Brake Pad and Rotor Replacement - Front RWD

Easy step by step guide on how to replace front brake pads and rotors on a rear wheel drive vehicle, though appearances may differ, the process is the same.

Difficulty Scale: 6 of 10

Tools and Supplies Needed

  • Wrench set
  • Socket set
  • Large channel locks or "C' clamp
  • Brake fluid
  • Cotter pins
  • Shop towels
  • Replacement pads
  • Replacement rotors
  • Line pliers (optional)
  • Dikes (side cutters)
  • Small chisel
  • Hammer
  • Axle bearing grease
  • Protective eye wear and gloves
Begin with the vehicle on level ground with the emergency brake set with the engine "OFF". Lift the vehicle by the manufactures recommended instructions and secure with jack stands.

Step 1
- Once the vehicle is safely in the air remove the front tire lug nuts. (Note: If air tools are not used loosen the lugs (one turn) when the vehicle is still on the ground.)

Remove Lug Nuts
Step 2
- After the lug nuts have been removed, grasp the wheel and lift it from the rotor and wheel studs.

Remove Tire
Step 3
- Gently using line pliers to stop the flow of brake fluid, loosen the brake line off of the brake caliper. (Note: This step needed only with some models.)

Loosen Brake Line
Step 4 - Once the brake line has been removed there will be two sealing washers which will need to be cleaned for reassembly.

Copper Sealing Washer
Step 5 - Loosen both caliper slide bolts with a socket or wrench.

Loosen Caliper Slide Bolts
Step 6 - Next, finish loosening the bolts and remove.

Caliper Slide Bolt Removal
Step 7 - After the caliper bolts have been removed push the caliper side to side which will loosen the caliper for removal. Never allow the caliper to hang on the brake flex hose.

Brake Caliper
Step 8 - Using a small screwdriver loosen the pads from the brake rotor and caliper mount.

Loosen Brake Pads
Step 9 - Once the pads are loose, remove them from the caliper mounting bracket.

Worn Brake Pad
Step 10 - Next, locate and remove the caliper mount bolts and remove the caliper mount.

Remove Caliper Mount Bolts
Step 11 - After the caliper mount has been removed, use a small chisel and hammer to knock the bearing dust cap from the rotor.

Remove Bearing Cap
Step 12 - While working the chisel and hammer be ready for the cap to pop off.

Bearing Cap Removed
Step 13 - Using a shop towel clean the cotter pin area free from grease.

Cleaning Cotter Pin
Step 14 - Next, use a pair of dikes to remove the cotter pin from the spindle.

Remove Cotter Pin
Step 15 - After the cotter pin has been removed, lift off the spindle nut retainer.

Spindle Nut Retainer
Step 16 - Then use a wrench or channel locks to remove the spindle nut.

Loosen Spindle Nut
Step 17 - Once the nut has been fully loosened, lift the nut from the spindle threads.

Spindle Nut
Step 18 - Use one hand to palm the rotor to one side, which forces the outer axle bearing outward. (Note: Have the other hand ready to catch the bearing.)

Removing Outer Axle Bearing
Step 19 - After the outer axle bearing has been released, inspect the bearing for metal shavings which indicates the bearing has failed and needs replacement.

Outer Axle Bearing
Step 20 - To remove the inner bearing and seal from the rotor hub for service, remount the axle nut onto the spindle. (Note: Tighten nut about five turns.)

Remount Axle Nut
Step 21 - Using the spindle nut as an arbor, grasp the rotor on both sides and thrust the rotor outward. This action might need to be repeated until the seal and bearing are released from the rotor hub.

Grasp Rotor
Step 22 - After thrusting the rotor outward, the bearing and grease seal will release and remain on the spindle behind the nut.

Inner Bearing w/Seal
Step 23 - Un-thread the nut completely to remove the bearing and seal and clean thoroughly.

Remove Axle Nut
Step 24 - Using a shop towel, clean the spindle free of grease and debris.

Clean Spindle
Step 25 - Once the spindle is free from grease, remove the rotor mounting bolts which will release the rotor from the bearing hub. (Note: Omit this step if needed, some rotors are one piece with the bearing hub.)

Rotor Mounting Bolts
Step 26 - After the bolts have been removed, lift the bearing hub from the rotor.

Removing Bearing Hub
Step 27 - Next, compare the old brake rotor to the new unit, they should be identical.

New Brake Rotor
Step 28 - Then, using a shop towel, remove the grease from the bearing hub, front and rear.

Clean Bearing Hub Grease
Step 29 - Clean the mounting surface of the rotor mount against the bearing hub, this will ensure proper installation of the rotor.

Clean Rotor Mounting Surface
Step 30 - After the bearing hub surface is clean, gently install the new rotor onto the hub.

Installing Brake Rotor
Step 31 - While holding the rotor and bearing hub together, flip the unit over and hold up on the brake rotor.

Flip Rotor and Hub
Step 32 - Install rotor mounting bolts while holding the rotor upward. Make sure all bolts are threaded in before tightening.

Reinstall Rotor Mounting Bolts
Step 32 - Using a impact wrench or socket wrench, tighten the mounting bolts evenly to ensure a square mount against the bearing hub.

Tighten Rotor Mounting Bolts
Step 33 - Next, layout the axle bearings, grease seal, spindle retainer and washer for cleaning.

Axle Bearings Grease Seal Spindle Washer Retainer
Step 34 - Once lined up clean each part using a shop towel. The old grease inside the bearing will be forced out in the next step.

Clean Axle Bearings Grease Seal Spindle Washer Retainer
Step 35 - Re-align components to be installed, ready for assembly.

Cleaned Axle Bearings Grease Seal Spindle Washer Retainer
Step 36 - Axle bearing grease is used to lubricate the axle bearing while in use.

Axle Bearing Grease
Step 37 - Scoop a hardy amount of grease out of the container and transfer it to the palm of the opposite hand. (This is where vinyl gloves come in handy.)

Grease Dollop
Step 38 - While grasping each bearing, thrust the grease into the bearing, while forcing the old grease out. Continue this action until both bearings are complete.

Packing Bearings
Step 39 - With an additional grease dollop, coat inner and outer bearing races.

Apply Grease
Step 40 - Once the grease has been applied, reinstall the inner bearing (cone down).

Install Inner Bearing
Step 41 - After the bearing has been installed, set the grease seal into place, (cone lip outward).

Set Grease Seal
Step 42 - Using flat bar stock or equivalent, hammer the seal into the bearing hub, continue until flush.

Grease Seal Installation
Step 43 - With a clean shop towel, wipe the outside surface of the bearing hub. (Note: Keep cleaner out from bearing area.)

Wipe Outer Surface
Step 44 - Then, using carburetor cleaner and a clean shop towel clean the rotor braking surface.

Cleaning Rotor Brake Surface
Step 45 - Next, gently turn the rotor assembly over and apply grease to the outer bearing race.

Grease Outer Bearing Race
Step 46 - Install the outer axle bearing (cone down) and seal with a layer of grease.

Install Outer Axle Bearing
Step 47 - Once the outer bearing has been installed, use a clean shop towel and cleaner to free the surface from grease and dirt, the assembly is ready to install.

Clean Rotor Braking Surface
Step 48 - Lift the hub and rotor while using both thumbs to hold the outer bearing in place as it is slide back into position. Some resistance may be experienced, a slight jostling may be required.

Installing Brake Rotor and Bearing Hub
Step 49 - Once the bearing hub rotor assembly is back into place, install the spindle washer.

Spindle Washer
Step 50 - After installing the spindle washer, install the nut and tighten to bring up the slack but do not tighten.

Install Spindle Nut
Step 51 - This part is important, if not done correctly it can cause the bearings to fail. While turning the rotor tighten (light snug) and loosen several times. This action sets the bearing into there races and allows the correct bearing play, axle nut should end up almost loose, allowing the bearing lash or play to be at the minimum. (Note: Do not over tighten.)

Light Snug Spindle Nut
Step 52 - Next, install the axle nut retainer onto the axle nut, align the retainer with the cotter pin hole in the spindle.

Axle Nut Retainer
Step 53 - Using a new cotter pin, locate the through hole and push the cotter pin into place.

Install New Cotter Pin
Step 54 - Once the cotter pin is installed, use a pair of dikes to bend the long end of the cotter pin over the spindle end and cut off the excess cotter pin material.

Cut Excess Cotter Pin
Step 55 - After the cotter pin has been installed, set the grease cap with the gap at the top.

Set Grease Cap
Step 56 - Using a hammer, install the grease cap evenly onto the bearing hub, wipe when finished with a shop towel.

Installing Grease Cap
Step 57 - After the cap is installed, use a clean towel and clean the rotor pad surface on both sides.

Clean Rotor Surface
Step 58 - Then install the caliper mount, thread the mounting bolts and tighten.

Install Caliper Mount
Step 59 - Compare the new brake pads to the worn pads, they should match up except for the worn brake material.

New Brake Pads
Step 60 - A brake pad may be unique as far as which side of the caliper its installed on, observe wear sensors etc.

Compare Brake Pad Size
Step 61 - After confirming the brake pads, install both pads while checking anti rattle clips and shims.

Install Brake Pads
Step 62 - Using a large pair of channel locks or C clamp, use an old brake pad as a buffer and squeeze the brake caliper to retract the piston, (brake fluid will leak out). (Note: For most vehicles, this operation is done while the caliper is still connected to the brake hose.)

 Retract Brake Caliper
Step 63 - Reinstall brake caliper over the brake pads and wipe clean.

Reinstall Caliper
Step 64 - Using a shop towel, wipe the caliper slides clean and apply a thin layer of brake grease to the bolt slide area.

Service Caliper Slides
Step 65 - After servicing the caliper slide bolts, install and tighten bolts onto the caliper.

Tighten Caliper Mounting Bolts
Step 66 - Once the caliper is installed, mount the brake line onto the caliper and tighten securely. (Note: Copper sealing washers needed for this step.)

Securely Tighten Brake Line
Step 67 - Next, remove the dust cap that covers the bleeder valve. With a helper holding down on the brake pedal, slowly open the bleeder to allow brake fluid and air to escape. Once the brake fluid flow stops close the bleeder completely. Then have the helper slowly allow the pedal to return to its normal position. (Note: Check brake fluid levels, before and after this operation.) Reinstall dust cap and wipe clean using a shop towel. Repeat these steps for the opposite side, always perform this repair on one side at a time to avoid confusion. Reinstall tires and lug nuts to tighten. Visit - Bleed Brakes

Bleed Brakes
Step 68 - Using a shop towel, clean the brake master cylinder reservoir, remove the lid so fluid can be added.

Remove Brake Master Cylinder Lid
Step 69 - From a sealed container add brake fluid until the level meets the "FULL" line on the reservoir.

Adding Brake Fluid
Step 70 - Once the fluid has been installed to its proper level, reinstall the lid and wipe an excess brake fluid with a shop towel.

Reinstall Brake Master Cap
Step 71 - Next, slowly push the brake pedal down, then slowly allow it to return to normal position, repeat this action until normal brake pedal operation returns. (Note: Never operate a vehicle without normal brake pedal operation.)

Push Brake Pedal Down Slowly
Once the repair job is complete, drive the vehicle gently as the brake pads wear in. Once a few blocks of stop and start driving occurs the brake pads in be properly set to the brake rotor. When first driving the car after any brake service listen for "out of the ordinary" noises. If irregular noises are observed stop operating the vehicle and repair as necessary.

Each serviceable wheel bearing front brake design has minor differences but all share the same principal.

Helpful Information

If the brake master cylinder is low on fluid or a squeaking noise is observed the brake pads should be inspected. This condition can be accompanied by a brake warning light on the dash.

Best Practices

  • Bleed the system after brake job is complete.
  • Slide the tires under the vehicle for added safety while carefully avoiding jack stands.
  • Always perform brake replacements on one wheel at a time to avoid confusion.
Article first published