Your Questions About Brake Repair Tools

Michael asks…

Should I go to a mechanic shop or brake shop?

I need to get my brakes checked out asap. They are making a bad grinding noise and I think they are sticking sometimes. There is a place called Just Brakes right by my house and I know they specialize in brakes. I know my car also needs a new timing belt and o2 sensor/catalytic converter, but I am not ready to drop the money for all this. I just want to get my brakes fixed. Should I go to a mechanic full service place or Just Brakes?


Just today I did the same repair on my truck. One of my brake pads had wore down to the metal backing, causing it to grind into my rotor. It was making a terrible grinding noise while driving, much worse while braking, and sometimes it would hang up. My local brake shop quoted me almost $300 for the repair plus parts, I said no way, bought a set of brake pads for $20 and a new rotor from the junkyard for $18, and did the repair myself in about 45 minutes.

I realize that not everyone wants to work on their own vehicle, but the repair is very easy and can be done with some simple tools. A good repair manual by Haynes or Chilton is all you need to do it.

Your o2 sensor and cat converter can probably wait, but if you think you need a new timing belt don’t put that off. That is a repair which is probably not best attempted by the novice mechanic, but if that belt snaps it can do massive damage to your engine if you have an interference engine, which many vehicles do. The repair bill for a snapped timing belt can go well above $1000.

Sharon asks…

how do I change the front brake pads on a 2003 dodge ram 2500 2wd truck w a 5.7l engine?

looking for info on how to change the front (rear too !)brake pads on my 2003 dodge 2500 ram 2wd truck w 5.7L engine.
Also, my radio stopped working completely the fuses are fine how would i test the amp or replace it if necessary?


Changing breaks is simple. Please read this in it entirety before trying.
First you need to assess if you have warped rotors. If while breaking the vehicle surges under the pressure of the standard breaking not hard breaking then you have a warped rotor. You have to either remove them and take them to a local shop and have them turned or replace them all together. If you have one warped rotor it is best to have them both turned as pinpointing which one is warped is next to impossible.

Buy a Break Piston Compressor from your local Automobile Shop. Provided a link on what it looks like. While you are there buy the pads. You will want to get the premium or ceramic pads as they will last longer.
Now be prepared to get dirty.

Let the vehicle set for one hour if you just came back from the shop to have the breaks cooled down properly.

Open the hood and loosen the cap for the break reservoir. Do not add more fluid at this time. While performing this break replacement break fluid may spill out so loosely wrapping a rag around the break reservoir will catch most of it. DO NOT REUSE THE FLUID YOU CATCH AND PUT BACK IN THE SYSTEM.
Jack up the vehicle and place a jack stand under the control arm. That is for safety in case the jack fails.
Remove the tire and set aside.
Locate the caliper with the break pads in place.
Open the box that has the new pads. Examine the pads to make sure that you purchased the correct pads by comparing them while they are still on the vehicle. Pads have a metal side and a rough material side to them. After verifying that everything looks the same remove the two bolts that are on the back of the caliper. They are not the large 15/16 bolts they are probably 10mm or 12mm bolts.
Once they are removed, remove the caliper by sliding it forward from the top to the front of the vehicle and lift up. You can set the caliper on top of the rotor while working. DO NOT REMOVE THE BREAK LINE AS DOING SO WILL REQUIRE YOU TO HAVE TO BLEED THE SYSTEM.
Remove the outer pad make note of how you take it out and how it was positioned in the caliper. You may need a screwdriver to help release the clips from the caliper. Do not bend them.
Now leaving the inner pad in place use the piston compression tool and push the piston further into its cylinder. Make sure that you place the tool in the center of the piston and apply Even pressure until it bottoms out. You will know that because you cannot turn it anymore. DO NOT OVER TIGHTEN.
Open the box that contains the new pads. Locate the Inner pad and remove the inner pad from the caliper and replace it with the new one. Now put the outer pad in place. Return the caliper to its correct position back on the the rotor assembly and insert and replace the bolts. They should be torqued to 10 to 15 ft pounds no more. All vehicles are different so you may want to ask for the torque specifications on your model from the local repair shop.

Replace the tire and perform that same steps on the other side.

After you are finished make sure to tighten the cap for the Break reservoir and close the hood. Start the vehicle and slowly pump the breaks till they feel normal. Test drive it a short distance going slow. No more than 15 mph and test the breaks again. Works great.

Now go clean up you terrible.

David asks…

How do I change front brake pads on a 03′ 4Runner?

Howdy, I have never done this before, but for what the dealership quoted me, I think I will try to do it myself! I have an 03′ 4Runner that Im trying to change the front brakes on. The only thing thing that scares me is the ABS system. I’m worried I may damage it some how.



How To
Change Your Brake Pads

Nothing is more important than your car’s ability to stop itself.

Even race car drivers will tell you that a car’s braking capacity takes precedence over its acceleration. Putting a car through a wall is not nearly as much fun as touching the brakes slightly, banking into a turn, and scooting out the other side. Nor as safe.

But braking systems often fail us — usually from our own neglect. Even Formula One cars won’t stop as effectively with worn brake pads. It’s the equipment, folks, not the driver.

In the case of braking, it’s essential that we maintain optimum friction pad depth to insure maximum performance of the braking system. In layman’s terms: change your brake pads!

In previous articles at we’ve discussed the ins and outs of braking systems. The link below provides an excellent primer on the differences between drum and disc brakes. You might want to read it before going any further.

Brakes: Drum vs. Disc
Okay, here’s the deal. We’re not going to go into some long, drawn-out discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of various braking systems, drag coefficients, friction rates, kinetic versus thermal energy, etc., etc. What we’re going to do here is roll up our sleeves and do a brake reline. Leave that other stuff to the armchair mechanics, the sideline slackers.

As always with our How To columns, we suggest that you own a basic tool kit and have the time to commit to the task. This will take a few hours. In exchange, we hope to teach you a little something about braking systems and what makes them tick.

As we said at the outset, nothing is more important than your car’s ability to stop itself. Learning about the braking system — how it works, ways to maintain it, when to fix it, what to look for while you’re in there — will not only make you a smarter driver, but a safer one too.


Since we have a limited amount of space here, we’re going to focus exclusively on changing the front brake pads. Ninety percent of the brake pad changes you make during the life of your vehicle will be to the front pads.

You can check for brake pad wear by viewing the pads from outside the front tire. On most cars, you can look through the openings on the outside of the wheel/rim assembly to see the pads. (Of the six cars we looked at for this story, all but one had the pads clearly visible. On rare occasions, you may have to remove the wheel to see the pads.) The outside pad should be staring you in the face. Look at it from above. The pad will be pressed against the shiny metal rotor. See it?

Now, there are two way to determine whether the pads need replacing.

First, visually. If the pad depth is less than ¼ inch, plan on replacing it soon. If it’s less than 1/8 inch, you’re getting close to damaging the rotor, so do it ASAP. This varies slightly from car to car, but is a good general guideline.

Second, by ear. They build these little noisemaking shims into the brake assembly to tell you when the pads need changing. Are you hearing a screeching sound when you apply the brakes, like a mouse trying to escape? You’re overdue for a reline. (If the sound is more a scrape-y metal rasp, you’ve already damaged your rotors and need to fix the brakes immediately.)

Okay, you’ve determined that the front pads are due for replacement. Remember the rule here: better too soon than too late, which can result not only in more expensive repairs, but unsafe driving conditions as well. So let’s go…

STEP ONE: Comfort first. Park the car in a cool, shady spot.

STEP TWO: Now safety. Block the rear wheels so the car won’t roll once you jack it up. Put the car in park and set the parking brake firmly.

STEP THREE: Lay out your tools. Grab a tire iron and go to the front wheels. The tire iron is that long metal rod with a socket on the end of it that usually comes with the vehicle. You can also buy a really cool one (called a spinner) that looks like a metal cross — in fact, it is a metal cross — with different-sized sockets on each end.

What we want to do here, before jacking the car up off the ground, is loosen the lug nuts on the wheels just enough to break them free. So go do that. Work them off just enough until they loosen their resistance and become easy to turn with the tire iron. Now slip the jack under the car.

There are several places to safely jack up the car. If you have a floorjack, you can roll it all the way under to the center of the engine and jack it up using the K-member that holds the engine. Be careful not to use the oil pan, as you might damage it. If you have a smaller, single floor jack, you’ll have to do one side at a time. Look for flat spots on the frame, immediately to the rear of the front wheels, or on the end of each axle.

CAUTION: Always use jack stands. Never attempt to work on an elevated vehicle held in place only by a hydraulic jack.

Okay, raise the front axle off the ground. Put your jack stands under each end of the axle, and lower the car onto the stands. A jack stand (see illustration) is a metal tripod with variable height adjustments. You should own two.

STEP FOUR: Remove the lug nuts and the wheel (the tire will be attached). Best to work on one wheel at a time, leaving the other side intact as a point of reference. As a safety precaution, roll the wheel/tire assembly under the front-center of the car, between the jack stands, and plop it down beneath the engine’s K-member. In the event of a faulty jack stand, this will break the vehicle’s fall and could possibly save your life.

STEP FIVE: Okay, take a breather. Now let’s look at what we have before us.

A disc brake assembly is composed of the following elements: a caliper, two brake pads, a rotor, and some bolts and clips to hold it alltogether. It’s a very simple design. Here’s how it works.

The caliper comes in two flavors — floating or fixed. Each works on a similar principle. The caliper’s job is to squeeze the brake pads toward a centrally located metal plate — the rotor — producing friction, which in turn slows the car. Think of a hand slowly clamping down on a spinning record (or a CD, for you youngin’s who’ve never heard the term “record” before).

The brake pads hover on either side of the metal plate. They attach to the inside of the caliper, depending on your car’s design, with clips or bolts. They are composed of heat-resistant material that rubs against the rotor. When the brakes are applied, the pads move toward one another, gripping the rotor between them and slowing the wheels.

The rotor is that shiny metal disc staring you in the face right now. You can almost see your reflection, right? Get your eyes level with it. If you can’t see your face, or at least its general outline, it may mean that the disc needs servicing or replacement. Below, we’ll show you how to check this disc for scoring or marring, and what to do about that.

STEP SIX: Back to work. Remove the bolts holding the caliper in place. Gently slide it out and away from the rotor. Inspect the inside of the caliper. See the pads? They will be held in place by a bolt or a series of clips, sometimes both. Remove the bolts or clips holding the pads in place (remember, you left the other side intact to use as a reference) and work them free. Examine the pads. Is there any “meat” left on them, or are they worn down to the screws? If they’re completely worn, you should’ve been hearing a metallic scrape for a while every time you applied the brakes.

Lay the pads aside and inspect the rotor. Can you see yourself in it? If the pads were worn into the metal, your rotor will be scored; you’ll have trouble seeing yourself. Run your fingernails along the surface of the rotor — careful, though; if it’s been less than 20 minutes since you last drove the vehicle, they might still be hot — first the side facing you, then the side facing away. Is it scored? Deeply? This next point is very important. If the rotor has any grooves at all in it, remove it at once. Now you have a decision to make.

If you have a scored rotor, you must decide whether to have it “turned” or to replace it. If you’re short on money, take it to a local mechanic and ask him to “turn” it for you. What they do is put it on a special metal-cutting lathe and shave off several thousandths of an inch of metal until the disc is shiny again. Remember, though, one of the real advantages of disc brakes over drum is their heat-handling capability. By removing metal, you reduce the system’s thermal transfer capacity. We recommend turning the discs only when you are short on bucks. The better way is to take the disc to the auto parts store, match it up with a replacement, and buy a new one. Last time we did this, it only cost us twenty bucks for a new rotor, a cheap investment in safety. You have to go there anyway to buy the new brake pads, as well as a few other things, so why not make it one trip. In fact, here’s your shopping list:

new rotor, or rotors, if needed
new brake pads (bring the old ones, to match them)
brake pad grease (comes in little packets; they’re cheap, so buy two)
STEP SEVEN: Go home and have a lemonade.

STEP EIGHT: Before you go any further, you must move the piston back to its “full open” position. The piston? You ask. Ah, we didn’t tell you about that one, did we? Remember the hand-and-record analogy. As the fingers push down (equivalent to the brake pads wearing) the distance between the brake pads shortens. Now that we have brand new pads, we must return the system — the hand — to its original “open” position, to accommodate the new pads. There are several ways to do this.

First, find the piston. It is located along the back (closest to the engine) portion of the caliper. It’s usually about three to four inches across, and resembles a small metal promontory with a flat top. See it? Depending on its condition and age, there are several things you can do to move it back (toward the center of the car). If it’s new, try pushing it in with the heel of your hand. Doesn’t work? Okay, then try a channel lock or a vise grip. Still won’t budge? Then here’s a suggestion. A neighbor of ours turned us on to this once, and it works great. Get a large C-clamp, place a thin piece of wood or cardboard over the face of the piston to protect the surface from marring, and work it back that way. As you turn the handle on the clamp, it will increase pressure on the piston, until it becomes flush with the surrounding metal. Then loosen and remove the C-clamp.

STEP NINE:Install the new rotor, if necessary. Remove the old brake pads from the caliper (usually held in place by several clips), but, before putting on the new ones, you must do something. Remember the little packets of grease you bought? These are used to lubricate the brake pads. Careful now — not on the front of the pad, which comes in contact with the rotor, but on the back. The pads attach to the caliper via a plate-and-clip arrangement. The lubricant goes between the plate and the back of the brake pad. Got it?

Don’t overlook this. If you don’t do it, you’ll get a horrible screeching sound every time you apply the brakes, like a dinosaur in heat (and you know how horny those velociraptors used to get). After you apply the grease, attach the pad to the plate and slide the whole thing into place.

STEP TEN:. Basically, at this point, just reassemble the system in reverse order of the way you took it apart. Now do the other side. Take the car for a test spin. Sometimes, with new brakes, you can get some weird scraping and scratching sounds; these will usually go away in a few days. Clean up, and you’re done.

Don’t underestimate the importance of a brake reline. As we said at the outset, absolutely nothing is more important than your car’s ability to stop itself. Knowing more about your car’s braking system — getting in there and actually seeing what’s going on — empowers and informs you in a way that going to the corner mechanic doesn’t.

Nancy asks…

What are some of the easiest DIY projects in automotive repair/maintenance?

I’m interested in learning how to take care of my car, in terms of maintenance and repair. What projects besides oil change, transmission fluid change, and air filter replacement are easy enough for a novice? Assume that I have rhino ramps, basic tools (ratchet set), and maybe a jack and jack stand. Thanks!


Distributor cap, rotor (the one under the distributor cap), fuel filter, air filter (is a joke easiest thing), oil changes if you have room to do them, rotating the tires, valve cover gasket, brake bleeding (requires 2 people or self bleeder screws), Clutch bleeding (also requires 2 people but same exact concept of break bleeding). And thats pretty much it

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