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Grab a beer (OK, maybe a couple) and learn how to do your own brake job and save a ton of cash.  It’ll take longer than most of our projects, but look at it this way: you can build yourself a small bar for what you’ll save.  We’ll talk you through finding the parts and getting the job done.  (Podcast Download)


16 Responses to One Beer Projects: Doing Your Own Brakes

  1. cc says:

    miata huh? cool.
    You guys left out bleeding the brakes? While you’ve got your car up in the air and all of the wheels off, you might as well bleed the brakes. I don’t know how well those bleed assist tools work, but you can call a friend over to help with the bleeding. And I guess that makes this into a six pack project. And then you might as well change the air filter, fuel filter, grease all of the fittings, rotate tires, flush radiator, yadda yadda. Make it a few cases of beer.
    I’ll admit that I take one of my cars to my mechanic because the rears are drums, and I don’t mess with drums.
    Also, I agree wholeheartedly with buying new rotors instead of getting them turned :
    1. new rotors don’t cost that much more. You discussed this, but it’s worth mentioning again.
    2. I’ve seen rotors turned incorrectly – the operator tried to take off too much at once and the turning machine ended up chattering on the rotor. He didn’t mention this when he gave the rotor back to my friend, of course. Nice. Worst case scenario, some sort of hilarious or catastrophic brake failure. Best case scenario, you’re out ten bucks for rotor turning and you STILL have to buy new rotors.
    3. Heat dissipitation is part of the functionality of the brake rotor. If you’re removing material from the rotor, then its thermal properties will be affected. Which reduces the effectiveness of the pads as well. The inevitable result : hilarious or catastropic brake failure

    This message was brought to you by the national association of brake rotor vendors

  2. Dave says:

    Don’t bleed your brakes unless you need to. It is not a part of normal brake maintenance and does not need to be done regularly like oil changes or brake pad replacement. Your brakes should only be bled after introducing air into the system. If you take the brake line off of the caliper, or open any line joint or bleeder, you need to bleed the brakes. If you’re just replacing the pads, you shouldn’t ever need to open the system. If you do bleed your brakes, and you don’t know what you’re doing, you could just put more air into the system. Air in a hydraulic system is bad. Not being able to stop your car is also bad.

    And I DO mess with drum brakes. They’re not so bad. Get a shop manual, sit down on one side of the car and tear it apart. Even if you can’t remember how to put it back together and the book isn’t helping, you’ve still got the other side to look at.

  3. Bob says:

    I’ll second doing your own brakes. I found a how-to online several months ago and it was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done to a car. It’s amazing people actually pay the money they do to get this done. It took me just over an hour and next time will probably take about 30 minutes. Total cost for an Infiniti J30 was about $75 for front pads. Rears are about $45. Oh, and a couple of beers!

  4. EMS says:

    Despite this article being over a year old, Dave I’d like to respectfully disagree with your comment “Don’t bleed your brakes unless you need to. It is not a part of normal brake maintenance and does not need to be done regularly…”

    Replacing/Flushing brake fluid -is- a regular maintenance item for many vehicle manufactures from Europe and Japan–I owned a VW that listed it, and currently own a Subaru that lists it. Additionally, I’d say that it probably -should- be an item for all other manufacturers.

    The typical schedules I’ve seen call for replacement of the fluid every 24-36 months, there may or may not be a mileage value tied to it as well.

    As you know brake fluid absorbs moisture, moisture affects your ability to brake, but most importantly it causes rust and corrosion within your brake lines and components. It also presents a good opportunity to inspect all your brake lines.

    But this type of work isn’t for everyone, so if you’re not comfortable working on drum brakes you probably should avoid this one.

    If you’re not going the 2-person route, then I’d recommend a power bleeder that forces pressure into the braking system at the master cylinder rather then the type that apply suction at the brake bleeder.

  5. Randy says:

    I used to think that doing your own brakes was dangerous…. one mistake and someone could die. But the same is true of driving. I work with a lady whose husband runs an automotive shop. She does the books there after leaving her day job, and has some stories to tell about the mechanics there. They hire ASE techs but some are real doosies. I’ve met some of them and now I do my own brakes. After having my rotors turned once at Checker, I also agree that its best to buy new rotors. I feel much more secure after doing my own brakes. Now when someone says, “that’s something you should leave up to the experts,” I say, “first you need to meet the experts!”

  6. Topgun says:

    I haven’t heard anyone mention the biggest plus for doing your own brakes: Your wife will look at you in a whole different light after you fix her squeaky/grinding brakes all by yourself. Like you’re Superman… at least for a week or so.

  7. kif says:

    The biggest advantage to doing your own brakes is that you are going to have time to inspect and clean/replace all the little parts, such as sliding pins, clips, pistons etc. You will use the suitable high-temp grease and anti-squeal and everything. It will be a very solid job and probably double the life of your calipers – and by extension, pads. This is especially true where roads are salted and a little rust removal and clean up is in order.

    However, a brake-muffler shop is going to put in a cheap set of pads as quickly as possible. When you come back on the pad warranty, they will pitch you the $1,200 repair.

  8. Henry Beach says:

    I am going to try and do the job myself in a couple of months when I get some money. I went to the local brake shops and couldn’t find a quote under 500 bucks and I drive a 93′ chevy 1500. Everyone is saying I can do it for right at 100 or less if I do it myself. I will make sure and tell you how it goes and if I still can drive it afterwards. Wish me luck 🙂

  9. Dave says:

    You guys are pretty funny. Of course you can do your own brakes! Take the plunge! I can’t believe how afraid people are to do stuff like this. It’s kind of a reflection on the way our society has gone in the past couple of decades, away from “do it yourself” culture and toward a “leave it to the professionals” attitude. Apologies to those of you who represent “the professionals,” but I think I’m smarter and more skilled than about 99% of you, and I don’t think you deserve $100 an hour just because you possess a tiny amount of technical knowledge that I don’t (yet) have.

  10. Mistermetcal says:

    Funny that I stumbled on this link. Yesterday I did the rear drums on my 2000 chrysler cirrus. My original plan was to completly avoid rear drums, but I recently sold my Police Interceptor and went for the freebee cirrus. I couldn’t turn down a 2000 cirrus with 30K original miles owned by my mother FOR FREE!
    Being a northern car, the rear drums were rusted onto the hub, but with some CRC freeze spray, WD-40 and a chisel I was able to free them and the jobe took me less than 3 hours.
    Do yourself a favor and check to see if they sell a brake hardware kit for your car. It was nice to replace the shoes and all the springs with NEW parts.

    I always take a photo with my Digital Camera so I can reference the exact assembly that I am working on. The shop manuals usually are very good, but sometimes they switch from side to side and confuse me.

    Good luck, take your time and take a photo.

    Happy Stopping!

  11. Mitch says:

    oops, sorry, that was me. I think Dave is correct when he says you don’t routinely have to bleed your brakes. Unless you opened the system for some reason. And EMS is correct in that fluid changes are routine maintenance items every 2 years or so.

    I’ve got the Motive Power Bleeder like EMS says. Works great on the Audi where it just screws onto the reservoir. I got the adapter plate for my Caravan reservoir but it’s too tight in there. Anyone have suggestions?

    I got the SpeedBleeders http://www.speedbleeder.com/ for one person bleeding on the Caravans. They work great too.

    I second Randy’s comment. Two separate ‘pro’ mechanics installed front brake (granted they were aftermarket upgrade brake kits) and routed the lines in such a way the stainless braided lines eventually failed. The results weren’t hilarious but very very luckily, not catastrophic. That’s when I started doing these things myself. Now, with the encouragement above, I’ll try the rear drums myself too.

    @Dave “but I think I’m smarter and more skilled than about 99% of you,”
    Even if I’m not smarter and I’m not more skilled than the pros, chances are I’m much more careful and thorough and precise when I’m working on my own car. (look at my two ruptured brake lines)

  12. michelle says:

    i’m not sure i’m smarter than the “professionals” out there, but i have done the brakes on my vehicles for years. that being said i had to fight my boyfriend to do a brake job on our car (he’s new!) and since he’s driven the car with no squeaks, rattles, shuddering, or wheels falling off… he’s volunteered me to fix everbodys brakes… the neighbor, his parents etc. saving us a couple hundred bucks did’nt hurt either!

  13. bill says:

    I would be interested in seeing one of these alleged 300 dollar master cylinder blower outers. I dont think the EMS guy knows that it is simply air that is being purged . and how does one inspect the lines conveniently just because they are empty. Mitch is trying to sell speedbleeders. An Item that looks good to me …but then what do I know.

  14. dave says:

    You don’t need anything fancy to bleed brake lines alone w/o help. Get a big jar, like the type mayo or instant tea comes in, one that has a plastic lid.

    Grab a piece of vinyl tubing from the hardware store with an inner diameter just smaller than the bleed nut nipple, so that the tubing stretches and creates an air (fluid) tight seal when pushed onto the cylinder nut.

    Open the nut, pump the brakes, check the fluid level in the reservoir to make sure it’s never let go down to empty. Once you see a sufficient accumulation of fluid in the jar and the tubing is full of fluid with no bubbles, you have purged the air and can close the cylinder nut valve without needing a second person pressing on the brake pedal while the nut is closed.

    Despite what “some” automobile service recommendations are on paper, you do not need to change brake fluid every couple years UNLESS you do quite a lot of stop and go driving (extreme amount, you’d have to be a city taxi driver, police patrol or something to rack up the wear that it needs done that often).

    Otherwise, as others mentioned you’d do it when you have a reason to open the system for a different repair, without the system open a prior post is incorrect that it absorbing water is an issue because it won’t anymore so than adding brand new fluid would because the only moisture it would absorb is from when it was first put in new, too. Note I wrote “brand new fluid”, always open a factory sealed bottle of fluid just prior to use, do not reuse a partial container that has sat around absorbing moisture for days or longer after it was opened the first time.

  15. Rob says:

    You can a cheap bleeder from a new garden sprayer.. Buy a $10 garden sprayer, a res cap that fits your car, drill a hole in the cap and insert a barbed brass fitting. Cut the sprayer off the end of the hose and put the cap on. Put brake fluid in the sprayer, put the cap on the res and pressurize. $20 tops and it can be easily modified to fit any car. I drilled a hole in the sprayer itself to insert a pressure gauge as you want to keep around 15psi for most vehicles.

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