Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Top 10 Things to Bring to the Track: 6. Spare Brakes

You could say this pad went to good use and then some!
Money that dealers and shops charge for changing brakes is one of the biggest car repair rip-offs. It's right up there with the "Check Engine" light, which we covered separately in this write-up. If it takes a hack "mechanic" like me under an hour to swap the brake pads on all 4 corners in my driveway, any shop should be able to do it on their lift in less time. Instead, most typically charge 3-4 hrs of labor for front and rear pads. OK, rotors do take another 5 minutes per corner, so the whole job is 1 1/2 hrs at most, which is still half the typical labor you'd get charged for.

More importantly, if you take your car to the track, you're going to eat up through the pads sooner or later some weekend (assuming you don't drive like a grandma), so you'll have to do learn to do brakes on your own or risk losing track time. Good news is, if you've ever replaced the brake pads on a bike, you'll probably be able to do pads on your car too. It's not that different.

Here's a list of tools you'll need:

This is your best tool. Find directions on how to change brakes for your make and model and a good forum to help you with your questions.

The Usual Suspects: jack, lug wrench, torque wrench: unless you can lift the car and hold it while working on it and also torque the lug bolts by hand, that is.

Front and rear brake pads and rotors: Food for your car. And let's get this out of the way fast: rotors do not need to be replaced every time you change the pads. In my experience, they last as long as 3 sets of pads depending on how hard the pads are on the rotors. Get a rotor thickness measurement tool to be sure the rotors are still above the minimum specified.

Wrenches: to take off the caliper guide pins and the bolts holding the rotors. You may need a Torx or Allen wrench depending on the vehicle.

Screwdriver: to take off the metal clip holding the pads in place.

Large C-clamp: to compress the piston back into the caliper once the pads are off and make room for the new, thicker pads that you are replacing the old ones with.

Hi-temp anti-seize compound: to use on all metal parts making contact with each other (pad ears, piston, etc.)

Rotating wire brush and an electric drill: to help clean off all the junk on the caliper bracket, piston, and all other brake parts.

Drain hose and a jar (or a fluid retaining bottle with a magnet): if you are bleeding the brake fluid only. I am not a fan of vacuum-based systems for flushing the brake fluid, as it's easier to get air into the brake system with them.

Note: if you still have drum brakes in your car, you need a brakes upgrade and/or counceling. We are not covering either of these two here.

There are decent instructions on changing brakes for your make and model all over the Internet. Here are some additional tips I put together that have saved me a ton of trouble. You won't find these in most instructions and I thought it would be good to have them in one place.

  1. Don't forget to pop the master cylinder reservoir open, so the brake fluid can be easily pushed back in when squeezing the piston with the C-clamp. I can't tell you how many times I've forgotten to do this. 
  2. I find it easier to put the inside pad onto the piston and then squeeze the c-clamp onto the pad, as opposed to squeezing the piston directly with the c-clamp. The pad gives you even surface to apply pressure to.
  3. Proper greasing of all metal parts that make contact if very important not just for reducing brake squeal (and there'a s lot of it with race pads!) but also for helping the brakes operate well. When the brakes heat up, metal expands and all hell can break loose if the pads are not moving freely when squeezed by the piston on the caliper bracket. It goes without saying that you must keep all grease away from the rotor surface and the part of the pad that makes contact with the rotor!
  4. It's much easiest to work the caliper guide pins with a pivoting ratchet. There's usually not a lot of space in there and you need the flexibility to angle the ratchet any way you want.
  5. If you are replacing rotors as well, you will probably need a breaker bar to loosen up the caliper bracket bolts. I use a 4-ft breaker bar that I picked for $2.99 in Plumbing at Home Depot. Do not use a breaker bar to tighten up the bolts, though!
  6. Use proper toque settings for the caliper guide pins, caliper bracket bolts, wheel bolts, etc. They don't need to be super-precise and I don't believe in $500 torque wrenches but you need to be in the ballpark on all everything you tighten up.
  7. If you are using a rotating wire brush to clean off the brake parts, I highly recommend a respirator mask or you'd be coughing a lot of brake dust back out!
  8. Before you try to go anywhere with the car after you are done, make sure to turn the ignition key on and press the brake pedal a few times until you feel resistance, so the pads will get seated. The first couple of times you press, there'll be nobody home. Don't get caught out like that on the street.
  9. Bed in the pads to the rotors properly. For most cars, the procedure runs like this: drag the brakes for a few seconds to warm them up, then brake hard from 60 to 5 mph (don't come to a full stop) 5-6 times, then drive around for 5 minutes ideally without touching the brakes to allow them to cool down. If you are very anal, repeat the cycle one more time.
  10. Always make sure to test the car at low speed after a brake job. Roll the windows down and listen for odd noises. If you've got the pads facing the wrong way on the bracket, it's better to find out about it before you brake for the Bus Stop, agree?'s FAQ has a ton of good stuff on brakes, all put together by people who really understand performance driving.

It's best to do your first brake job with a friend who's already done this in the past. Track guys and gals are some of the nicest people I've met anywhere and always willing to help. Ask for help and you'll probably have a few people hovering around you eager to show you how to do all this at the track. That's the only way I could've learned to do a brake job.

Top 10 Things to Bring to the Track:
  6. Spare Brakes
  7. The Fluids
  8. Code Reader
  9. Big Tarp
10. Pyrometer