DIY FAQ: What Tools Do I Need To Change My Brake Pads?

What tools do you need to replace your brake pads? Below is a list of the essential tools and supplies you should have before you turn the first lugnut. Having these items before you start will save you from having to hitch a ride to the parts store.

Torque Wrench

Brakes are a safety-critical vehicle system and guessing if a bolt for a caliper is tight enough is not an option. Inexpensive torque wrenches can be purchased at Harbor Freight or other discount tool stores.

Tools for Retracting Caliper Pistons

For front brakes, you can use a worn brake pad and c-clamp or a pair of large pliers. For rear disc brakes, you might need a special tool to rotate the pistons in the caliper to retract and reset the emergency brake mechanism. Some parts stores can loan you this tool or you can buy it yourself very inexpensively.

The most important thing to remember is to not damage the rubber boot that protects the piston. Even the smallest tear can allow dirt and water can damage the surface of the piston and cause leaks and/or the piston to seize in the caliper.

Thread-locking Compound

Many caliper guide pin bolts and caliper bracket bolts use a special glue for bolts. Thread-locking compounds or Loctite products are designed to keep the bolts from coming loose due to vibration and heat. If you see a red, blue or yellow substance on the threads, the old thread-locking compound needs to be removed with a brush and denatured alcohol and it needs to be replaced. Parts stores have small single-use packets or tubes of thread-locking compound typically at the parts counter. 

Brake-Specific Grease/Lube

Brake specific lubricants are formulated to withstand repeated high temperatures that the brakes can produce. Using a general-purpose grease or oil can lead to a seized caliper, or it can melt and come in contact with the pads. The most important thing to remember is that less is more. Too much grease can contaminate the brake pads and attract dirt and dust. Some brake pad sets include brake lubricant packets for the job or at the parts counter most stores will have single-use sizes.

Aerosol Brake Clean

Clean brakes are quiet brakes. Aerosol cans of brake clean are filled with strong solvents that wash away grease and don’t leave any residue. Degreasers and solvents like carb cleaner may leave behind a film that can contaminate the virgin brake pads. 

Hand Tools

Make sure your sockets are metric! There has not been an import or domestic vehicle made in the last 35 years that uses standard, imperial or fractional fasteners for the brakes. You at least need a set of 3/8″ (drive size) sockets set with sizes 8-19mm. Some vehicles use Allen or Torx bits for the caliper guide pins. Torx and Allen bits are not interchangeable. The wrong bit may feel like it fits, but it might damage the female head of the bolt. You can find individual sockets or sets online or at an auto parts store.

Jack and Jack Stand

You can use the jack in the trunk to lift the car or truck. But, you should never use the jack to support the car during the brake job. If the car falls off the jack, you can be injured and you might not be able to jack the vehicle up again because it is resting ground. Jack stands can be inexpensive and will allow you to wrench on the brakes without the fear or dropping the vehicle.

As extra insurance, you can put the wheel and tire under the vehicle.

Quality Replacement Brake Pads

With the extra money you are saving doing the brakes yourself, put some of the dough into a set of high-quality brake pads. Using the least expensive set of pads from a retail auto parts store, eBay or Amazon may get the vehicle back on the road, but they could cause noise and performance issues.

Premium brake pad sets can have better friction materials that match the original parts from the factory. Some sets also match the attachment method used by the OEM to bond the friction material to the backing plate. High-quality sets will also include better hardware like abutment clips, anti-rattle springs and even bolts pre-treated with thread-locking compounds.

Some premium brake pad sets have better anti-corrosion features so you can get the full value from the brake pad. Anti-corrosion treatments like galvanization can treat the entire surface of the backing plate, including the bonding area between the plate and friction material. Low-quality brake pads use only paint to protect low-quality steel from the highly corrosive environment. If corrosion gets between the backing plate and friction material, it can cause rust jacking and delamination. If the friction material separates, it reduces the stopping ability of the brake pads.


A flashlight is a must for inspecting the brake system. If you are inspecting brakes on your vehicle, don’t assume rust and corrosion are normal. Take time to look at the critical areas like the brake lines, caliper and suspension. Also, thoroughly inspect the brakes with the flashlight before you put the wheels back on.

Service Information

YouTube might be great for getting the general directions for replacing your brake pads. But, you will need service information to get details like torque specifications and how to retract the emergency brake on vehicles with electric parking brake systems. You can purchase a limited-time subscription from some service information providers.

Next up! The tools you need to change brake rotors!