How to Change Your Brake Pads and RotorsLast Updated October 3, 2023 | Meghan Drummond
If you have disc brakes, then part of your regular maintenance will be changing your brake pads and rotors. When you press your brake pedal, the friction between the brake pad and rotor brings your car to a stop. Over time, this friction wears them down, and they become less responsive.
Here’s how to tell when you should change each and how to replace your brake pads and rotors like a pro.
When Should You Change Your Brake Pads?
On average, most people change their brake pads every 50,000 miles or so. But depending on your driving habits, it might be sooner. It helps to familiarize yourself with these common signs of brake pad wear.
Most brake pads have a built-in wear indicator that will make noise when it’s time to replace them. As the pads wear down, the indicator, usually a piece of metal, makes contact with the rotor to create some squealing sounds.
You might also change your brake pads if they’re no longer meeting your needs. As your car’s performance increases, you may find yourself needing more stopping power. One of the easiest and least expensive ways to add braking power is with high-quality brake pads.
When Should You Change Your Brake Rotors?
You’ll usually change your brake rotors with every other brake pad change. Just like your brake pads, your rotors generally won’t stay quiet about needing a change. You’ll hear lots of squealing and notice that your brakes are less responsive.
Brake rotors are also available in a variety of styles. With rotors, heat dissipation is a major selling point. Heat is the number one cause of brake fade (when your brakes become less effective). If you notice brake fade, then a set of vented or slotted aftermarket rotors can help with heat dispersion.
Some people also go for a big brake kit. This includes your brake pad and rotor replacements as well as performance brake calipers. The larger surface area of a big brake kit means it has an easier time with cooling.
How To Install Brake Pads and Rotors
Replacing your own brake pads and rotors usually takes about an hour and a half. It may take a little longer if you don’t have a good set of jacks and jack stands.
You’ll need to remove your wheels and tires before you get started.
- ⅜” Ratchet
- 12 mm Socket
- 15 mm Socket
- Caliper Tool
- Small Hammer
Replacing Your Front Brake Pads and Rotors
- Remove the brake caliper.
- Remove the existing brake pads. They should simply slide out.
- Remove the caliper bracket from the spindle.
- Remove the retainer. It can be very stubborn, so you may need to use needle nose pliers or a pry bar.
- Remove the rotor. If it’s stuck, you can tap it with a hammer.
- Place the new rotor in its location. Your new rotors should be labeled right and left. There is a difference!
- Use brake cleaner to clean the slides before greasing.
- Grease the slides with new grease.
- Reinstall the caliper bracket.
- Reinsert the bolts with some threadlocker applied to them.
- Put your new brake pads in place.
- Apply grease to the backing plate of the new brake pad to help dampen sound. Be careful not to get any grease on the friction surface.
- Place the caliper back into position.
- Reinsert the bolts into the caliper to secure it.
Replacing Your Rear Pads and Rotors
- Remove the caliper bolts.
- Lift the caliper off its bracket. Before removing the rear caliper, make sure the emergency brake is not on.
- Remove the caliper bracket bolts.
- Slide off the caliper bracket.
- Remove the old rotor.
- Place your new rotor in its location. Just like with the front rotors, the rear rotors will be labeled right and left.
- Put the caliper bracket back on.
- Tighten the caliper bolts.
- Use a caliper tool to screw in the piston. Once it's screwed in, the piston notches should be facing up and down.
- Spread grease on the back of brake pads.
- Place the new brake pads in the bracket.
- Slide the caliper back into position.
- Bolt the caliper back on. Apply pressure on the caliper while you’re reinserting the screws.
How to Bed In New Your New Brakes
Once you have your brake pads installed, you’ll want to bed them. Bedding in your brake pads transfers an even layer of friction material onto the brake rotor. This leads to smoother, quieter braking and improves your braking power.
Without a correct bedding in, brake pads can create uneven sections on the rotor which can cause vibrations and poor stopping.
Doing a bed-in on a brake pad is actually pretty easy. You just need to quickly heat and then cool the brakes repeatedly.
- Find a good driving location. It’s best to pick a place where you won’t run into other drivers. A parking lot after closing time is a great pick.
- Accelerate to 35 mph, then slow down to about 5 mph.
- Repeat braking roughly 6-8 times.
- Accelerate to 55 mph, and then slow to about 5 mph. You’ll need to brake hard for this step.
- Repeat 6-8 times.
Drive around for a couple miles while lightly tapping the brake to evenly cool them.
After going through these steps, your brakes should be bedded in properly.
Test Your Brakes
After doing any work on your brakes, it’s important to drive around in a safe area. Obviously, you’ll need to do this as part of your bedding in process as well. If for any reason something doesn’t feel “right” about your brakes, trust your instincts and take it to a trusted mechanic.
Sometimes when you change your rotors and pads, air can get into your brake system. If your brakes feel mushy, then you should go ahead and bleed your brakes for safety.