How to replace the front disc brake pads on a 2001 Dodge RAM 1500

Howdy!

I am not a mechanic — just a poor slob who cannot afford to pay someone else to work on my vehicles.  I’ve found many articles on the internet that have helped me work on my vehicles (in addition to many experienced friends), but when it came time to replace the front-disc-brake-pads on the 2001 Dodge RAM 1500 pickup, I had a hard time finding a worth-while post.

So, I thought I’d give back.  If you have a 2001 Dodge RAM 1500 or similar, vehicle, I hope this helps you get the job done.  I have included many pictures that to make this easy and intuitive.

I assume you know how to safely and properly jack up your vehicle’s front end and remove the tires/wheels.  I am skipping that.  I am also not covering how to replace the rotors, although I do suggest you either re-surface or replace your rotors when you change the pads.  This post will only cover replacing the pads.

In addition to a jack, jack-stands, lug-nut wrench, and wheel chocks, here is a list of the tools I needed to complete this task:

  • (~6′) electrical wire (or wire coat hanger, or similar)
  • (2) large regular screwdrivers
  • (1) 1/2″ socket and socket wrench
  • (2) 3″ or larger C-clamps
  • (1) small can of hydraulic brake fluid (if needed)

Work on one wheel at a time.  Here is a picture of the passenger side caliper and rotor that we will be working on.

The patient

Notice the green electrical wire wrapped around the caliper — that will support the caliper once it is removed.  This will avoid straining the hydraulic brake line, so make sure it is secured to something that can hold the weight of the caliper and that it’s not too slack.

There should be no need to open-up the hydraulic system, therefore, no need to bleed the brakes.  You will need to open the cap on the master cylinder,  so you can push the caliper pistons back (especially once the new, thicker, brake pads are on).

Remove the two 1/2″ caliper mounting-bolts that hold the caliper onto the brake pad cartridge/mounting bracket.  As I said, I am not a mechanic, so forgive me if there is a correct name for this part, but I am referring to the part that mounts to the wheel and holds the caliper and pads in place.  You do not need to remove this cartridge/bracket to change the pads, but you would need to remove it to remove the rotors.

Caliper bolts are at the top and bottom with the rubber covers

Here I’m using a 1/2″ socket to remove the top bolt:

removing the caliper bolts

Removing the caliper bolts (1/2" bolt)

Once both caliper mounting-bolts are removed, you will have to pop the caliper out of the retainer clips.  To make a little room to work, you might want to push the two hydraulic pistons back into the caliper.  Since they are part of the hydraulic system, you will need to remove the cap off the master cylinder so the brake fluid has somewhere to go.  Be careful not to let it overflow.

Master Cylinder cap

You can remove some of the fluid with a turkey baster if it looks like it is going to overflow.  I did not have a problem with overflow, but I did keep an eye on it.

Master cylinder cap removed

I used a screwdriver to pry the piston back into the caliper:

pushing back the caliper piston (top)

Pushing back the caliper piston (top)

You can see the extra room that created:

Top piston pushed back

Piston pushed back (top)

Next, do the bottom piston:

Pushing back caliper piston (bottom)

Even though I had the cap off the master cylinder, when I pried the bottom piston back, the top one closed back up.  So put another screwdriver in the top to hold it back while prying the bottom open:

holding the top piston why prying the bottom piston open

Pushing back caliper piston (bottom) while holding the top one back

Once there is a little wiggle room with the pistons pushed back, you can work on the retainer clips.  I wiped the dirt off the clips so they would show up better.  This is a picture of the top clips:

Cartridge retainer clips (top)

And here are the bottom clips:

Cartridge retainer clips (bottom)

Notice the bottom clip is smaller in the middle.  This is the one you want to work on first.  Once the bottom is popped out, you can slide it out of the top.  I used a screwdriver as a lever:

pop the caliper off the mounting cartridge

Pop the caliper off the mounting cartridge

Here is a close up of the caliper once it is popped out of the bottom clip:

caliper bottom "popped out" of cartridge retainer clips

Caliper bottom "popped out" of cartridge retainer clips

It may be hard to see.  Click on the picture to get a closer look.  The middle is “unclipped”.  The clips to the right and left actually hold the pads in.   The pads slide off the sides of these clips once the caliper is removed — they do not “pop” off.

You can now remove the caliper from the cartridge/bracket by lifting the bottom up and sliding the the top out of the retaining clips:

Removing caliper from cartridge

Once the caliper is free, the electrical wire should support the caliper without putting a strain on the hydraulic brake line.  Here is what that looks like:

Caliper removed -- pads exposed

Next, remove the old pads by sliding them off the ends of the retainer clips.  I found it easy to do if I started with the bottom first.  Do not be afraid to touch anything.  Any dirt, grease, or oil you might get on the rotors will quickly burn off once things are back together again…

Slide pad off retainer clip (bottom first)

First pad removed

x

Slide off the other pad (bottom first, then top)

Sliding off the other pad (bottom first, then top)

Both old pads removed

Both old pads removed

Make sure your new pads look like your old pads.  If they look like the right ones, install the new pads in the opposite order you took the old ones off — slide the top on first, then the bottom.

Sliding on the new pad (top first, then bottom)

Slide on the other new pad (top first, then bottom)

slide new pad onto cartridge retainer clip (top first, then bottom)

Slide new pad onto cartridge retainer clip (top first, then bottom)

both new pads installed on retainer clips

Both new pads installed on retainer clips

With the new pads mounted onto the cartridge retainer clips, you need to re-install the caliper.  Since the new pads are thicker than the old, worn-out pads, you need to make some room to get the caliper to re-align for installation.  The two bushings that the caliper mounting-bolts slide through need to be pushed back a bit.  I was able to do this with my fingers.  If they are too tight, you may need to replace or rebuild your calipers.

push back caliper bushings (this is the top bushing)

Push back caliper bushings (this is the top bushing)

Finish pushing the pistons back into the calipers.  I used a couple of 3″ C-clamps.  Do the first one and leave the clamp on it:

finish pushing caliper pistons back

Finish pushing caliper pistons back

Next, do the second one.  Remember; check your brake fluid so it does not overflow and spill all over your engine.

push back the other piston (watch the brake fluid level!)

Push back the other piston (watch the brake fluid level!)

With the caliper mounting-bushings and the pistons both pushed back, you can re-install the caliper.  You will first need to snap it back into the retaining clips on the cartridge.  Slide the top into the clip and then snap the bottom down:

replace caliper on cartridge clips (top first)

Replace caliper on cartridge clips (top first)

snap caliper onto bottom cartridge clips

Snap caliper onto bottom cartridge clips

There should be a little wiggle room for you to line up the caliper mounting bolts.  Get the first one lined-up and then line-up the other.  Tighten them down snugly.

re-install caliper bolts in cartridge

Re-install caliper bolts in cartridge

You can now remove the wire you used to support the caliper.

Repeat this process on the other wheel.

Then replace the cap on the master cylinder and reinstall the tires/wheels.  Do not forget to tighten the lug nuts!

Pump the brake pedal to push the pistons back.  The pedal should be spongy at first and then firm up once the pistons are in place.  Check the master cylinder to see if you need to add any hydraulic fluid.

Once you have the truck back on all four wheels, the lug nuts are tight, the brake pedal has been pumped and you have checked the brake fluid level, take the truck for a spin and hit the brakes hard a few times.  This will seat the new pads against the rotor.

That’s all folks! Happy and safe driving!

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