Ford F-150/F-250: How To Replace Brake Calipers

Have you ever wondered why your Ford F-150 or Super Duty isn't stopping as fast as it used to? The problem isn't as bad as you might think. Here is how to replace your brake calipers.

By Jim Dillon - September 3, 2014

This article applies to the Ford F-150 (2004-2014) and the F-250, F-350 Super Duty (2005-2014).

Some of the hardest-working parts on your Ford F-150 or Super Duty are the brake calipers – the clamp-like devices that saddle the brake rotors. The calipers squeeze the brake pads against the rotors to slow or stop your truck. Through repeated abuse, or due to age, calipers periodically need to be rebuilt. The brake piston that pushes against the brake pad can become damaged, or more commonly, the piston seal, which protects that insides of the calipers from contaminants can tear, causing brake fluid contamination, and sticking calipers. Rebuilds are generally pretty inexpensive, and only require the use of hand tools and and air supply. However, some people often find better deals on remanufactured calipers, versus rebuilding their existing ones, and choose to replace them. With that said, this is how to replace your brake calipers.

Materials Needed

  • Replacement calipers and brake pads
  • Floor jack
  • Jack stands
  • Tire iron
  • C-clamp
  • Brake fluid
  • Brake bleeding tool, or a helpful friend
  • Socket wrench kit (You'll need metric or standard socket wrenches, depending on the age of your truck)

Pro Tip

Some new caliper assemblies come with pads pre-installed.

Step 1 - Lift the truck and remove the wheels

Loosen the lug nuts on your wheels, then raise your truck using your jack. Make sure to always secure the truck using your jack stands. Unscrew the lug nuts on your wheels and remove your wheels off of the truck.

Figure 1. Raise your truck and secure it.

Step 2 - Remove and secure the brake line

There are two paths to take at this point, if you plan on replacing the flexible brake line that leads to the caliper, you can use a C-clamp and pinch it, to limit the amount of brake fluid that will cover your already messy hands. Flexible brake lines like these should be replaced roughly every 10 years, or when there is visible cracking permeating the surface.

If you plan on re-using these brake lines, you're going to have to act swiftly. Ready a catch pan or the like, because when you remove the brake line from the caliper, brake fluid is going to rush out. Unfasten the brake line from the caliper. On most Ford trucks, this is a 3/8" fitting, which you can remove with a standard wrench, don't use an adjustable wrench, or you risk destroying the fitting. Unfasten the fitting, and using a pen cap or similar, quickly plug the brake line as best you can to limit the amount or air introduced to the system, and the amount of fluid lost.

        Figure 2. Clamp the brake line.

Step 3 - Remove the brake caliper

Locate the brake fluid bleeding screw on the back of the old brake caliper. It should be covered with a rubber cap. Undo the cap for access to the screw. Use pliers and very gently loosen and remove it. Any residual brake fluid stuck in the caliper will come out at this point. From there, remove the bolts that secure the caliper to the upright, or hub. Depending on how much pressure the caliper is exerting on the pad and rotor, it may be necessary to remove the brake pads first. Carefully remove the retaining pins with the screwdriver (there is tension in these retainers). With the tension on the pads lessened, you should be able to slide the caliper off the rotor, and remove the pads as well.

        Figure 3. Remove the brake calipers.

Step 4 - Install new calipers

Make sure the pistons on your new calipers are not fully retracted, but close. Take it from someone who has learned the hard way, fully compressing the pistons until they are flush is actually slightly further than their normal travel. This can damage the piston seals, and have your caliper begin dragging, just like the old one. Install the new brake pads if they aren't already installed in your new calipers. Then set the caliper over the rotor and install the locator pins and retaining bolts. Don't forget to thread in the brake bleeding screw. If you'd like, you can use a dab (literally, a small dot, don't over coat it!) of blue loctite and thread it into the caliper by hand. Make sure that the valve is closed.

Some people opt to use brake cleaner on the rotors at this point. Rotate the rotor by hand and spray with brake cleaner. It will dry quickly by itself, no need to wipe it clean.

Reattach the brake line on the back of the new caliper the same way you took it off.

Figure 4. Install new calipers.

Step 5 - Bleed the brakes

Now you are ready to bleed and flush your brake lines. As previously mentioned, no matter how good you are, some amount of air got into the brake system. Regardless of whether or not you replaced one caliper, or all four, you are going to bleed all calipers to ensure that there are no hidden air bubbles in the hydraulic braking system. For most Ford trucks, you want to start at the caliper furthest away from the brake master cylinder (reservoir), so that means the order in which you bleed the calipers will look like this: Right Rear (RR), Left Rear (LR), Right Front (RF, and Left Front (LF). The brake bleeding process for all four calipers will be the same. However, there are two ways to accomplish this, we will detail both.

The 1-Man brake bleed

If you didn't have the good fortune of acquiring a willing/unwilling assistant, then you're going to have to rely on some good old fashioned ingenuity. There are tools to help do a 1-man brake bleed, and we usually recommend the Motive Pressure Bleeder, which can be purchased for about $50. To use the motive unit, you attach the pressure bleeder to the brake fluid reservoir in the engine bay, and fill the pump with brake fluid. Utilizing the air pump like device atop the Motive, pump it up to about 15-20psi, and secure it's easy locking mechanism. This pressurizes the braking system, and will allow the brake fluid to travel through the system.

Figure 5. A simplified primer on how to use the Motive.

With the Motive filled with fluid and pressurized, go to the brake caliper that you are working on, and attach a piece of clear tubing to the bleed valve opening. 3/8" tubing will run to a catch can for the brake fluid. I like to use old 2L soda bottles (make sure to clean and dry thoroughly before use!). Partially fill the catch can with brake fluid, so that the hose is submerged. This will limit any air going back into the system by accident.

Hook your wrench on the bleed valve and loosen about 1/2 a turn. The system, being pressurized by the Motive, will begin to push brake fluid out of the opening. The reason to use clear tubing is two-fold, first, it allows you to confirm that fluid is easily moving through the system, second, it allows you to look for pockets of air bubbles trapped in the brake fluid. This indicates air in the system.

      Figure 6. Bleed your brakes.

From this point, open the brake system and let the brake fluid out. Close the valve every 5-10 seconds to let pressure build up. Periodically check the Motive to ensure that a steady supply of brake fluid is still available, and to build up pressure as needed. Do this operation a few times per caliper, until no further air bubbles can be seen in the fluid, and the only fluid coming out looks fresh and clean, meaning that the old fluid has all been evacuated. Remember to move in the correct caliper order, as described above: RR, LR, RF, LF.

2-Man brake bleeding

Lucky you, you've managed to convince, coerce, force, or otherwise blackmail someone into assisting for this exercise! We will be nice and let them do the clean and easy part. The 2-man brake brake is similar in principle to using a pressure bleeder, except that instead of the pressure bleeder, your assistant will manually pressurize the system (it's not as scary as it sounds).

  • Fill the reservoir with brake fluid.
  • With the caliper valve CLOSED, have your friend pump the brake pedal up and down repeatedly until it gets firm.
  • With your friend's foot, or hand, still depressing the pedal about 75% down, open the caliper bleed valve about 1/2 a turn, and let the old brake fluid out. Remember, use the clear tubing and the catch can for this step, as seen in the picture above.
  • Close the valve after a few seconds, and have your friend repeat the process of pressurizing the brake system via the pedal.
  • Open the bleeder valve again and expel more fluid, periodically checking the brake reservoir and topping off as necessary.
  • Repeat this process a few times until you see no air bubbles in the brake fluid, and only clean fluid coming out of the calipers.
  • Repeat this process on each caliper, going in the order as mentioned above: RR, LR, RF, LF.

Once completed, the brake pedal should have a natural, firm feeling. If the pedal feels sufficiently firm, consider the job done. Top off the brake fluid as necessary, making sure to fill it just below the "Max" level, do not exceed this mark under any circumstances! Lower the vehicle, and push the brake pedal a few times, to make sure that the pistons are actually pushing the brake pad against the rotor before setting off. Take a tentative drive around the block, and ensure that the brake pedal is remaining firm, and not sinking to the floor or otherwise behaving abnormally. If this happens, then you likely still have some residual air in the system, and need to keep bleeding those brakes! It is normal for the brakes to feel slightly "dead" initially after having bee replaced. Expect to put about 50-100 miles on the car before the pads begin grabbing really hard.

Featured Video: How to Replace Brake Calipers in F-150 Truck

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