The other day the brakes on my 1990 Civic CRX decided that life had been too easy for me and that it was time to change them. Right now. In the rain. I figured as long as I was standing around in the rain changing brake pads, I might as well take pictures and write it up to contribute a little something back to the web that’s given me more useless information than any other source.
Keep in mind that I provide no warranty for these instructions, and don’t even recommend that you use them as the primary source of information, but rather as a supplement to a Chilton, Haynes, or Honda automotive service manual for your car, which you should really have if you’re going to do any work on your car at all. This page is really just more for tips and advice about the easiest way to do things.
Before you start, you’ll need some tools:
A tire tool or long ratchet with a 19mm socket (for stock wheels on my civic)
A 12mm socket or wrench
A 8mm wrench, not socket.
A floor jack
2 jack stands
4 new brake pads
Some brake squeal stop
A bottle of brake fluid (DOT-3)
These instructions should probably work for any Civic from at least 1983-1994, and are pretty applicable to almost any Honda and almost any car, but your mileage may vary (HA!)
The first thing you want to do is loosen the lug nuts on the front wheels. Most people recommend a tire tool for this. Not me. I recommend a 1/2″ impact wrench. However, my impact wrench was in my garage, which was filled with my Ranchero, and the front of it wasn’t covered from the rain, so no dice. As for your impact wrench….well, if you’re reading this, you probably don’t have one.
In the absence of said impact wrench, I recommend a Sears Craftsman 1/2″ drive flex-head ratcheting socket wrench:
If you don’t have one, you’ll have to make do with that old tire tool. Whatever you use, loosen all the lug nuts on the front wheel a turn or two, until they turn easily. Then, chock the back wheels with something that’s not going to move, so that your car stays in the same place when you jack it up. In true white trash fashion, I personally use a 5′ long 2×12 pine board:
Rocks work okay too, as do reasonably big pry bars and–if you want to cheat–actual wheel chocks. Once you’ve secured the back wheels, You want to jack the car up and secure it with jack stands:
For this job, you want to use a floor jack and a couple of jack stands.
If you’re really desperate, you can use the little screw jack that came with your car, and put it under the rocker panel on the side of your car, between the notches, where you see the jack stands in the picture above. But then you have to jack up each side seperately, and you have to worry about the car falling on you. Look at it this way: you’re saving at least thirty bucks doing this yourself, so go out and spend that thirty dollars on a cheap floor jack and a pair of stands. I promise you that if you ever work on your car again, you’ll be glad you did.
You want to put the lift pad of the floor jack under the front cross member of your Civic. The part where you want to put it looks like a skid pad and is right behind the toe ring in the middle of the car. Make sure you’ve got it under a thick metal cross member and not under a skinny plastic radiator. Green fluid gushing from your car is a sign that you got it wrong.
Once you’ve got the jack positioned, jack the car up until you can slide the jack stands under the front of the doors. If you look underneath the door, you’ll see that the ridge at the bottom of the car has a couple of notches in it. You want to place the jackstands so that the ridge rests on them between the notches (If you’re slumming it with a screw jack, this is where you want to put it to jack the car up).
When you have the jackstands in position, slowly lower the floor jack until the car rests on them. Shake the car really hard to make sure it’s not going anywhere, because if it is you’d rather find out before you’re under it. You should make sure that the pins or other locking mechanism in your jack stands are securely and properly fastened, unlike in the picture below:
Once you’ve got the car up on stands, remove the wheels and then remove the lower caliper bolt, which a 12mm bolt on the inside of the caliper at the bottom. The ratchet is hanging off of this bolt in the picture below:
Loosen this bolt and remove it, then you can swing the brake caliper up and tie it to the upper suspension arm with a piece of string or wire, as below:
This serves to give the caliper a rare thrill, and keep it out of your way. If you want, you can spray the whole thing down with brake part cleaner now. Don’t use anything but brake part cleaner, and try not to kick up too much of that asbestos dust or breath it in, because it can cause cancer.
Once you’ve cleaned the brakes, pull the brake pads away from the disk. You’ll need to use one of them to push the brake caliper back into its housing so that your nifty new brake pads will fit inside of the caliper housing.
To do this, put one of the pads inside the housing agains the caliper (the big round thing that pushes against the back of the pads when the brake is assembled), and then put a C-clamp over the whole assembly. The back of the C-clamp goes on the back of the caliper assembly, as shown below:
Then, just tighten the C-clamp until the old brake pad is flush with the caliper housing, and the caliper is pushed all the way in, as shown below:
I used a 3″ (75mm) C-clamp, and this is the smallest one that will work on this Civic. If you’re buying one, I’d recommend buying a 4″ or 5″ instead.
Now it’s time to prepare the new brake pads. First sort the pads and find two that exactly match the ones you just removed. Then, we want to put some goop on the back that stops the pads from squealing. If you’re lucky, your pads came with some; if not, you should have bought some when you bought the pads. If you don’t have any, you can put the pads on anyway, but they might squeak.
I usually just put a thick line of the stuff on the back of the pad and then use a piece of cardboard or wood to spread it around:
Once you’ve got the goop on there, you need to put the pads back on the disk. If you get confused about how they go, look at the ones on the other side to figure it out, if possible.
If you’re changing the pads on a similar honda, here’s two tips:
The one with the metal tab that sticks out goes on the inside, and the tab goes on the bottom, sticking out
Put the top o fthe pad in first, and then pop the bottom of the pad in. The clips on the bracket that holds the pads won’t let you slide them in any other way.
Once you’ve got the disks in they should look like this:
Now you’re ready to slide the caliper assembly back down over the new pads. Remember the bolt you removed earlier? It went through a bushing that can slide back and forth. You will have to slide that bushing out (toward the inside of the car) to make the caliper assembly fit. When you’ve got it reassembled, it will pretty much like it did before you started:
Now just put back the lower caliper bolt and tighten it.
You may need to bleed the brakes. This is the process by which you remove any air that may have gotten into the brake system. Have someone sit inside the vehicle and pump the break pedal nine or ten times and then hold it down. While they are holding it down, use an 8mm wrench to open the brake bleeder valve on the caliper assembly (it is called out in one of the photographs above). Brake fluid and/or air will shoot out of the end of the valve, so it’s advisable (and possible legally required) to put a tube over the end of the valve to direct the brake fluid to a container for later disposal at an auto shop (Jiffy Lube, etc.)
When fluid stop shooting out, tightly close the valve, and only then should your assistant let their foot off of the brake pedal. If they do it before you close the valve, air will be sucked into the system.
Perform this process two or three times for each wheel. The brake pedal will likely be considerably firmer and more effective afterward.
and put the wheel back on. When you are tightening the wheel nuts, tighten one bolt, then the opposite bolt, then the other two, and do it in two passes. You will not be able to tighten the bolts very much until you have lowered the car back to the ground, because the wheel will turn.
After you’ve lowered the car, go back and tighten the lug nuts in two more passes, until you’ve reached the manufacturer’s recommended torque capacity–or, if you’re like me, until they’re as tight as you can get them. My dad used to say to stop tightening them right before the lugs snap off; me, I think that’s wrong: you should stop at least a 1/2 turn before they snap.
Seriously though, when they’re tight they’ll make an annoying metal-scraping/popping metal sound when you tighten them more.
After you’ve got the wheels back on, check your brake fluid level and refill if necessary, then take your car for a slow and careful test drive. If the brakes fail to work at any point, use the hand brake to stop the car–it uses cables to engage the rear brakes, so it should work even if your front brakes and pneumatic brake system are broken.