either a hex key/Allen wrench or Torx fasteners to attach calipers to wheel carriers, but you should check before starting your repair so that you don’t buy unnecessary tools.
Ratchet and Socket Set
A ratchet and socket set should be one of your first purchases. They form the core of your tool set, and you can actually get sets that include your ratchets/sockets, wrenches, Allen keys, and other assorted tools, all in a handy kit that latches shut. These kits are a great investment, and you’ll be surprised at how often you pull it out for non-automotive repairs around the house.
Screwdriver sets are inexpensive and essential for all repairs. Get a wide range of sizes and types including flat, Phillips, and Robertson. You’ll soon discover you can never have enough screwdrivers.
Jack and Jack Stands
our brakes are mounted inside the wheels, so you need to take the wheels off to work on them, and that means that you need to elevate the car.
The least expensive floor jack will be strong enough to lift almost all passenger vehicles, but if you can afford a larger one, they tend to have a greater range of motion, so they can get the vehicle higher in case you need to do a repair all the way under the car. Low-profile jacks are also handy, especially if you own or have aspirations to own a sports car or sedan.
Jack stands are metal stands with adjustable height, designed to support the weight of a vehicle while you work on it. Always use jack stands when working on your vehicle. Your jack alone cannot be trusted to keep the car elevated when you are underneath it.
You can use the lug wrench from your vehicle to remove your wheel lugs when taking off the wheels. The one that comes with your car can do in a pinch but most aren’t durable or user-friendly, so a better one from AutoZone will make your life easier.
Non-Essential But Helpful Tools for Changing Brake Pads
These tools are very handy to have around when changing your brake pads, but many backyard mechanics do without them. If you can afford it, they are worth the purchase.
Brake Caliper Spreader
Before you install your new set of brake pads, you will have to back off the calipers to open up the gap so that you can install the new pads and fit them over your rotors. Backyard mechanics have developed all kinds of homemade solutions, but these two tools make life easier.
Many home mechanics use a large C-clamp to open up the caliper.
A brake caliper spreader is a purpose-built tool that fits between the closed caliper and has a mechanism that you squeeze, ratchet or screw to expand the gap. Some brands refer to it as a “brake caliper press”. Keep in mind that many rear calipers that have the integrated emergency brake require a special brake tool to twist and push the caliper in at the same time. This tool can be rented directly from AutoZone’s Loan-A-Tool program.
A torque wrench applies a specific amount of torque to the nut or bolt that you are fastening. Lug nuts, along with many other fasteners on a vehicle have a specific torque that needs to be applied, and a torque wrench will allow you to accomplish this.
One of the drawbacks of working on your own vehicle is the grime that gets under your fingernails and into the pores of your skin, making clean-up afterwards challenging. Nitrile gloves not only protect your hands from chemicals, but they also keep them from getting filthy, and most professional and amateur mechanics who try them never go back to bare skin.
How Can I Tell if I Need to Change My Brake Pads?
Many modern cars have advanced sensing systems that warn the driver when brake pad thickness is too low, but your most effective tools for diagnosing worn out brakes are your ears and eyes.
Brake pads have a small metal warning tab that begins to contact the brake rotor when the pad is almost worn out. This is what usually causes that annoying brake squealing sound when braking at low speed. If your brakes start to squeal, take off the tire and look at the pads. If they have less than 4/32” of material, not including the metal bracket, you should plan to replace them soon.
Working on your own car is great because it saves you money, gives you a sense of accomplishment, and keeps you in touch with the mechanics of the vehicle so that you can diagnose small problems before they become big problems.