How to Change the Brake Pads on a 97 Ford Thunderbird

by Jody L. CampbellUpdated November 07, 2017
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brake calipers image by Tom Oliveira from

Items you will need

  • Clean syringe

  • Wheel block

  • Lug wrench

  • Jack

  • Jack stand(s)

  • Ratchet and socket set

  • Small pry bar or straightedge screwdriver

  • Pliers (rear brake pads)

  • Caliper hanging device (front brake pads)

  • 4-inch C-clamp (front brake pads)

  • Rear caliper piston reset tool with adapters

  • Wire brush

  • Silicone brake grease

  • Replacement brake pad set

  • Torque wrench/ratchet with a standard socket set

  • DOT 3 brake fluid

The Ford Thunderbird's last year of production was in 1997. It was later reintroduced with a completely different generational redesign in 2002. The 1997 T-Bird could feature both front and rear disc brake systems, which employ brake pads as the braking friction components. While all the models used front disc brakes, some of the manufactured models also featured rear drum braking systems. There are a few different procedures between replacing front and rear disc brake pads that required different tools to perform the task effectively.

Use the clean syringe to remove half of the brake fluid from the master cylinder. Dispose of the fluid and replace the cover to the cylinder.

Place a wheel block against the outside tread of a tire on the opposite axle of the one you're replacing brake pads on.

Use the lug wrench to loosen the wheel nuts on the two tires of the axle you're replacing the brake pads on. Loosen the nuts just enough to back them away from the wheel rim.

Lift one side of the quarter with a jack and place a jack stand under the Thunderbird to support it. If desired, raise the other side and support it with a jack stand or replace one side at a time.

Remove the lug nuts and wheel(s).

Use the ratchet and a socket to remove the two caliper guide bolts on the front caliper(s). For the rear calipers, loosen the tension on the parking brake cable by pulling the cable toward the caliper, then release the end of the cable from the caliper with the pair of pliers and remove the upper caliper guide bolt with the ratchet and socket.

Gently pry the front caliper(s) off of the of the brake pad support plate with the pry bar or screwdriver and then hang it to the front suspension spring with a caliper hanging device. For the rear caliper(s), pry the top of the caliper outward with the pry bar or screwdriver and pivot the caliper downward away from the brake pad support plate. The lower caliper guide will hold the caliper in place so you do not need to hang it from the rear suspension.

Remove the inner and outer brake pads (front or rear) using the pry tool or screwdriver if necessary to unseat the pads from the caliper support plate.

Place one of the removed front brake pads against the front caliper piston and then place the 4-inch C-clamp over the caliper and the driving screw of the clamp against the pad. Tighten the clamp until the caliper piston is seated inside the caliper fully. For rear caliper(s) piston(s) compression, use the caliper piston reset tool. Locate the correct adapter that aligns the nibs of the adapter to the notches of the piston and then turn the piston and tool clockwise until the piston is fully seated into the caliper.

Brush the pad seat on the caliper support plate with the wire brush to clean off the brake dust, rust and other debris. Apply a coat of silicone brake grease to the tabs of the replacement pads that mate to the pad seats and reinstall the replacement pads by reversing the removal procedure. Make sure the nibs on the plates of the rear inner pads align to the notches of the rear caliper. If not, use the tool to turn the piston counterclockwise until they do. Make sure the front brake pad rattle clip (located in the inspection hole of the caliper) is aligned properly to the seated replacement pads.

Place the front caliper(s) over the pads and caliper support plate(s), or pivot the rear caliper upward over the pads and caliper support plate. Align the respective guide pins into the caliper by hand threading them in first. Use the ratchet and socket to snug the bolt(s) and then torque the front bolts to 38-foot pounds with a torque ratchet and socket. Tighten the rear bolt to 25-foot pounds with the torque ratchet and socket. Reattach the brake cable to the rear caliper by reversing the removal procedure.

Replace the wheels and lug nuts. Tighten the lug nuts so they hold the wheel and rim assembly firmly to the hubs. Use the lug wrench or the ratchet and a socket to perform this procedure, but tighten the nuts by employing a star pattern to avoid anchoring the rim unevenly to the hub.

Lower the Thunderbird to the ground and then use the torque ratchet and a socket (employing the star pattern procedure) to retighten the lug nuts to 100-foot pounds.

Top off the master cylinder with DOT 3 brake fluid and then replace the cover. Pump the brake pedal several times to position the caliper pistons and seat the replacement brake pads.

Remove the wheel block and then test drive the Thunderbird for braking performance.


The front brake pads on the 1997 Thunderbird are slightly different between the models that feature rear disc brakes and the models with rear drum brakes; although the procedure to replace them is the same. If you're replacing the front brake pads, be sure to inform the parts dealer which rear braking system your Thunderbird has to ensure you're getting the correct front brake pads.

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