Replacing the front brake pads on an SN95

Written by Jonathan Maton

A few notes:

  • Doing this yourself will save you quite a bit of money. Call around and get prices to see what I mean.
  • My car is a 1994 GT. This replacement should be identical for 1994-1998 base and GT Mustangs. Cobra models have dual piston front calipers, which is a bit more work. (MW editorial comment: On the newer stangs (96 - on) a tool can be purchased that turns the piston as it pushes rather than using a c-clamp, it costs around $20 and pushes the piston in safely, 99 also have a dual piston up front and newer V6 models have the similar brakes as the GT's 94 - 98)
  • I changed the pads in the rear before deciding to start snapping pictures. More notes on changing the rear pads are at the end of this article.
  • It's usually a good idea to have your rotors "resurfaced" (aka "turned"). I took my car in for a free brake inspection and was told my rotors were fine, just needed new pads. There are tools available to resurface your own rotors, but I think I'd let a shop do that step.
  • Work on one wheel at a time, so that if you need to check how something fits or should look, you can refer to the other wheel.

Tools needed
  • jack and jackstands
  • lug wrench
  • can of brake parts cleaner (optional)
  • hi temperature grease
  • large adjustable C-clamp (6" is fine) (MW:Or piston compression tool)
  • small bottle of anti-squeal compound ("Disc Brake Quiet" was my brand)
  • siphon or syringe
  • new brake fluid
  • replacement brake pads (duh)
  • coat hanger/wire/twine
  • ratchet and Torx T-50 bit socket
  • may need a big ass wrench (pipe fitter's wrench)
1. Pop the hood, remove about half of the brake fluid from the reservoir (use siphon or syringe). I'm not sure why this is necessary, but every brake manual says to do it. Maybe, when you compress the brake pistons later, the fluid in the brake lines backs up into the reservoir and it would overflow, I don't know (MW editor comment: yes this is exactly the reason. Fluid could spill out from even a closed cap so it's best to remove a little).

2. Remove center cap on front wheels, break the lug nuts loose (don't remove them yet). Set the parking brake, jack the car up and place on jackstands. (If you don't have jackstands, you can work on one wheel at a time, but please be careful as it is never safe to work under a car supported only by a jack.) Now remove the wheels.

3. [See image] Look at those wonderful 11.something inch discs! Spray the rotor and caliper down with brake parts cleaner to remove brake dust - do not blow it off with compressed air. Inhaling this stuff is not advised, and blowing it will set the dust airborne.

4.[See image] You need to compress the piston into the caliper to make room for the new, thicker pads. (MW editorial comment: On the newer stangs, 96 and on, a tool can be purchased that turns the piston as it pushes rather than using a c-clamp, it costs around $20 and pushes the piston in safely)
. Position the C-clamp as shown in the picture and tighten to compress the piston. Tighten until you can't tighten any more without a low level of force. You don't want to damage the caliper here... if you do not fully compress the piston (as I found I hadn't) you can fix this later.

5.Get on your back and under the wheel. Looking at the back of the caliper you will see the bolt you will soon grow to hate. The lowermost bolt, round with the torx (star) pattern, is the o
ne you need to remove for access to the brake pads. (Do not remove the upper bolt!)

Now, the correct tool is the ratchet and T-50 torx bit, but I was not able to break the bolt loose even with a huge ratchet. The most I could do was begin to strip the bolt. If your car is over a few years old you are probably going to run into this as well. My solution was a foot-long pipe fitter's wrench. Clamp that baby down on that stubborn bolt and just overpower it. Once it's loose, you can use the torx bit and ratchet to take it the rest of the way out.

6.[See images] With that confounded bolt removed, lift the caliper up (it hinges on the upper pin) and off of the rotor (take it off the pin.) Hang the caliper from the coil spring with a coat hanger or wire - don't let it hang by the brake line!
(In the first image for this step, you see me lifting the caliper. In the second image, the hand on the left side points the old pads. The hand on the right points to the hanging caliper.)

7.[See image] You can see the old pads now. Remove them - just lift them right out. Get the new pads ready by smearing some anti-squeal compound on the back of the pads. Then place the new pads where the old ones were. Make sure they are seated correctly. There is no trick here, just make sure they're in. I noticed on mine that the inboard pad sticks up just slightly above the rotor, whereas the outboard pad was level. This appears to be normal - I checked the other wheel and the old pads were this way. Apply high temperature grease to the mounting pin.

8.[See image] Un-hang the caliper, mount it back onto the upper pin, and press it back down, over the pads, in its rightful place. If you didn't compress the piston enough, it won't fit. Don't force it! Just fully compress the piston into the caliper at this time. Take one of the old brake pads, place it in the caliper, and use the C-clamp again. This time you should be able to see the piston and determine when it is seated. (The reason you are using the old brake pad is to equally distribute the pressure on the piston. If you do not do this, you may damage the piston.) After seating the piston, follow the instructions above and remount the caliper.
(The image shows me compressing the piston the second time around, as described above.)

9. Now bolt that confounded torx bolt back in (you can use the ratchet to tighten it, I found). Make sure it is good and tight. Make some visual checks against the other wheel to be sure everything is correct, and wipe off excess anti-squeal compound.

10. Repeat the steps for the other front brake. Re-mount the wheels, lower your stang. Be sure to replace the brake fluid you removed with new fluid; top it off. Start the car, leave the parking brake set!! Be sure to pump the brakes several times until normal brake pressure returns before driving off!! The first few times your brake pedal will go to the floor as the system re-pressurizes (or whatever it's doing.)

You're done!

Further notes: Replacing the rear pads was much more time consuming and a PITA than the fronts. The procedure is similar to the front with a few important exceptions:
  • Don't set the parking brake. This should be obvious. The parking brake handle simply engages the rear brakes. If they are engaged, how are you going to compress them? :)
  • Compressing the piston - DO NOT use the C-clamp. The rear pistons must be compressed by turning them (I think it was clockwise) into the caliper. There is a special tool that I'm told is about $10. Or you can do it the way I did, use a good pair of needle nose pliars. You will see two notches in the piston where you can plant the pliars and use every ounce of strength to start turning the piston (it gets easier after the first few full turns).
  • You must transfer the side clips from the old pads to the new pads (unless they came with new clips, which mine didn't).
  • There is no stubborn torx bolt on the rears (thank goodness). Use a crescent wrench on the bolt that's there.
  • The manual I followed did not instruct me to put anti-squeal on the rear pads, so don't. :)
  • You will actually have to hold the rear calipers in place while you bolt them back down, due to the springs on top of the brake pads. This was the most difficult part (2nd to compressing the pistons, though). Make sure the pistons are fully seated to make this a little easier, and you'll probably need a buddy to hold the caliper down while you slip the bolt through.

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