What does a full brake job entail?

Replacing your own brakes is a good way to save some money and learn the skills to work on your own vehicle. Anyone with a moderate amount of mechanical aptitude can complete the average brake job in an afternoon or evening and AutoZone is here to help you take that first step.

Generally, replacing a set of brake pads and rotors averages $255 if you buy the parts and install them yourself. Here’s what the job looks like if you tackle it on your own.

How to do a full brake job

All the steps to do a complete brake job can be repeated for each wheel on your vehicle. Read on for a quick guide to replacing your brakes and always remember that when working with brake fluid you should use eye protection and gloves.

1. Remove some brake fluid

Open the brake fluid reservoir and if it is full remove some of the fluid so that it doesn’t spill out during the brake job.

2. Give yourself room to work

Jack up the vehicle at the wheel you will be working on, make sure to use jack stands to support the weight of the vehicle, and remove the wheel.

3. Get the caliper out of the way

Take off the caliper and suspend it using a zip tie or bungee so that the brake hose does not kink.

4. Take the brake pads out

Remove the brake pads, taking note of the position of the wear sensor. The wear sensor, often called a squealer tab, is a small metal tab on one side of the brake pad.

5. Remove and replace the rotor if required

If there is uneven wear on the rotor, remove and replace the rotor as well. Taking off the rotors may require you to remove a caliper mounting bracket, and some rotors even have a screw that needs to be taken out in order to remove the rotor. Note that sometimes rotors can be stuck on pretty well, and you may need to use some penetrating fluid or a mallet to persuade it.

6. Prep your parts and surfaces

Clean any mounting surfaces that have even a small amount of rust on them with a wire brush, in order to ensure a perfect fit.

7. Install your new brakes

Install the new parts in the reverse order that you removed the original equipment. Make sure to lubricate any brake pad hardware so that it can slide freely on the guides and when you reinstall the caliper, you will need to use a caliper spreader to push the piston back. Note that some caliper pistons need to be screwed in, so check to see what style yours are before you do this step.

8. Top up the brake fluid

Once all the parts are reinstalled, check your brake fluid level and top it up, if needed. Gently pump the brakes to restore brake pressure to the wheel and then check the fluid level again before sealing the reservoir.

9. Check the operation

Replace the wheel and take the vehicle for a test drive.

What parts and tools will you need?

In order to complete this repair, you will want to have the following parts and tools on hand to make the job go smoothly.

Brake parts

Let’s start with the obvious parts, including a set of quality brake pads and a rotor. Another part that may need replacing is the caliper, if you find that the piston has seized, seals are damaged, or if leaks are coming from it. You should also have a small bottle of brake fluid to top up the reservoir and a tube of silicone-based brake lubricant to lubricate all the brake hardware.


We’ve already mentioned some of the safety gear that you will want to use, like gloves and safety glasses, but here are some other tools that you will require to complete this job:

  • Floor jack and jack stands
  • Wrenches
  • Ratchet set
  • Screwdrivers
  • Allen/Hex keys
  • Caliper Spreader
  • Torque wrench

Check out this list of brake job tools, and remember that many of the more specialized tools are available through the AutoZone Loan-A-Tool program.

Do I need to replace my brake caliper?

The brake caliper has some o-rings and a dust boot that keep the brake fluid from leaking out and dust from entering the piston. The brake fluid not only compresses the piston to actuate the brakes, but it also serves to lubricate all of the parts inside the caliper so that it operates flawlessly. If the dust boot is damaged and grit or moisture gets into the piston area, it can cause the piston to rust and seize, or just become difficult to move.

If you notice that the dust boot on your caliper is damaged, then you should consider replacing the caliper. In the past, many folks rebuilt their own calipers, but modern rebuilt calipers are inexpensive enough that most people simply replace the entire unit.

How much does a full brake job cost?

If you are willing to do the work yourself, you can typically get a set of brake pads for $25-$100 per axle (per axle refers to both front wheels or both rear wheels). Rotors are sold individually, at a cost of between $50 and $180 per rotor, depending on the vehicle and part grade.

That adds up to a price of between $125 and $460 per axle, which is quite the range in price for new brake pads and rotors. If you need new calipers too, that can also add between $50 and $350 per caliper.

Adding all the parts up may seem like a huge cost, but when you consider what’s at stake, it’s really worth it. Also, remember that a set of brake pads should last between 30,000 and 70,000 miles or more, so it’s a long-term investment in your safety.

Get all the parts you need to replace your brakes at AutoZone, and remember to make use of the Loan-A-Tool program for tools that you don’t have in your toolbox.

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

FREE Loan-A-Tool® program requires returnable deposit. Please note that the tool that you receive after placing an online order may be in a used but operable condition due to the nature of the Loan-A-Tool® program.

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