Our (shitty) Dodge Caravan has an awful sound coming from the right rear tire. It only happens when you push on the brakes and is a horrific grinding sound. I don’t even need to look to know what it is; the brake pad is totally gone and the metal that the pad is attached to is grinding the fuck up against the brake rotor. This isn’t good and if you go long enough without fixing the problem you can fuck the brake rotor up. And those things are a bit more expensive (and more of a hassle) to replace compared to brake pads. Even if this wasn’t the case, any sane person would want to fix the brakes sooner rather than later just because it sounds so horrific. You almost don’t want to push on the brakes because of the dreaded sound it’ll make.
We also have an impending winter storm here in northern Illinois. Most forecasts say we’ll get nearly a foot of snow, or at least 8 inches, and that isn’t fun at all. I love to procrastinate as long as I can, but shit, the idea of changing brakes on Sunday or Monday after a foot of snow has fallen sounds terrible. It’ll probably be cold, windy, and all around uncomfortable. If you’ve ever worked on a car before you already know it’s uncomfortable enough: no need to make it worse by doing it in a snow drift.
Better get my ass outside and knock that out. I’ll write a brake changing guide for everyone so they can 1. understand how to change their own brakes and 2. understand the hell I went through.
Find the Correct Parts
First off, you need to find brake pads to actually install. Head down to an Autozone or Advance Auto Parts (or whatever auto parts store you have in your location) and tell them the year, make, and model of your vehicle. Pray to whatever higher power you believe in that the person serving you isn’t braindead and gives you the correct parts. It’s not fun to rip the car apart and then realize that the brake pads aren’t the correct ones. Better have a spare car available if that happens, otherwise you need to put the tire back on, exchange the wrong parts for the correct ones, and then try again if you still have any willpower left.
Bonus points if you can see your brakes through the rim. Take a new one out of the box and see if they’re at least vaguely similar. You can do this is the auto store parking lot.
Jack the Vehicle Up
Find a suitable location to put a jack under the car and bring the tire off the ground. Pray to God that your car isn’t so damn rusty that jacking the car up starts to crack the fucking metal.
Loosen the Lug Nuts
They’re probably so damn tight that you should’ve loosened them before jacking the vehicle off the ground. Shit.
Put Vehicle Back Down, NOW Loosen the Lug Nuts
Now we’re back on track with only a minor fuck up. Get a big fucking wrench or tire iron out and loosen those damn lug nuts. Don’t take them completely off because it having the wheel not attached is a bad idea, but break them loose.
Jack Vehicle Off the Ground (Again)
Just like before. You’re really good at this part now.
Kick the Shit Out of the Tire/Rim to Get It to Come off
If it’s been awhile since you’ve removed a tire (which is probably true if the brake pads are fucking non-existent) it’ll probably be somewhat rusted to the hub itself. So go to town on the thing and hope you don’t injure your foot by kicking it too violently, or have the car fall off the jack. You might have to get creative with the tire iron/pry bar to get it off. If using this technique, do not fuck up the brake caliper!
Look at Stuff
Take a look at the brake caliper and notice what silly design choices your automaker made when designing the car. Does the caliper itself swing up? If so you only need to remove a single bolt. Do you need to remove both bolts and remove the caliper entirely to get the pads? Whatever the case, take a good look, hate yourself and dread the bullshit you’re about to put yourself through.
Get Tools to Remove the Caliper
Take a guess about what you need to take the caliper off, find the tools, and try it. It won’t be the correct socket. Some are regular bolts, metric or imperial (yeah good luck!), some are Allen heads, and some fucking idiot that designed the Chevy Cavalier decided to use Torx Bolts. No fucking joke. This step will take like twenty minutes and I hope your toolbox is either portable/nearby and filled with everything imaginable.
Optional: Go Buy the Correct Tools
If you don’t stock Torx bits in your toolbox, good luck, because you’ll probably have to go buy a set just for this one job. Hope that the stores around you aren’t far away or closed.
Take Caliper Off
Once you get the caliper bolts off, you take the caliper off. As with everything involving cars this is easier said than done depending on what shit you need to deal with. Grab the pry bar/tire iron and start ripping away on the damn thing until it eventually comes off.
Remove and Examine the Brake Pads
Next, you take the old brake pads off. Depending on the design you might be able to take them out of clips or whatever while some are attached to the caliper itself. Dodge decided to attach the outer pad via clips that are nearly impossible to get off. You need to lift and pry on them at the same time which is just asking to get your knuckles busted on something. I think there’s a rule that states that you can’t work on a car without getting injured. It’s impossible.
Also take a look at how fucked up your old pads are and wonder why you never got around to being responsible and fixing the issue earlier.
Push the Caliper Piston Back On
If you have a newer vehicle you might be able to do this by hand, but probably not. Walk back to the toolbox and grab a c-clamp. Hope that it’s big enough. Hope the caliper is designed where a single c-clamp will work. If not, go find/buy another clamp or get creative. Cussing usually helps this step.
Remove Caliper Bolts
These bad boys are meant to float inside the caliper, so you need to lube them up before installing the new pads. You might be able to remove them by hand, but I’ve found I need to reattach the wrench to them and twist the bolts while pushing them out.
Clean the Damn Things and Grease Them
I hosed mine down with some WD-40 so they didn’t look like shit. After this, goop a fuckton of grease on them so they move properly like they’re supposed too. Put them back where you got them from on the caliper. This shouldn’t be too hard because of all the grease on them.
Put the New Pads On
Insert the new pads either into their holders/clips on the rotor or on the caliper. Fuck around with any bullshit clips that the manufacturer decided to have just to fuck your day up. Ponder the simplicity of the job in certain repair manuals that state “installation is the opposite of removal.”
Put the Caliper Back On
This is straight forward. The hardest part is trying to line the fucking thing up. You’ll probably find that it’s difficult to actually get everything back where you removed it from. Maybe hit some things with a hammer/tire iron to get it all installed? I don’t know. Cuss some more, drink another beer, etc. Whatever you need to get ‘er done. You’re almost there…
Tighten Caliper Bolts (But not Too Tight!)
Once again, fuck around trying to get the bolts back in their holes. If you did good on the previous step this might not be so bad. If you still don’t have things precisely lined up you’ll need to fuck around until the bolts actually find the holes.
Tighten them according to their specs, and if you don’t know the specs (like 99% of us) just tighten them to where you feel okay with driving the vehicle. You don’t want to get them too tight because then the next time you change brake pads you’ll find yourself hating your past self for being such a safety-minded, strong-armed asshole. You don’t want them to be too loose because then the caliper could probably fall off.
Put the Tire On
Self-explanatory. Fuck around trying to line the tire up with the hub bolts and all of that. Probably cuss. Cussing should be mandatory for each step here really…
Lug Nuts, Jack, Tighten Lugs
Jesus Christ, you’re almost done. Slap this shit together as quickly as you can so you can be done with it all.
Give Up and Don’t Even Attempt to do the Other Side
I’ve heard you’re supposed to change both sides at the same time, but fuck all of that. The right rear side was making that awful griding sound, I replaced those pads, so I’m fucking done. Who cares?
Drive the Car Wash Your Hands Put Your Tools Away
Put everything back exactly where you found them so when you do get around to doing the other side’s brakes you don’t have to fuck around with finding the tools. If you’re really feeling like a go-getter, maybe find a piece of paper and note what size/types of tools you need to complete the job. I’m not this type of person, but I can dream can’t I?
Wash Your Hands
Your hands are black and covered in supposedly carcinogenic brake dust, dirt, and grime, along with brake grease. Don’t even think about driving the car yet because you’ll make the steering wheel nasty. Walk inside and wash that shit. Take a good five minutes doing so because you’ll need to wash them like six times to get them remotely clean.
Test Drive the Car
Pump the brakes before you drive away! If you’ve pushed the caliper in really far you need to extend it before you drive otherwise you’ll hit the brakes and the car possibly won’t do anything like stop.
Take solace in how quiet the car truly is now. And if it isn’t? Well, another side has fucked up pads so hate your life, go buy more beer, drive off a bridge, or whatever else makes you feel better. If you’re feeling up to it, go buy more pads or set to work on the other side. If everything is okay, jack on the brakes a few times violently to make sure everything works like you need it to in an emergency.
Congratulations! You’re done! You were productive! You fixed a problem with your car! Try not to think how fundamentally changing the brakes is a 15 minute job and somehow it took you three hours to finish it. The second rule of working on cars is that nothing ever works out in your favor. But you got it done. Good job. Fuck cars.