How to Replace Brake Pads

Wearever gold brake pads

Knowing how to change brake pads improves safety and prevents costly damage. Here's what to do.

If you're looking to replace your brake pads, chances are you've begun to hear a high-pitched squealing noise when you apply the brakes. This is their way of telling you that the brake linings are due for replacement. How nice of them to let you know.

Brake pad lining is a friction material that wears every time the brake pedal is depressed. Heavier braking at higher speeds or with hefty loads or frequent downhill travel all increase brake pad wear until there’s nothing left except metal-to-metal, ear-piercing contact between brake pads and rotors. The end result is significantly reduced stopping power, which is never a good thing.

So how long should brake pads last? Between 20,000 and 40,000 miles—depending on driving conditions and driving style—is a good rule of thumb for gauging when to replace brake pads.

Fortunately, changing brake pads before they reach this critical phase requires only basic tools and supplies, some mechanical knowledge, and a couple hours. Here’s how to change brake pads and how to check brake pads for wear.

Vehicle System
Brake System
Skill Level

This is a good project for new DIYers

Time to Complete
1 to 2 hours per axle
  1. Most modern braking systems maintain line pressure even after the vehicle has been turned off for hours. When you're ready to change brake pads, always depress the pedal, with the vehicle turned off, 10 to 20 times before beginning the process of changing brake pads. This will release any residual pressure.

  2. Loosen the lug nuts. Raise the vehicle using a jack and secure it on jack stands. Be sure to support it on jackstands at the right points on the frame. Never work on a vehicle that's only supported by a floor jack, and never place the floor jack's pad under the oil pan or transmission pan.

  3. Loosen lug nuts

    Loosen lug nuts.

    Raise vehicle using jack

    Raise vehicle using a jack.

    Vehicle supported with jack stands

    Support the vehicle with jack stands.

  4. Remove the lug nuts and wheels.

    Lug nut removal
  5. With the wheels removed, look for signs of brake fluid leakage, and if any is present, consult a mechanic for advice.

  6. Clean the brake assembly using brake cleaner.

    Cleaning Brake assembly
  7. Pro Tip

    Work on and complete the brakes one side of the vehicle at a time, leaving the brakes assembled on the other side for reference.

  8. Remove the caliper fasteners—but not the caliper.

    Brake caliper fastener
  9. On many vehicles, brake pads are attached to the caliper using special retaining clips. Note their original location before removing the clips.

  10. Remove the caliper and attach it to the vehicle using the wire or bungee cord so that it isn’t allowed to hang by the brake line.

    Brake caliper
  11. Remove the outer pad.

    Brake pad removal
  12. Use a spreading tool or a c-clamp to compress the caliper piston. You can place the c-clamp on the back of the caliper and on an old brake pad to recess the piston back to its seated position.

    Spreading tool for brake pads
  13. Remove the other pad.

  14. Install the new retaining clips and apply the grease to the new clips to prevent squeaking.

    Grease brake pad
  15. With both pads removed, and the caliper piston compressed, inspect the caliper for brake fluid leaks. Replace it if leaks are found on the caliper or piston boot. Uneven brake pad wear is one indicator that there are problems with the caliper. Remember that if you open up the brake system by replacing a caliper, you'll have to bleed the brakes to purge any air from the lines.

  16. Inspect the brake rotor for excessive grooves, scoring, cracks, bluing, or shiny spots. If the rotor exhibits this type of damage, remove and replace the rotors or see if it can be turned professionally. But note, the price of rotors for most vehicles has come down significantly and many shops will no longer machine old rotors back to spec again.

    Brake rotor
  17. Reverse the disassembly procedure to reinstall the brake assembly and complete the brake pads and rotors replacement and inspection.

    And you're done!


    Brake pad install
Last updated June 6, 2018