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How can I Replace my Own Brakes?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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For anyone that has considered replacing the brakes on the household vehicle, it is important to proceed with care. After all, the brakes on a car are part of the essential operation equipment and the job needs to be done properly. Here are some things to keep in mind if you have determined to install your own brakes.

Before ever loosening the first lug nut, it is important that you read everything in your automobile owner’s manual regarding the braking system. You want to know in advance the specifications for the types of disc brakes, what size brake shoes are required, and any special preparations that have to be made before the braking system is accessed. Choosing to gather and assimilate relevant information before you begin to install your own brakes will prevent quite a few problems while engaging in this do it yourself automotive project.

Next, gather the tools necessary to successfully install your own brakes. This will involve the car jack, chocks to fit behind the tires not located near the brakes, and hand tools needed to loosen lugs and other nuts and bolts during the process. Keep in mind your hand tools may all be linear, but you need metric tools for this job. Check your owner’s manual for details on what type nuts and bolts are used with your make and model.

Third, have the replacement parts on hand that you will need in order to install your own brakes. At the very least you will need brake pads, shoes and possibly a new brake rotor. Actually, you will not know about the rotor until you are in the brake system. Keep in mind that brake rotors on many cars can be turned once, allowing you to forgo replacement until next time.

Once you have all your tools and replacement parts assembled, make sure the vehicle is on firm ground and position the jack. There are two tasks that you should do before lifting up the first wheel. Place chocks behind the other three wheels, to prevent the car from rolling off the jack. Second, loosen the lug nuts on the tire before lifting up that section of the vehicle. Do not remove them at this time; simply loosen them so they will be easier to remove later. Once the tire is off the ground, remove the lug nuts and take off the tire. You will now be able to see the condition of your brakes and begin the process to install your own brakes.

Check for problems with the hoses, fittings and the caliper. Make sure to check the brake pads on both sides of the brake disc. Also feel around the brake disc and note any grooves you may find. Once you are satisfied that the brake disc is still in good shape, remove the brake cylinder and lay the cylinder on top of the disc brake. The unit will be somewhat heavy in most models and you need it to remain stationary while you replace the pads and shoes. Keep in mind the brake line is attached and you do not want to damage it during the process as you install your own brakes.

Sliding the old brake pads off, check the master cylinder for any signs of wear or any leaks that might indicate a problem with the brake fluid. Hopefully, you will find none. At this point in the process to install your own brakes, take a moment and wipe off any dirt or residue around the brakes. You can also use this opportunity to lubricate all the contact points. At this juncture, you can install the new brake pads. This will be relatively easy on newer vehicles, as most of them simply snap in place. This is also the chance to replace worn brake shoes if necessary. There are usually only a couple of nuts holding them in place. Remove the nuts, clean the area behind the shoe and replace with the new shoes.

From this point, it is a matter of reversing your process and reassembling the components. Your last task in the process to install your own brakes is to put the tire back on the vehicle, secure with the lug nuts and lower the jack mechanism. Remember to tighten the lug nuts completely once the vehicle is back on the ground. Repeat this process with each of the sets of brakes on the vehicle.

Keep in mind that for major brake jobs involving replacing the entire system, you may want to seek the services of a professional. Installing your own brakes is fine when it comes to turning rotors and changing out pads and shoes, but major problems require the expertise of a seasoned mechanic. Understand your limits in the task of being able to install your own brakes and respect them. That approach will translate into safe operation of the vehicle for you, your loved ones, and other people on the road.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By AnswerMan — On Jan 20, 2015

@Reminiscence- I have done a few brake repairs and it's not as bad as it sounds. If you can handle engine tune-ups and starter problems, you can probably install your own brakes. The first thing I learned was how to replace brake pads, which is fairly straightforward as long as you have the right tools and a way to stabilize the car while you work. I found it a little awkward to access the brake parts while the car was on the ground, but a friend of mine had a car lifter in his garage and he let me use it.

Once you gain access to the brake pads and rotor, it's just a question of unscrewing the old parts and putting on the new ones. The brake pads themselves don't need much adjusting once you've seated them and tighten down the screws. Adjusting the caliper cables and inspecting the rotor was a little trickier. Fortunately, I've never had to turn a rotor myself. I'm not even sure I believe in the practice, truth be told. I'd just spring for a new rotor if I could afford it at all.

By Reminiscence — On Jan 19, 2015

I'm a firm believer in doing as many car repairs as I can, but I draw the line at brake repair. I'm a pretty good self-taught mechanic, I think, but there's just too many valuable things that depend on reliable brakes, my family members included. I suppose I could replace brake pads if I absolutely had to do, but there's no way I could turn a rotor or replace a damaged master cylinder. I leave all of that up to trained professionals.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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