How To Replace Brake Pads

Let’s prevent your car from smooching that Prius’ bumper, okay?

A man removes brake pads.
Depositphotos

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Like an oil change, replacing your car’s brake pads is a do-it-yourselfer’s rite of passage. The next scout badge, the hard-earned promotion, the leveling up of a wrencher. But not everyone has an Uncle Tony or crazy cousin Jonathon to help them get to that next step and explain how to replace brake pads...until now.

Brake pads, and brakes in general, are an often overlooked piece of car maintenance. They’re sort of the “Set it and forget it!” of automotive systems. They’re not really a part you regularly check. Yet, your brakes are perhaps the most important part of your car as they ensure your continued survival. Maintaining them, then, should be a top priority and one of the easiest ways to do that is by replacing your brake pads when they start to fade. 

If you’re nervous, don’t fret as The Drive’s crack informational team of Uncle Tony and crazy cousin Jonathon are here to guide you through each and every step of how to replace brake pads. 

Ready to rock?

A brake rotor and caliper having its pads replaced.
Depositphotos

A brake rotor and caliper having its pads replaced.

Replacing Brake Pad Basics

Estimated Time Needed: Two to four hours

Skill Level: Intermediate

Vehicle System: Braking

What Are Brake Pads?

Brake pads come in three different flavors; non-metallic organic, semi-metallic, and ceramic. Each has its own use and longevity. To find out more about brake pad construction and how long brake pads last, click here to read The Drive’s How Long Do Brake Pads Last  article that more thoroughly describes the part. 

Replacing Brake Pad Safety

Working on your car can be dangerous and messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you don’t die, get maimed, or lose a finger and keep your jeans, shirt, and skin spotless—hopefully.

Brake pads.
Depositphotos

Brake pads.

Everything You’ll Need To Replace Brake Pads

We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done. 

Tool List 

Parts List 

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the slammer or paying any fines.

  Depositphotos Worn brake pads.
Depositphotos

Worn brake pads.

Here’s How To Replace Brake Pads

Let’s do this! 

Replacing Brake Pads

  1. Loosen the lug nuts on the front two wheels.
  2. For better clearance, lift up the front end of your vehicle.
  3. Place jack stands on the frame at the front of the car.
  4. Remove the first wheel.
  5. Locate the brake caliper’s mounting bolts. They’ll be on the rear of the caliper.
  6. Remove the mounting bolts. 
  7. Remove the anti-rattle clip. You can pry it off with a flathead screwdriver. It may fly off, so be careful.
  8. You can now slide the caliper off the rotor. Rest the caliper on the top rotor so it’s not hanging by the brake line.
  9. The caliper’s mounting bracket will stay in place. 
  10. Remove the brake pads.
  11. The brake caliper piston, the piece that pushes the brake pad into the rotor, may be extended. Using the face clamp pliers, put one side of the plier’s grip on the piston, and the other side on the caliper’s steel backing.
  12. Press the piston into the caliper until it sits flush. Be sure not to damage the piston’s rubber. 
  13. Take the inboard brake pad, the one with a retaining clip on its backing, and place a small amount of brake pad lubricant on the back of it.
  14. Press into the piston’s opening until it locks in place.
  15. Take the outboard brake pad and place a small amount of brake pad lubricant on the back of it.
  16. Rest the outboard brake pad on the caliper mounting bracket that’s still attached to the rotor.
  17. Slide the caliper with the onboard brake pad attached back onto the mounting bracket with the outboard brake caliper.
  18. Lubricate the caliper’s mounting bolts, but not the threads, and reinstall them.
  19. Reattach the anti-rattle clip.
  20. Repeat the steps for the other wheels.
  21. Reattach the wheels and hand-tighten the lug nuts.
  22. Raise the jack enough to remove jack stands.
  23. Lower the vehicle.
  24. Torque the lug nuts to their manufacturer’s designated specification.
  25. Pop the car’s hood and remove the brake fluid cap.
  26. Pump brakes to make sure braking pressure returned and air is out of the system 
  27. If it did, great, you’re done!

Get Help With Brake Pad Replacement From a Mechanic On JustAnswer 

The Drive recognizes that while our How-To guides are detailed and easily followed, a rusty bolt, an engine component not in the correct position, or oil leaking everywhere can derail a project. That’s why we’ve partnered with JustAnswer, which connects you to certified mechanics around the globe, to get you through even the toughest jobs. 

So if you have a question or are stuck, click here and talk to a mechanic near you. 

How brake pads are supposed to sit on a rotor.
Depositphotos

How brake pads are supposed to sit on a rotor.

Pro Tips to Replace Brake Pads

Over the years, The Drive’s editors have replaced the brake pads of everything from a 1991 Plymouth Acclaim to a 1970 Opel GT and even a 2005 Volkswagen Passat W8, along with a handful of others. Here are our pro tips for replacing brake pads.

  • If they’re squeaking, it’s time to change. It’ll start quiet and over the course of a few weeks to a month will become unbearably loud. Replace them immediately.
  • You can visually inspect your brake pads friction surface too. Jack up your car, remove the wheel and see how thick your brake pads are by looking into the caliper. If they’re almost as thin as the brake pad’s backing plate, it’s time to replace them.
  • Replace pads in pairs. This will help maintain even brake feel and prevent uneven wear on the rest of the braking system.

How Often Do You Need To Replace Brake Pads?

Your average brake pad is engineered to last about 50,000 miles, though driving styles, use, and environmental factors play factors in their longevity. 

Performance brake pads trade durability for intense driving and repeated abuse, while bargain pads trade durability for affordability. 

Each car, truck, and SUV manufacturer will denote how long your brake pads are good for in your car’s owner’s manual or on its website. Aftermarket brake pads will display their engineering lifespan on the box that the brake pads come in.  

How Much Does It Cost To Replace Brake Pads

Brake pads range from $30 to $50 but could be much more expensive depending on the car (e.g. a Porsche Taycan won’t have the same brake pads as a Nissan Versa).

Life Hacks To Replace Brake Pads

Since you may not have access to the right tools, or have a friend you can bum a wrench off of, we also compiled a list of our best hacks to make your life easier and drain your pocket less.

  • If you don’t have face clamp pliers, you can release the brake caliper’s bleeder valve and use your hands and a screwdriver laid out lengthwise along the piston to press it back in. Trigger clamps are a third option.