There are several key indicators that a vehicle’s brake pads may need to be replaced, including (but not limited to) the brake indicator symbol lighting up on the instrument panel; audio cues such as your brakes sounding different than normal when braking in normal conditions; a change in the way your vehicle feels when it’s braking; and visual cues such as the thickness of the brake pad (anything 5mm or thinner will need to be replaced!). 

If you’re a mechanic (or a distributor working with mechanics), you may find yourself being asked a heap of questions relating to brake pad replacements. Within this guide, we will show you the standard steps to take when replacing brake pads and how to do so safely. While there may be some variation for different vehicle types and models, the basic steps will tend to be extremely similar. 

Step 1: Observation & securing the vehicle 

Take a look at the existing brake discs and brake pads to see what needs to be replaced and look for any damage that may indicate additional work is required. Any deep scratches, dents, or breakage may indicate the work required extends beyond just replacing the brake pads. 

As it’s best practice to replace brake pads and brake discs at the same time, we will be walking you through both today.

Ensure the vehicle is parked with lots of space around it (and away from other vehicles that may be getting work done at the same time). Double-check that the parking brake / emergency brake / hand brake is engaged (note: some vehicles may use an “auto hold” feature – this is not the same as a parking brake and should not be used during vehicle maintenance). 

As a secondary level of safety, it’s also a good idea to put blocks in front of and behind the rear wheels to prevent any movement while working on the vehicle (or the front wheels if you’re working on the rear wheels).

Step 2: Removing the wheels

In order to remove a car’s wheels, you will need the vehicle’s lug nut key. Keys can vary in shape and size, so if the owner does not have their lug nut key, you may need to use a universal lug nut key kit to find the correct size. 

Loosen the lug nuts while the car is still on the ground to ensure they can all be easily removed without additional assistance and then proceed to jack up the car and lift the side you’ll be working on to gain better access to the wheels. Remove all lug nuts and keep them safe to one side. 

Pull the wheel off and place it to one side (you can place it under the vehicle). 

Step 3: Removing and replacing the brake disc and brake pads 

As you’ll see in the video above, this car has some rust around the brake disc and calliper. This is normal, and older vehicles will be more susceptible to rust due to wear over time. If there is a lot of rust, you may need to leave some cleaning oil overnight to help remove the rust and make it easier to see what you’re working with (especially if the brake disc is unable to come off).  

At this stage, it may be helpful to use the steering wheel to move the mechanism in a way that provides a better view (left/right depending on which side of the car you’re working on). 

Unbolt the calliper and lift up to reveal and remove the old brake pads. Then, while the calliper is still in the open position, unbolt any remaining screws and remove the calliper. You’ll notice it’s attached to the brake line – ensure this isn’t strained when you lie the calliper down.

You’ll now be able to remove the calliper bracket by loosening the bolts and then you’ll be able to pull the brake disc off to replace it. Replace the brake disc, brake pads, and reattach the calliper bracket and calliper and secure as before. 

You may need to clean off any rust between steps to ensure pieces fit together nicely – use cleaner or a metal brush. Some lubrication will also be required to prevent mental-on-metal contact as this can cause excess friction and noise, e.g. on the back of the brake pad and on the parts where the brake pads sit in the callipers – just take care to ensure no lubricant makes its way onto the brake pad surface that comes in contact with the brake disc. 

Step 4: Resecuring the wheels and testing the brakes

Once the calliper is secured back in place, you can go ahead and put the wheels back on. Tighten the lug nuts partially to start, lower the car so the wheels are in contact with the ground, and finish tightening the lug nuts fully before lowering the car completely down and removing the jacks. 

Once the process is complete for all brake pads, it’s time to test the brakes!

Get inside the vehicle and use the brake a few times while the car is stationary. The brake will feel soft the first few pushes, but you should feel the pressure under your foot changing. Once it feels “normal” slowly get the vehicle moving and use the brakes to test the system fully. 

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