Last week, I heard the ominous sound of a brake pad’s metal warning tab screeching against the rotor.
I pulled off the rear, driver-side tire for a better look. Yep, they were getting thin. But, wait, what’s all this extra stuff? I’ve done a fair number of front brake jobs, but this was my first rodeo on the rear wheels. I called my dad. We chatted and decided I best just bring it down on Easter weekend, when he’d give me a hand (i.e. pretty much do it for me).
After thinking on it a bit, I decided to tackle it myself. As always, what I figured would be an hour job turned into about 4 hours. Here’s a few lessons I learned along the way.
1. That “extra stuff” is called the parking brake assembly. I hate to admit it, but it took me a good 45 minutes to figure out how to get that cable detached from the caliper. It had to come off though. A couple of times I tried pulling the caliper without taking the cable off. Yep, the cable engaged the brake. Luckily, I’ve already learned the “don’t force it” lesson.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Once I finally got it apart, I couldn’t figure out how to depress the caliper piston. Normally a big C clamp (pretty technical term) does the job. Not this time. I called dad. He looked it up on some sort of “Google for mechanics” program he has. This particular piston had to be turned clockwise with a special tool or a pair of needle-nose pliers. Luckily, I had the second.
3. There’s a big difference between tool brands. Spend the extra money and get quality stuff. After going cheap on a half-inch ratchet, I’ll be buying a Craftsman next time around. I should have bought the Craftsman the first time.
4. Don’t go cheap on brake pads. Trust me, cheap brake pads can put strain on a marriage. Even if the car stops perfectly, brake noise is not something women like to hear. In fact, I’m not even going to tell my wife I worked on the brakes. If I do, she’ll start saying stuff like, “I don’t know that the car is stopping like it used to.” (Guess we’ll find out if she reads my blog.)
5. The feeling of accomplishment is worth the extra time. My dad probably could have changed these brake pads in about 30 minutes. He would have pointed out key things along the way. Yet, doing it myself, I actually learned how a rear brake goes together. I also learned not all caliper pistons are the same. Sure, it took me about 10 times as long to do it. Still, I’ll trade knowledge and confidence for time any day.