Installing High Performance Brake Rotors, Pads and Lines on a 1997-2003 F150

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Installing High Performance Brake Rotors, Pads and Lines on a 1997-2003 F150

By Michael Zimmers
20 August 2004

My truck recently developed an annoying squeak around the passenger front wheel area. It occured during braking, but was also dependent upon wheel angle (turning the steering wheel would change or stop the squeak). As time went on, the squeak became constant. The squeak, along with the fact that the truck was sneaking up on 50,000 miles, led me to conclude that it was time to spruce up the braking system a bit.

Vendor Selection

I did my research for this project in the same way I do for almost any project on the Internet. A Google search revealed a dizzying array of vendors of aftermarket brake parts. After reviewing the choices and talking with some of the vendors, I decided to go with products from Performance Plus Brakes, based on the following criteria:

  • I liked the website. Easy to navigate, good product descriptions and no annoying sounds of unmuffled engines being revved to 15K RPM.
  • I liked the details of the products I was considering. Especially intriguing was the carbon-Kevlar compound used in their pads, which has the desirable property that it gets stickier as it heats up. While I don’t intend to make a habit of exploiting this feature, it’s nice to know that the pads have this property, particularly for an off-road vehicle.
  • I greatly appreciated the time and attention they gave me on the phone. As I’ve indicated in other articles I’ve written, I am a stickler for customer service. Most online businesses are about the same as their brick and mortar counterparts, which is to say, sadly lacking in this area. The folks at Performance Plus Brakes were patient, informative and genuinely seemed to enjoy talking about their products. This closed the deal for me.

Component Selection

After speaking with the people at Performance Plus Brakes, I decided to tackle the front brakes only at the present, as it was a front wheel that was making the noise, and the fact that front brakes wear considerably more quickly than the rears (as they pointed out). I decided on the following components:

  • pads. I measured the remaining pad material through the inspection holes in the caliper on the driver’s side, and found about 1/8" remained. This was close enough to the end that I wanted to replace them (plus I was pretty sure that the noise I was hearing was pad-related).
  • rotors. while my rotors looked fine on the braking surface, an inspection of the perimeter revealed that metal was flaking off from the inside of the vents. My truck began its life in the Atlantic Seaboard area, where rust is a common problem on vehicle components and bodies, so I decided to replace the rotors as well.
  • brake lines. While my original brake lines looked fine, I just wasn’t too excited about using unreinforced rubber for something so critical, especially on a vehicle that’s off-road capable. I ordered some stainless steel lines covered in a blue coating that matched the truck’s paint (so what, call me vain).

Here’s a picture of the beast that’s ready for the operation, a 2001 Ford F-150 Super Crew 4×4 with the 5.4L engine. The curb weight of this vehicle is about 5600 pounds, so good brakes seem essential.

First I broke loose the lug nuts, then I jacked up the front end. This project didn’t require me to get under the vehicle at all, so I probably could have gotten away without jack stands, but I went ahead and used them anyway.

Originally I used an impact wrench, but my compressor is too small to really drive it well, so I ended up just using a socket wrench.

Once the wheel came off, I then removed the brake caliper and the caliper bracket. Since I was replacing the brake lines in this effort, I went ahead and disconnected it as well.

This photo hints at the rust that the rotors have acquired. I had to bang on the back of the rotor with a rubber mallet to free it from the rust and get it to come off of the hub.

Pick a Standard, Any Standard

At this point, I should probably mention the amazing combination of standard and metric fasteners that FoMoCo used in assembling the brake system. After I finished the job, I went around and double-checked to make sure I wasn’t dreaming it up. Here’s the list of wrench sizes I used in the project:

lug nuts
hard brake line nuts
flexible line banjo bolts
caliper bolts
anchor bracket bolts
bleed valves
hose bracket bolts

Apart from the seemingly random mixture of US and metric, I was especially "impressed" with the choice of 18mm for the anchor bracket bolt. For those of you who aren’t familiar, most metric wrench and socket sets sold in the USA don’t include an 18mm unit. This is because 18mm is in theory close enough to 11/16" to be unnecessary, since most mechanics here in the states have a full set of US wrenches. In this case, however, the bolt is too big for an 11/16" but far too small for 3/4". So be forewarned: to do this project right, you may need an 18mm socket (a wrench isn’t sufficient as these bolts call for a torque setting).

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the old and new rotors. The physical dimensions are identical; the primary differences of the new rotor are the dimples and slots on the braking surface, and the black finish.

The round dimples aren’t drilled all the way through (which is known as cross-drilling) like some other rotors feature; the tech folks said this was to retain strength. Installing the rotors is simply a matter of slipping them on over the lug bolts.

The last component to be removed is the brake hose. On my truck, the hard brake lines were tightened down much too much for an 11mm nut, in my opinion. I definitely needed a flare nut wrench for this (and in fact, I removed the driver’s side hard line from the truck for better access to the nut).

I included this picture so you can compare the OEM mounting bracket, which is stamped onto the hose, with the new one. The aftermarket bracket is smaller and requires a minor bending of the hard line to fit.

What’s This Extra Hole For?

It was at this point that I hit my first snag. The driver side brake line I had received came with two "ports" (holes for the hard lines to connect to). My truck, however, had only one hard line coming to the driver side wheel. I called Performance Plus Brakes‘ technical support, who double-checked their factory references and said that my truck year and model is spec’d as having a dual port set-up. (This was later confirmed by an equally authoritative third party; evidently, I got a truck whose brakes were installed at 4:45 PM on a Friday before a long weekend.) They suggested that I plug the unneeded second port with a reverse flare nut, but I couldn’t get a decent seal.

This was an opportunity for Performance Plus Brakes to show off their customer service, and they rose to the occasion in superb form. It was 3 PM on a Thursday, and if I didn’t get a replacement line by the next day, the project would be on hold for the weekend. Jimmy at Performance Plus quickly got me in touch with their affiliate who assembles the brake lines, and after a quick chat, I was told they’d try to get me a replacement overnight. In the conversation, I happened to mention that I thought the brake lines could be an inch or two longer (my need for a little extra length may be related to the single-port configuration of my truck).

The next morning, not only did I get a full replacement set via DHL, but to my astonishment, the new lines had been custom-made to be 2" longer than stock as per my "request." Needless to say, this level of customer service is well beyond even my high expectations, and was in and of itself enough to make me happy that I had chosen Performance Plus.

Before the caliper can be re-installed over the rotor, the pistons have to be pushed back into their cylinders. A big benefit to removing the caliper from the vehicle is that it makes this step much easier. Instead of hassling with C-clamps and working in the wheel well, I just popped the caliper in my bench vise so that the vise jaws touched the pistons, and slowly tightened the vise until the pistons were fully back into their cylinders.

Once the caliper is bolted back onto the anchor bracket, it’s time to install the new brake line. Here I discovered my only complaint about the new products. The banjo bolt attaches about 2" below the bleed valve. The OEM line’s stress relief was deliberately angled away to avoid the bleed valve. The new line’s stress relief is straight and causes the hose to interfere with the bleed valve. The folks at Performance Plus are aware of this, and are working on a revised model.

The other end of the line posed a bit of a challenge as well. The new bracket positions the hose much closer to the bolt than the OEM bracket did. (I couldn’t re-use the OEM bracket, as it is stamped onto the brake hose.) This means that the hard brake line has to move a little, something hard brake lines don’t really like to do.

My workaround was to connect the line to the hose first, then put the bracket into place, allowing the hard line to choose it’s own path. This puts the least possible strain on the hard line. Still, I wouldn’t have done this had the movement been more than the inch that it was.

Once the hoses were reconnected, the next step was to bleed the brake lines. I bought a simple hose-into-a-sealed-cup device to make this more of a one-man job. It’s adequate for the little bit of work that I do, but if I were expecting to do a lot of brake bleeding, I’d invest in a pressure bleeder. Since I had completely empty hoses, mostly empty calipers, and hard lines that had partly drained, it took considerably more brake fluid (and pumping) than one might otherwise expect. I think I pumped the brake pedal at least a dozen times, but I finally got a rock-solid feel to the pedal.

After bleeding, I put the wheel back on the hub and torqued the lug nuts down to 95 ft-lbs. The project was finished.

This picture is looking down at the bottom of an original rotor, and was taken after knocking the old rotor loose (but before removing it from the hub). The light-colored flakes you can see on the ground have fallen out from the rotor vents. Needless to say, seeing this made me happy that I was replacing these calipers.

This picture is of an original rotor. You can see more flakes forming on the inside of the axial vents. I can’t say authoritatively that there was enough deterioration to pose a safety hazard, but when it comes to brakes, I’m not a fan of taking chances. This alone is probably impetus enough for me to attack the rear brakes as well.

Tools of the Trade

Here is a picture of every single tool I needed to perform the installation. Most are self-explanatory. I used the torch to put some heat on a hard line nut that just didn’t want to budge for me. I used the brake cleaner liberally (more on the importance of staying clean later).

As you can see, this job doesn’t take a lot of fancy tools. I didn’t even need the impact hammer, and the only other "exotic" piece here is the floor jack.

The Importance Of Staying Clean

Whenever working with a vehicle’s braking system, but especially when opening the lines that carry brake fluid, it is vital that you keep everything as clean as possible. I’m not going to repeat the same lecture we’ve all heard about how a single molecule of carbon once got into someone’s brake system during some sloppy mechanical work and caused a 150-car pileup in Fresno, but it is hard to overstate the need for keeping the lines that convey brake fluid free of contaminants. To this end:

  • Use brake cleaner. Lots of brake cleaner. Try not to breathe it, as it has some nasty stuff (like toluene and xylene), but do use it to spray off any area that might collect brake dust, as well as the connecting points of all hoses and lines.
  • Keep your hands clean. During this job, I lost count of the number of times I used the creamy hand cleaner, but I’m sure it was at least a dozen.
  • Keep your tools clean.
  • Cover or plug any open orifices (like the holes on the calipers) while you’re working on other things.
  • Don’t let brake fluid puddle anywhere. It will ruin a paint job in no time, and is slippery as hell on a concrete garage floor.

Final Notes

There was a surprising variation in the remaining pad material on the pads. The inner pads had less material left, which may be attributed to the fact that they receive the piston pressure directly and do more of the braking work than their outer counterparts. Somewhat more surprising was a fairly large difference between the two wheels the passenger side had considerably less material remaining. I’m not sure to what I should attribute this, but it bears investigation. I also discovered that a built-in anti-rattle spring on one of the passenger side pads had broken; this is probably where the annoying squeak mentioned above came from.

I did this project one wheel at a time. The first wheel took awhile, since much of what I was doing was new territory for me, but the second wheel took less than 75 minutes, including unpacking, clean-up and time-outs for photography. This is not a difficult project; the keys are to work slowly, carefully and keep handy the phone number for tech support!

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