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How to Change the Brake Pads on a Cavalier

by Jody L. Campbell; Updated November 07, 2017

Items you will need

  • Vehicle jack

  • Jack stands

  • Wheel nut wrench

  • Torque wrench

  • Socket set

  • Ratchet

  • 3/8-inch hex head key or ratchet adapter

  • Extra large channel locks

  • Brake fluid baster tool

  • Brake fluid

  • Replacement pads

  • Wire coat hanger

  • Slotted screwdriver

Replacing the front brake pads in a Chevy Cavalier will be more frequent than replacing the rear brake shoes. The front brakes compensate for 75 percent braking power for the front-wheel drive vehicle. The Cavalier was introduced by GM Motors in 1982, and production stopped on it in 2005. The procedure to replace the front pads can be done by the average weekend mechanic.

Apply the parking brake on a flat and hard surface and then release the interior hood release latch.

Open the hood, remove the master cylinder cover and remove 2/3 of the brake fluid with a brake fluid baster. Discard the old fluid. This will make room inside the master cylinder when it's time to compress the front caliper pistons.

Remove the hubcaps (if applicable) and then loosen the front wheel nuts 1/8 of a turn counterclockwise.

Lift the Cavalier with the vehicle jack and support it safely onto jack stands placed under the front frame rails.

Remove the wheel nuts and wheels.

Remove the two caliper mounting bolts using a 3/8-inch hex head wrench or a ratchet with a 3/8-inch hex head ratchet adapter. Remove the sleeves as well.

Pry the caliper and pad assembly off of the rotor using the slotted screwdriver and then hang the caliper to the front strut coil spring by bending the wire coat hanger into a makeshift hook.

Pry the outboard pad dowels off of the caliper housing using the slotted screwdriver.

Pull the inboard pad retaining clips out of the caliper piston.

Compress the piston of the caliper by squeezing it in with a pair of extra large channel locks.

Inspect the rotor for any visible signs of surface damage. If necessary, replace the rotor.

Apply a light coat of silicone lubricant (supplied in the replacement brake pad set) to the flat edges (upper and lower) of the caliper anchor where the backing plates of the pads contact.

Install the inboard pad first into the caliper piston and then install the outboard pad by clipping the dowels onto the caliper housing.

Replace the caliper and pad assembly over the rotors.

Apply a light coat of the silicone lubricant to the sleeves and smooth surface of the caliper mounting bolts and then align them in through the caliper and onto the knuckle. Tighten the bolts.

Replace the wheel and wheel nuts and tighten the nuts to 100 foot-pounds when the Cavalier is sitting on the ground. Repeat the pad replacement procedure for the other side.

Pump the foot brake pedal until it feels firm and then refill the master cylinder with brake fluid after the Cavalier has been lowered and before test driving.

About the Author

Jody L. Campbell spent over 15 years as both a manager and an under-car specialist in the automotive repair industry. Prior to that, he managed two different restaurants for over 15 years. Campbell began his professional writing career in 2004 with the publication of his first book.

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