Back in November I took our car into the mechanics shop to have a nail removed from a tire. As usual, the mechanic does a quick inspection of the major systems and he made a few remarks about the amount of corrosion on the brake rotors. The brake pads had plenty of life left in them, but the rotors had some deep grooves and a lot of rust. The car was still stopping fine, so I declined any work and made a mental note to do something about it myself when Spring came.
It sure did feel like Spring today, and knowing that the weather was going to be good this weekend I had planned ahead and ordered some parts from RockAuto.com, my new favorite car parts supplier.
New rotors and pads for the front and back set us back about $150. Not a bad deal if you ask me. I was also wanting to change the brake fluid because the service manual said to do that the earlier of 30,000 miles or 24 months. Seeing as we’ve owned the car since 2009 and have never changed the brake fluid, I figured it was due.
After jacking up the car, securing it with jack stands, and removing the front wheels, I had access to the brake components.
The large metal platter with the 5 bolts sticking through it is the brake rotor. It is gripped by the brake pads to create friction to change the kinetic (moving) energy of the car into heat. If you ever see a video of race car or airplane brakes getting red hot, it is because they are converting a lot of energy!
The brake caliper (shown above) is like a giant hand that holds a pair of brake pads. When you press on the brake pedal it forces brake fluid through hoses that actuate a piston in the caliper. That piston is what pushes the pads against the rotor.
New rotors come with a rust inhibitor coating. If they didn’t they would be completely rusted over by the time you installed it on your car. The coating should be cleaned off with some brake cleaner spray before installing.
The old brake pad (nearer to my shoe) still has plenty of wear left. You can see the wear indicators (the metal clip that looks like a J) on both the new and the old pads. Do you know that horrible screeching sound when your brakes need to be replaced. That is caused by the wear indicators scraping against the rotor. It is designed to be loud and get your attention!
With the new rotor installed it is just a matter of putting everything back together again. Some parts are designed to be replaced with every brake job, like the little metal retaining brackets shown above. Also, some parts need to be lubricated.
With everything put back together and the brake lines bled (fluid completely replaced) the last critical step is to pump your brake pedal. The first couple of times that you push the brake pedal after replacing the brakes, the pedal will go all the way down to the floor! Once you have a brake pedal again, you can take it for a test drive.
A quick search on the internet revealed some big box store prices. For instance, Pep Boys offers a brake fluid exchange and ceramic pads for $250/axle. That does not include new rotors, but the machining of the old ones (they cut off a bit of thickness from your old rotors to save money and in return you are left with an inferior braking component). My total cost for everything was about $170, so I saved about $330 by doing the work myself. I spent two hours on Friday night doing the front axle and five hours on Saturday morning doing the rear axle and exchanging the fluid. $47/hour is worth it to me.
I skipped a lot of steps in this blog post, including important ones. If you want to know more about the details, I find that Eric the Car Guy has a great set of video tutorials online that you can follow.