Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

What parts do I need for a brake job?

What parts do I need for a brake job?

So you’re contemplating doing your own brake job and want to know “what parts do I need for a brake job?” At the same time you’re probably wondering, “what tools do I need for a brake job.” And, of course, you want to know “should I buy semi-metallic pads?” “should I buy ceramic pads?” and “what rotors should I buy?

I’ve written individual articles to answer each of those questions but I’m putting it all together in this one. If you’d like more detailed information on each topic, simply click on the embedded links.

Here we go: What parts do I need for a brake job?

If you’re working on front disc brakes you’ll need brake pads with noise reduction shims, a hardware kit with new anti-rattle clips, brake pad spreader clips (if your car came with them), new caliper slide pins (if yours show any signs of corrosion), and a tube of high temperature brake grease to lubricate the caliper pins and the underside of the anti-rattle clips. For more information on what goes into a quality brake job, read this post

So let’s talk about what brake pads to buy

Brake pads come in three quality levels; economy, OEM, and professional premium grade. You may think you’re saving money by buying economy grade brake pads. And if you’re driving an old car with limited life, that might make sense on the surface. But once you dig deeper, you’ll see that buying economy pads almost always costs more in the long run.

Economy brake pads

First, economy pads are simply made with much lower

compare different brake pads

Compare economy and premium brake pads

quality materials. The steel backing plates are made from low grade steel. Why do you care? Because the brake caliper piston pushes against the middle of the inboard backing plate. The backing plate must spread the pressure evenly across the entire inboard pad. When you buy an economy pad with a low grade steel backing plate, the plate actually bends in the middle. That causes the center of the pad to wear more than the outer most edges, and because the backing plate flexes, it causes the pad material to crack and fall off. So much for your good deal.

Low grade steel backing plates also rust faster, so the backing plate “ears” tend to stick in the anti-rattle clips, causing the pad to bind and not release. That can cause brake drag and overheating.

Next, economy pads usually don’t come with noise reduction shims for the back of the pad. These shims are critical to reducing brake squeal. Even if the shims do come with the pads, they’re usually such low quality, that they don’t reduce brake squeal.

OEM grade brake pads

Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) grade pads are designed to duplicate the quality level of the brake pads installed at the factory. Depending on the brand, they may or may not include anti-rattle clips and shims. These pads will give good service life equal to the factory pads

Professional premium grade brake pads

As the name implies, these pads are a step up from OEM grade. They are built with higher quality friction materials and the highest quality steel backing plates. They may or may not give you longer pad life, but they will give you smoother braking with less noise.

What brake pad composition should I get

Brake pads are available in non-asbestos organic (NAO), semi-metallic (semi-mets), and ceramic. NAO pads were designed to eliminate the health hazards of asbestos pads used before car makers understood the health hazards of asbestos. They’re a softer pad than semi-mets, so they’re easier on rotors and they make less noise, and create less brake dust. But generally speaking, they don’t last as long. Car makers are phasing out the use of NAO pads. However, if your car came with NAO, you should consider replacing them with NAO or ceramic.

Semi-mets pads are filled with steel fibers to draw heat away from the pad and rotor surface. Heat buildup is the enemy of good braking, so car makers use semi-met pads in SUVs and trucks to get maximum braking power. However, semi-mets pads are harder, generate much more noise squeal when braking, wear rotors faster, and create the most brake dust. That can make your alloy wheels look dirty brown. DIYers seem quick to substitute ceramic pads for semi-mets to reduce noise and dust. Great reasoning on the surface, but you’re giving up braking power. Seriously, if your SUV or truck came with semi-mets, you really should replace them with semi-mets to meet factory braking power. Ceramic pads will not perform the same.

Ceramic pads were designed to offer the smooth and quiet free-braking of NAO pads, but provide longer life. As of 2013, more than 60% of all new cars on the road had ceramic pads from the factory.

Brake pad and brake shoe brands and quality put together.

Car makers must meet rigid Federal standards when designing brakes for a new vehicle. But there are NO Federal standards for aftermarket pads—none. The point here is that no two semi-met or ceramic pads are the same. In other words, ceramic isn’t always ceramic. You can buy a ceramic pad that’s garbage, or you can buy one that’s top of the line. So it all comes back to which grade and brand you’re buying. Here’s a primer on brake pad manufactures

Each of these companies is considered a reputable brake pad manufacturer

Bendix, Raybestos, Monroe, Centric, Wagner, PowerStop, EBC, Bosch, Advics, AKEBONO, Brembo, Ferodo, AC Delco, and Motorcraft,

Store brands

These brands are considered “store brands” or “private label. ” These auto parts suppliers don’t make their own brake pads. They contract with a large manufacturer to manufacturer brake pads and package them under their store name:

NAPA/United, Carquest, Duralast (store brand of AutoZone), Wearever (store brand of Advance Auto Parts), Brake Best (store brand of O’Reilly Auto Parts.

NAPA and Carquest auto parts stores cater to professional auto repair shops and in the past only sold top quality brake parts. However, in order to compete with retail oriented stores like AutoZone, Advance Auto, and O’Reilly, they now offer economy and professional grades. My persona opinion is that NAPA and Carquest professional grade pads are every bit as good as the name brand pads listed above. But I’m not so confident about the retail store brands. I don’t have data to back that up. But my feeling is that if you’re going to pay close to name brand price, why not buy a name brand part?


Beck Arnley is an auto parts importer. They source their products directly from the OEM manufacturers in Japan and Korea. In other words, you’re usually getting the exact same brake part that you would get from the dealer’s parts department.

Brake Rotors

Just like brake friction materials, rotors also come in several grades. Economy and service grade rotors are built for price conscious retail customers and shops that sell economy brake jobs. Economy and service grade rotors aren’t built to the same standards as OEM rotors. First, they’re made with less metal. The photos below illustrate the point. These two rotors are for the same vehicle. One is an economy rotor and the other is a professional grade rotor built to OEM standards. Notice the difference in weight.

difference between economy brake rotors and premium rotors

Economy Rotor on scale


premium quality brake rotor

Pro quality brake rotor








In these next photos, you’ll see the difference in the thickness of the “swept area” portion of the brake rotor. The economy rotor is thinner, so it can’t dissipate heat as well as the premium rotor.

picutre of economy brake rotor

Economy brake rotor. Notice the thinner friction surface

image of premium quality brake rotor

Professional grade rotor. Notice the thicker friction surface











Next, economy rotors don’t have the same number of cooling fins as the car maker or they incorporate a far less effective cooling fin design. As car makers reduce the weight of brake rotors they must compensate by increasing the cooling effectiveness of the cooling fins. So it’s not uncommon to see curved cooling fins and multi-segment cooling fins on OEM rotors. However, since many of those designs are patented and more expensive to produce, economy rotor manufacturers often skip the OEM design and cast in traditional straight fins, dramatically reducing the rotor’s ability to cool.

Finally, economy rotors contain far fewer carbon chains in the raw materials, so they wear faster, create more noise, generate more dust, and wear out friction materials faster.

Brake Caliper hardware

DIYers often skimp on brake hardware, opting to reuse the factory anti-rattle clips or corroded caliper slide pins. That’s a HUGE mistake. Anti-rattle clips lose their tension due to the high temps created during braking. And they tend to rust. New caliper hardware costs as little as $10 for both front calipers and restores the braking system to original operation. Simply put, you’re crazy not to replace these inexpensive, yet critical brake parts.

brake pad anti rattle clips

New versus rusted anti-rattle clip

new brake pad hardware

Full set of caliper hardware









The same rule applies to caliper slide pins. Corrosion on the slide pins prevents the caliper from releasing quickly. That causes brake pad drag, uneven pad wear, and dramatically reduced pad life. Brake caliper slide pins are cheap. Clean off the old grease and examine the old pins. If they show any signs of corrosion or wear, replace them with new pins.


corroded caliper slide pins

Corroded slide pins


new brake caliper slide pins

Drum brake parts

Aside from buying a name brand set of brake shoes, you’ll also need a new hardware kit. The kit comes with new springs and hold down hardware. Don’t be foolish and try to reuse the old springs. They’re heat soaked and have lower tension. They’re also rusted. If one breaks, it can destroy your entire brake job.

brake drum springs and hardware kit

Drums: See the discussion on brake rotor quality above. The same rules apply to brake drums.






Disc brake tools

Single piston brake calipers on the front wheels can be

large c-clamp for brake jobs


compressed with two inexpensive tools: an 8-in C-clamp, and a piston retraction tool.





Dual and Quad piston calipers require special tools

brake caliper piston retractor tool

Quad piston spreader

to retract the pistons.

brake caliper piston retraction tool in use









Rear brake calipers with integral parking brakes require a different piston retraction tool. In these calipers, the piston must be screwed back into the bore. This requires a pushing and turning motion that’s difficult to accomplish without the right tool. To make matters worse, some rear calipers require a clockwise turn, while others require a counterclockwise turn. Consult a shop manual to determine the direction for your particular vehicle.

rear disc brake caliper piston retractor tool

Rear disc brake caliper piston retraction tool


rear disc brake caliper piston retraction tool

Rear disc brake caliper piston retraction tool – left hand thread








Drum brake tools

Drum brake shoes are held in place with springs. In the past, all you needed was a claw type pliers to unhook the springs from the top stud, and a hold down spring remover tool to remove the hold down springs. But car makers have gone to lighter weight springs that require special spring removal tools.

drum brake spring removal and installation pliers

drum brake spring removal tool

T-handle spring removal tool






drum brake show retainer removal tool

Hold down spring removal tool









So here you have it, a complete discussion on “what parts do I need for a brake job,” along with “what tools do I need for a brake job.”

©, 2015 Rick Muscoplat


Posted on by Rick Muscoplat


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