There’s been a problem with the Mazda’s brakes for some time now. At low speeds, a constant squeak-squeak can be heard from the front passenger wheel. Annoying. As if the loud tickety-tick from the AC compressor wasn’t annoying enough (more on that in future post). But it was the grinding at low speeds that had me concerned, even though it was only audible after the day’s first startup and backing out of the driveway. Braking performance wasn’t bad or degraded and the squeak wasn’t the tell-tale sound the brakes normally make when it’s time to change them, but something was off. A quick check of the troublesome front brake revealed something, well, not good. Apparently, the brake material (the part in contact with the rotor) separated from the backing plate and it was pretty much riding on the rotor. Whoever, did the last brake job either used cheap parts, or didn’t do the job correctly. I’m not about to go driving the car like this so, time for a DIY brake job.
An online order from AutoZone for new Duralast Gold brake rotors and pads arrived next day and I was ready to do the job. The rear rotors appear to be in decent shape so only the pads are getting swapped out. The front brakes on the other hand, they’re getting the full service (pads and rotors). Remember folks, always change your brakes in pairs. Never just do one side. Here are some ways to tell if you need brake service:
- Some pads have a metal tab that’s about the length of the pad material. Once the pads wear down just enough, the metal tab comes into contact with the rotor, giving that characteristic squeal whenever the brakes are applied. A sure sign that the pads need changing.
- A visual inspection can be done on most cars. Take a wheel off and the brake calipers usually have an inspection portal where the pads and rotors can be seen. The pads normally have a groove in the center that becomes increasingly level with the rest of the material as the brakes where down. Once the groove becomes less visible, it’s time to change the pads.
- If the brakes are applied and you feel a shimmy or tremor through the steering wheel, that’s a sure sign that the rotors are warped. This means the rotors are no longer smooth and have a subtle wave-like pattern that increases wear on the pads. This vibration also has the tendency to wear down suspension parts over time if not addressed promptly.
Without further ado, let’s get to it! Here are the tools you’ll need (click the links for where you can find these items):
- A few cans of brake cleaner
- A breaker bar (to loosen stubborn bolts)
- Extendable ratchet (I love these)
- High temperature grease for the various brake parts
- Medium strength blue threadlocker
- 7mm Hex socket, and 17mm sockets
- Flat head screwdriver
- Shop rags/towels/old newspaper
- Wire brushes
- A brake caliper tool, C-clamp, large wrench or large needle-nose pliers (if you have none of these, any auto parts store can loan you a brake piston compression tool. This is in order to retract the caliper piston)
- Large hammer/mallet (in the event the rotors are seized on to the wheel hub)
- Torque wrench
- Safety goggles/mask
- Gloves (rubber or shop gloves)
First step is determine which end you’re doing first. In my case, I started with the rear brakes (the car was already backed up to the garage). You can either jack up the entire rear end of the car so both wheels are off the ground or do one side at a time. Entirely personal preference there. I jacked up the entire rear end (loosen the lugnuts on both wheels first) and placed the car on jackstands. Make sure the parking brake is off and place chocks off the front tires to prevent rollbacks. Next, take the wheels off and examine the condition of the brakes. Make sure the brake lines aren’t cracked or bent and there’s no visible damage to the brakes themselves. Start by spraying brake cleaner liberally onto the brakes. Brake dust is toxic if breathed in so it helps to remove as much as possible before starting any work (wear a mask and safety glasses/goggles). Place shop towels, rags, old newspaper (if you’re still into that) or a shallow pan underneath the wheel while cleaning the brakes.
Next, take a large flat head screwdriver and pry the pads away from the rotors a bit. This will make the caliper easier to take off (you’re also pushing the caliper piston back a bit). Then use a flathead screwdriver to remove the anti-rattle clip. Now, behind the caliper are two plastic caps, top and bottom. Use the screwdriver to take the caps off, exposing the caliper guide pins. Use a 7mm hex socket and ratchet to loosen them. Once sufficiently loose, back them out the rest of the way using the flathead screwdriver. Pull them out and examine them for excessive wear. If they’re sticky getting out, this could cause uneven pad wear as the guide pins are what make brake applications smooth. If they’re too worn, you may have to purchase new ones but usually a good cleaning with a wire brush and brake cleaner will help. With the pins out, now you can take the caliper off. The piston can now be clearly seen, this is what squeezes the pads against the rotors when you step on the brake pedal. You’ll need to compress this back into its housing later. Use a bungee cord or rope to hang the caliper from an area in the wheel well. Never let it hang by the brake line.
Ok, so removing the caliper also exposes the brake pads. You can easily pull these out and examine them for even wear. These still had a good amount of material and were pretty evenly worn so I was right not to bother changing the rotors. Also notice that one of the pads has a spring clip on the end. This pad always goes on the inside of the rotor, towards the caliper piston. Remember this when installing the new pads. I still want to give the new pads a great base to start working so, get your 13mm socket and locate the caliper bracket bolts behind the rotor (you might need the breaker bar for this). Crack those suckers loose and you can remove the bracket. Now place all the parts you’ve removed (caliper bracket, bolts and guide pins) in a pan and spray them down liberally with brake cleaner. Use a wire brush to clean them off. The goal is remove any sort of rust, dirt or debris so they’ll work properly. Once they’re sufficiently cleaned, it’s time to reinstall them. Place the caliper bracket onto the rotor. If the rotor is loose, screw a wheel nut on to one of the lugs to hold it in place. Apply some medium strength thread locker to the bolts and hand tighten them down. Then torque them down to the manufacturer specs using your handy-dandy torque wrench (if you don’t have one, you can also rent one from any auto parts store).
Next, it’s time to lubricate where the brake pads make contact with the caliper bracket. This ensures the pads glide smoothly and quietly as you apply the brakes. Apply some grease onto the grooves where the pads fit and also on the metal backing of the pads themselves. Place the pads in to the caliper bracket, remembering that the pad with the spring clip goes on the inside towards the caliper piston. Once installed, now its time to compress the caliper piston. Unlike the front brakes where the piston is simply pushed back in, with rears also containing the parking brake (which should be off before doing this), you’ll have to twist the piston inwards. Looking at the piston, you’ll notice two holes on opposite ends. Sometimes you can get away with using a needle nose pliers but on the Mazda, this only worked so much. I totally recommend getting a loaner brake piston set from any auto parts store, which is ultimately what I did. Once you have it, simply find the piece that fits your particular car and twist clockwise while simultaneously pushing piston inwards (Tip: take the cap off the brake fluid reservoir under the hood, you’re gonna be forcing brake fluid back up the system). Once the piston is fully compressed now you can fit it back on to the rotor.
Now for the guide pins. Once they are cleaned, apply some brake lubricant grease on them and also into the sleeves they go in. Once you place them back in their sleeves, move them back and forth, making sure they move smoothly. Remember, these pins make your brake applications smooth and your pads wear evenly. Once they’re lubricated enough, apply some medium strength thread locker to the threads. Then slide them in and align them with the caliper bracket. Use your 7mm hex socket to snug them up and then torque them down to the manufacturer’s torque specs. Snap the plastic caps back on, then reinstall the new anti-rattle clip that came with the new pads using either a flathead screwdriver or a pair of pliers (it might take some work but eventually it’ll go in). Now, go inside and pump the brake pedal several times. It will initially be soft but will get harder and firmer. By doing this you’re cinching up the caliper piston to the new pads. Repeat for the other side.
Now for the front brakes, the directions are essentially the same, except in two areas. I replaced the front rotors and compressing the front brake caliper pistons is much simpler. Remember that “squeak-squeak” noise and grinding at low speeds I mentioned earlier? When I took off the front right caliper, the outer brake pad essentially fell to pieces. This meant that the metal plate that the pad was attached to was contacting the rotor and probably ruining it. A chunk of pad material was resting on the hub of the brake rotor, probably causing that squeaking noise. With the metal backing essentially ruining the rotor it was easy deciding to just replace it. Depending on the thickness of the rotor, it can be “turned” so that it is smooth again but I normally don’t go for that. New pads mean new rotors so that’s what I did in this case. Another difference between front and rear is the inner pad is actually attached to the front caliper piston with a metal clip. Simply use both hands (or one if you’re skilled) and remove the pad from the piston. Now to remove the rotor, here’s where that hammer/mallet comes in. Often, the rotors can get rust-welded to the wheel hub and no manner of prying or pulling is going to get it off. There are a couple of ways to get stubborn rotors off. One way to is firmly tap the hub of the rotor with a hammer, rotating it as you go. My way, since I’m not reusing the rotors, is to go ham on them, whacking away until the they broke free. Obviously the amount of force needed depends on how stubborn they are and how big of a hammer you’ve got. Luckily these came off after several good hits.
Before installing the new rotor, spray some brake cleaner on the wheel hub and clean it off with a wire brush. Get rid of as much rust/debris as you can. Next, clean off the new rotor with brake cleaner. The new rotors usually ship with a thin film of oil coating the surface to prevent them from rusting while in storage. Apply some high-temperature brake grease to the wheel hub and install the new rotor. The grease will prevent the rotor from seizing on to the hub when it’s time to replace the rotor (negating the use of a hammer). As before, clean the caliper, caliper bracket and guide pins with brake cleaner and a wire brush before reinstalling them. For the caliper piston, unlike the rear, I used a large C-clamp with an old brake pad against the piston to compress it. Once fully compressed, snap on the new inner pad to the piston (after lubricating the grooves and ends with grease), install the other pad then place the caliper back on. Grease the guide pins, reinstall them (working them back and forth in the sleeves to ensure smooth travel) and torque them down. Reinstall the anti-rattle clips and you’re done.
Remember to pump the brakes again to cinch the pistons up against the new pads. The brake pedal should firm and not sink to the floor. Once you’ve sufficiently done so, the level of the brake reservoir should be back to its max level. You should never need to add fluid as the level will go down as the brake pads wear. If the level hasn’t quite reached the max, go ahead and top it off until it’s at the max level. Then replace the cap and go for a test drive!
The Ford Fusion is next in line for new brakes! Follow me on Instagram for that project!