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How to Save Money: Replace Brake Rotors

  • Comments 8


A couple weeks ago, I drove my wife's car for the first time in a while. When I applied the brakes from high speeds, the steering wheel shook a lot. I knew it was time to replace the rotors. She has a 2007 Chevy Malibu with 113,000+ miles on it and we have never replaced the brakes, which is well over the recommended time before changing them.


Replacing Brake Rotors and Brake Pads
Newly installed brake rotor and inserting new brake pad into caliper.

Replacing brake pads and rotors is not a hard or long DIY job. However, this time, it was time consuming. I went to the local parts house, and bought two front rotors and brake pads. I took them home, put her car on jack stands and started taking the old ones off. The rotors were badly scarred from the worn brake pads. But they hadn't started making that high-pitched squeal of metal on metal when you brake. Since I had the car up on stands, I decided to go ahead and rotate the tires. Guess what? The back ones were just as bad. So I make another trip to the parts store. Tip: If you wait that long to replace your brake pads, just go ahead and buy all four rotors, pads and the tools mentioned here. It will save you time.


I came back home and took the back ones off. The piston on the back calipers needed to be compressed, so I took my C-clamp (one with a straight handle) and twisted it on the first and slowly turned the handle and the piston slowly turned and walked in. Not so bad. I get to the right rear and my clamp wouldn't compress the piston, even after taking the brake line off and draining the fluid out of that caliper.


Back to the parts store I went. I bought a C-Clamp with a "T" handle, a bottle of brake fluid and a one-man bleeder kit. I bought the small bottle of fluid thinking that wasn't much fluid that ran out. Got home for the third time, used the 9 inch C-Clamp and compressed the piston and put everything back together. Time for a test drive. Took the car for spin to test the brakes and everything worked perfectly. However, the small bottle of fluid wasn't enough. The brake light wouldn't go off. Back to the parts store. The entire job cost me $250 in parts and tools and six hours of my time but that was a lot cheaper than the $750 price tag my mechanic would have charged me. 


– Tim Davis, Digital Editor


For more tips and information on doing your own brake job check out these articles.

DIY Brake Tips

How to Check Brakes

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  • Comments
    • by posted on

      Most likely it would have costed a lot more in a shop.

    • by posted on

      I have done my brakes for the last 25about years. I always replace the rotors when I do the pads. Its small price to pay for the only thing that stops you. Also check out www.rockauto.com for parts. Good prices and you can choose the quality you want. Disk brakes are much easier than drum. But drum can be done as well with a little experience and a manual. Doing your brakes is probably the biggest cost savings of all normal maintenance jobs that you can do on your car. Minimal cost on tools and only usual takes 1about to 1 1/2 hours to do. Big profit item for shops.

    • by posted on

      @hmedad1961, That's good advice. I remember when you could take the rotors off and "True" them and reinstall them, however, most of the ones made today are too soft to do that.

    • by posted on

      I had stopped doing them myself

    • by posted on

      (the rest of the story) & let a brake shop do them. But last time when my favorite trusted place said it would "only be $687.00 for both front ones" like they were saying $6.87, I shopped around, got a discount, downloaded some instruction from DIY sites.  Had to pay out of my Retirement income now. Then had a friend help who also had done it before. Just over $120.00 for parts & fluid (had to replace one rotor) & a few $ to my friend.

    • by posted on

      $750 for a 4 wheel brake job?!?!    I hope it came with a dinner out and a movie!  Way over priced, I'd be looking for a NEW mechanic.

    • by posted on

      You can't use a C clamp on all calipers.  Some of them require a small box shaped tool with tabs on it that you use with a 3/8" ratchet that you turn to drive the piston in.  Each side of the piston will have an indention for the tool.  Like this  >   <     I believe a C clamp will mess up those calipers if you try and force it.  My old 2000 Mustang had brakes like this in the rear.

    • by posted on

      For the calipers that can't be compressed with a standard c-clamp, some diyers will use the handles of a pair of needle nose pliers. To do it right though you should get the proper caliper tool. Be sure you're rotating the caliper piston in the proper direction - if you go the wrong way and accidentally remove the piston completely you just bought yourself a much longer job than it needed to be. Harbor Freight has a small cube shaped version that fits on the end of a ratchet for around $7. This one can be troublesome to get enough leverage on the caliper if you're doing the job with it stil on the car. For my own car it was also to big to fit into the much much smaller rear caliper (at least half the size of the front calipers) with enough clearance to operate. To solve this HF also sells a "master"caliper tool set for around $45 that includes two caliper tools and inter-changeable ends to fit many different calipers that worked like a champ. Most chain auto parts stores will also loan a similar kit for a nominal deposit. Also, be very sure to not let your calipers dangle by the brake line, use anti-seeze on the caliper slide pins, and clean off those new rotors with a liberal amount of brake cleaner before mounting them on the car - most are shipped with a corrosion protective coating to protect them on the shelf. If you find your rotors are held on to the wheel hub with one or more large Phillips screws, try a #3 Phillips bit in a cordless impact driver before resorting to just drilling out the screws, will definitely save some time. Happy wrenching.

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