Need new brakes? $430? Yeah… No

One of the easiest ways to save money is to DIY. Why? Well it’s because what you are usually paying money for is the skill that someone used to make a product or a service from raw materials. Raw materials = cheap, but skill = expensive.

Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to cars and technology. Have you ever noticed that labor rate on your repair bill? Its usually $100+ dollars. Do you make $100/hr? No? Well then it might be a good idea to learn how to do some stuff on your own. At least this is what the Handy Millennial thought a few years ago when he started learning more about cars.

Today I’m going to show you how I replaced the rear brake pads and rotors on a 2012 Subaru Impreza. If you’re not familiar, the pads are the wear material you press against a rotating disc (rotor) to stop you vehicle. Every time you brake, the pads wear out a little and your car slows down a lot. Eventually, and obviously, these need to be replaced – both the disc and the pads.

As usual we begin with the typical disclaimer. The Handy Millennial is not responsible for any damage, injury, or loss (of life or property) resulting from you performing similar work on your own vehicle. The Handy Millennial is an enthusiast showing people a recent job performed and is in no way encouraging readers to perform their own repairs. All information is provided as is for entertainment purposes only.

Here is a cool video shot while replacing the brake pads and rotors on my vehicle.

Sweet, so the take away message is that you can do each wheel for 2 minutes, drink 1 cold one in between, and enjoy your day. Right? Right.

Unfortunately this video is a compilation of about 30 minutes of work. This means that the task of replacing the brake pads and rotors on both sides of the car took about an hour.

After discounts, which seem to always exist at car parts stores, the pads and rotors cost $120. Let’s count the Handy Millennial’s effort as $100 for 1 hour. Total cost $220. Not too bad.

For reference, here is the estimate from Repair Pal, one of my favorite places to check out how much car repair should cost.

Note that parts are supposedly 83% of this estimate. Now the Handy Millennial purchased his parts from AutoZone and bought the best quality rotors and best quality brake pads he could find. How these could possibly cost more than $120 at a shop is up to your imagination.

Alright, get the point already Mr. Handy Millennial… how did you do this?

First the Handy Millennial raised and secured the car. Jack stands on both sides, wheel chocks  on the front wheels. The Handy Millennial also likes to put the jack under the side he is working on. You can never have enough safety!

Next the wheel came off. After this fateful moment, this is what the Handy Millennial observed:

Next it was time to remove the brakes. Now what we usually call the brakes is a grabber claw that squeezes the brake pads onto the spinning disk (rotor). In car speak, that claw is called a caliper. You can remove it by removing two bolts from the back like so:


Now when the two bolts holding the caliper (claw) are removed, you can simply move the caliper out of the way. This of course leaves the mounting bracket of the caliper. To remove the mounting bracket, there are two bolts. This is getting routine isn’t it: part, 2 bolts, part, 2 bolts… Just remember, the guy around the corner wanted me to spend hundreds of $$$.

Now the bolts holding on the caliper bracket are some bad boys. So to remove them we need a bit more muscle. But why not make like Archimedes and remember that with a lever big enough you can move the world! In this case, the Handy Millennial prefers a two foot long breaker bar (yeah even the name is bad a$$ isn’t it?).

A few turns later, and that bracket comes right off.

Now removing the disk is another matter. This is usually a bit more difficult because metal likes to fuse together under heat and stress and pressure!!!!!

But Subaru has provided us with a couple nice holes right on the face of the disc to push it right off. Essentially screw in one M8 (on the Impreza) bolt into each hole until you can no longer turn it by hand. Turn each bolt one half turn with a wrench, alternating between the bolts.

Pretty soon the disc detaches and comes right off.

Whew that was a lot of work. Let’s drink a cold beverage and admire our work. Some people have Picasso, some people have…

Okay, back to it. Now the Handy Millennial only plans to do this once every five years. So while things are open, let’s clean them up with some trusty brake cleaner. The Impreza also has a safety brake mechanism in here that I lubricated after cleaning.

Also, the Handy Millennial does not believe in struggling to remove parts. So to prevent the disc from seizing onto the hub in the future, let’s paint that hub using anti-seize.

Now you might wonder, why was this not done in the factory? Well you see, my dear reader, the manufacturer is a for-profit business. They will only do what is necessary to get you through the warranty period with no return. Beyond this, you and you mechanic can bear cost/hardship/inconvenience of skipping even common sense steps like anti-seize. After all, if it cost 5 cents to do this per car, and you make a million cars… you do the math.

Now we install the new disc (after we clean it carefully with brake cleaner).

There is a little rubber stopper there that we take from the old disc and put onto the new disc.

Now at this point we have obviously reached the halfway mark. So, the astute reader might realize that we are essentially now retracing the earlier steps. We need to put on the caliper bracket. But before we do, we must install the new brake pads. Here we replace the brake pads and the little metal pieces that sit on the bracket. Make sure to put dabs of silicone on the metal pieces where the brake pad will sit.

Next we re-attach the caliper bracket. (remember 2 bolts)

Here the Handy Millennial is holding a torque wrench. It is important to tighten the bolts as tight as the factory manual suggests. In this case 50 foot-lbs.

Here the careful reader might wonder where might one find such useful information. Well my dear reader, the Handy Millennial likes to check on All Data DIY for the exact repair information from the manufacturer of my car. (Incidentally the site also features a detailed step through procedure for any fix on any car.)

Next we need to reinstall the claw (caliper). But before we do so, we need to understand how it works. The claw is essentially a moving cylinder that is pushed against the brake pads. How far that cylinder moves is directly related to how far your brake pedal must move before the car stops.

For this reason, the cylinder moves out of its resting position as your brake pads wear. So before we re-install it on new brake pads, we need to retract the cylinder. Open your brake reservoir (which is under the hood) before retracting the cylinder with the retraction tool.

Next we install the caliper (2 bolts). And tighten them to the specified torque (about 20 foot-lbs).

Finally, we paint the face of the new disc to prevent the wheel of the car from becoming stuck. (The Handy Millennial hates! kicking wheels off a car.)

We put the wheel back on and we are good to go!

So this in a nutshell is how the Handy Millennial replaced his own brakes. Please leave your comments or questions below :).

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