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How do I....Service or replace my disc brakes?

It would be irresponsible to begin this discussion without strongly stating that if you are not 100% sure of what you’re doing, you should seek out a qualified technician to do the job for you.
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It would be irresponsible to begin this discussion without strongly stating that if you are not 100% sure of what you’re doing, you should seek out a qualified technician to do the job for you.

There’s a nearly limitless variety of designs among disc brakes (the most common type) so we’re going to cover the key to any successful brake job: “prep.” The rest of the job is essentially taking them apart and putting them back together the same way.

“Prep” is removing corrosion from critical surfaces and ensuring that any moving parts are able to do so freely. This is necessary because rust causes metal to swell, tightly locking and seizing parts together. Removing it is most readily accomplished with files and/or drill-mounted wire wheels, and is much easier if you have a bench-mounted vise to hold parts while you work on them.

Regardless of what style of caliper is used, the brake pads will typically sit against a surface at both of their ends.

With floating calipers this surface will be on a bracket. In most Asian and domestic models, there are stainless steel shims or clips at these points. Rust forms behind these shims and must be removed to restore the clearances required for the pads to move freely. The Europeans tend not to use abutment clips, but corrosion is still an issue and it must be cleaned off in similar fashion.

Fixed calipers have an internal surface that serves the same purpose; it’s most easily cleaned with a wire brush or straight file. Don’t forget to clean the pins and tension clips.

The pins on floating calipers frequently seize in the brackets. You may be able to wiggle the pin free with locking pliers. Use a wire brush or (in a pinch) drill bit to remove the rust from the guide. Flush with solvent, dry it, then lubricate the cleaned parts with a silicone-based brake lubricant – not anti-seize.

This same lubricant should be applied to the pad backing’s contact points on the brackets or calipers. Do not get the lubricant on the friction material or rotors.

Remember to pump the brakes before driving!

Brian Early is a longtime Wheels contributor and a Red Seal automotive technician with over 25 years experience.

 

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