By Sean Wilson
This guide is the result of my first experience changing the brake pads on my 1995 Ford F150. I did all of this in one night, including the pictures. This is written for almost anyone. I have little experience with automobiles and had outside help with this. I acknowledge the contributions of Kevin Lechmanski and Chris Bellers.
How I Did It – Timeline
- 7:45 PM – I wonder if I can change the brake pads tonight. Might as well get it done myself, thus a) learning and b) saving money.
- 7:50 PM – I discover that the AID Auto store in Riverhead closes at 9:00 PM. Riverhead is probably a forty-five minute trip.
- 8:00 PM – I am on North Ferry with my brother. I have almost no gas.
- 8:15 PM – We’re finally rolling again. We daringly choose the road with the highest speed limit and the fewest gas stations. I reason that if I arrive at the store after it has closed, I’ll be kicking myself. I take the risk of running out of gas.
- 8:40 PM – Almost to the store, and very close to empty. I haven’t driven this car much (it’s my Mom’s, mine is the one with the brake pad problem) so I don’t know how much play the engineers put in the fuel gauge.
- 8:45 PM – We arrive in style, march into the store, and demand brake pads. Receiving some, we pay for them and depart. Hit up Dunkin Donuts for some ice cream (it’s combined with a Baskin Robbins), Mobil for some gas, and we’re heading home.
- 10:00 PM – Arrive home after an uneventful return trip. Wander inside for a while, wasting time on IRC. Finally decide it’s time to do some work.
- 10:20 PM – Head out to the barn with my brother in tow. He has school tomorrow, but this is educational.
- 10:30 PM – After locating a tire iron, hydraulic jack, and other gear, I proceed to jack up the passenger side of the car. I remove the wheel.
- 10:50 PM – What the hell is this assembly here. I read about it, that must be the caliper…so many bolts. I poke and prod various things for a while, trying not to break the truck.
- 12:05 AM – I come inside, aggravated and in need of outside assistance. Luckily, I have knowledgeable friends and I seek help. I return outside to take pictures of the caliper assembly, then back inside to gather advice. I proceed to waste an hour on IRC and web browsing.
- 1:30 AM – Back to work. I finally figure out that you’re supposed to remove the bolts with the rubber booties on them. The moment of brilliance arrives when I discover that the caliper isn’t attached to the pads. It just pops right off, no beating necessary. And believe you me, I was ready to beat that thing off with a hammer if need be.
- 2:15 AM – Finish the passenger side. Note with some alarm that there is a lot of brake fluid in the reservoir as a result of the thicker new pads. I don’t have any way to siphon it out…I’ll just bleed it out. That was clever, I think to myself.
- 2:30 AM – Have removed enough fluid that I feel comfortable squeezing the piston back on the driver’s side. I do that. Still listening to WFAN (AM 660), some show on where a guy is totally blasting the Mets.
- 3:00 AM – Driver’s side goes much faster. Maybe it didn’t take half an hour, I didn’t keep exact track of time. In fact, I didn’t keep any track of time. From 10:00 onward, it’s been guesswork, basically.
- 3:10 AM – Go for a test drive. Brakes are beautiful now, a little squeaking, but that’s to be expected from new brakes, I hear, for a couple of days.
- 3:30 AM – Back home and inside. Good work, me.
What You’ll Need
- Socket set, must have 1/2″ and 9/16″
- Large slothead screwdriver
- Hydraulic jack
- A lot of people say jack stands are good for safety reasons, but I didn’t use them because I don’t have any
- Tire iron (make sure it has a 13/16″ end)
- C-clamp and small piece of wood, maybe 2″x3″
- Depending on how bad the rust is, you may need a Fichschlagenwerkzeug (“beating implement”, loosely translated)
- Flashlight, if the work area is poorly lit or it’s late at night
- Brake fluid, if you’re low
- And, of course, the brake pads. The replacement pads, that is.
How to Go About It
- Park vehicle in a flat, well-lit area. Note that lighting is key, but a flashlight will work, too.
- While the truck is still on the ground, take the tire iron and loosen the lug nuts on one of the front wheels. Don’t take them all the way off, just a couple of turns. This might be difficult if they’re on there pretty well, so get a friend who takes steroids to help if you can’t manage.
- Set the parking brake, chock the rear wheels with something, and jack up one side of the vehicle. I started with the passenger side, but it doesn’t matter. Obviously, you want to work on the side where you loosened the lug nuts.
- Use the tire iron and your hands to get the lug nuts all the way off. Again, just do one wheel for now. If you get stuck, you’ll want to look at the other one as a reference point. Also, should your jack fail you, it’s nice to have one front wheel still supporting the truck.
- Take the tire off and put it underneath the body in such a way that if the jack suddenly fails, the tire will stop the truck from coming crashing down and cutting off your leg. In theory, anyway.
- You should see the brake assembly right in front of you. It looks like this and this (diff. angle). Note the monstrous jack in the second picture. Take a good look at what’s going on with this whole setup. Front View Top View Back View Head On View
- Now, take your screwdriver and jam it between the inside of the pad and the rotor. You can see what I’m talking about in the Top View. It’s the little space between the rotor (the big wheel thing) and the pad, which is sort of floating in the caliper. Trying not to gouge the rotor too much, pry the pad back as far as you can. Whack the end of the screwdriver with the hammer to really jam it in there.
- Grab your ratchet and a 1/2″ socket and take off the bolts in the little rubber booties on the back side of the caliper. You can see one of the bolts in the Back View. Put there somewhere you won’t lose them.
- What you want to do now is sort of pop the caliper off. The rotor should spin freely because you were smart and pried the pad back in the previous step. You’ll note that the brake pad facing you has two clips on it, which clip onto the caliper. Try to work those off, all the while being cautious not to screw up the brake line fitting. If things are bad, use your Fichschlagenwerkzeug to speed the process up.
- This is what it looks like with the caliper off. Good work. Now, go and slide those brake pads out of the metal clips that hold them in place. How bad are they? Are they this bad? You can see just how bad one of mine was here.
- Ok, get those new pads out and pop them back on like you took the old ones off, making sure to get them into the clip thing. Also, take the tube of silicone grease that should have come with the pads and put some on the back of each pad, not the face that touches the rotor. See the new pads installed (diff. angle).
- Grab the C-clamp and the piece of wood. Attach it to the caliper so that it’s putting pressure on the piston, the round thing that looks like it slides in and out. Force the piston back into the housing with the clamp.
- Put the caliper back on. This shouldn’t be that hard, just make sure that the bolt holes line up. Now tighten the bolts and you should be good to go.
- Finally, grab the tire assembly and slide it back over the bolts. Tighten the lug nuts as far as they’ll go and then slowly lower the car back onto the ground. Tighten the nuts all the way this time. Congratulations, you’re done with one side. Here’s the wheel back on (diff. angle).
- Since the new pads are much thicker than the old ones, you need less brake fluid to make them squeeze the rotor. Check the master cylinder reservoir under the hood. If there’s too much fluid, drain some out when you’re working on the other side. To drain fluid, take the ratchet and a 9/16″ socket and loosen up the bolt that holds the brake line down. This is called bleeding the line (diff. angle).
- That’s it. Repeat the steps for the other side. Note that you’ll probably be able to press the pedal all the way to the floor once or twice. Don’t worry about that. Take it for a test drive when you’re done. It might squeak a bit for a couple of days, but that’s to be expected. Enjoy the fact that you’ve saved yourself a bundle of money.
Questions, comments, or concerns about this procedure may be directed to /dev/null. I take no responsibility if you damage yourself or your vehicle.