First-time Car Repair

I would like to attempt my first car repair flying solo. I’d like to change my brakes on my 88’ Volvo wagon. I’ve seen my father’s and brother’s change their own. I’ve got all the right books. However, I’m nervous because, you know, they’re BRAKES! I’ve done lots of body work on cars, but no one can die if your screw up with some Bondo.

Is this the wrong place to start my adventure?

Not at all the wrong place. Lots of people start with brakes b/c, while important, they are not all that complicated and can be done with basic tools.

When you say “all the right books” I assume you mean at least one of those is a repair manual that gives you step by step. If not, get a repair manual.

A couple of easy tips - when you pull the wheel take a digital picture. Also do only one wheel at a time. If you have questions on reassembly you can consult the picture and/or the other wheel. Also just choose a time and place where you feel like you can relax and take your time with it. Very important: presumably you have jack stands? Do not work on a car using only a jack.

Couple of points. Don’t put both pads with wear indicators on the same rotor and make sure the indicator isn’t hanging in open space. Pump the disc brakes up to get the pads up to the rotors before you try to drive or you will have no brakes.

Have a look at the rotors first. If they have a high rust ridge on the edges, they will have to be resurfaced or replaced. Some rotors are easy to get off and some require a lot of work, your manual will say what kind you have.

True: I can’t remember the last Bondo related death.

Thanks for the reply! Yes, I have jack stands. I will definitely take a photo, great idea. I have two step by step manuals, by different publishers. I really appreciate the advice.

Thanks for the advice! I will follow your advice and I have my regular mechanic on speed dial and my AAA membership is current!

Sounds like you have all your bases covered. Brakes are easy, so they are a good place to start. If I remember correctly, an '88 Volvo is about the easiest of the lot, too. They have four wheel disc brakes which are very easy to service. If your Volvo has dual piston rear calipers, and these are the ones you are servicing, and you have to remove the caliper to replace or resurface the rotors, make sure you remove the correct bolts. The bolts holding the two halves of the caliper together are close to the ones holding the caliper to the axle. A good repair manual will illustrate this in picture. That is the only potential caveat I can think of, and that would be more likely disconcerting than catastrophic.

A lot of good advice already. If I only give you one tidbit of advice, it would be this: do not press the brake pedal any further than it has historically been pressed, in normal operation, during the process to seat the new pads to the rotor surface. This is especially important on a master cylinder of such advanced years.

A crud layer will have built up in the master cylinder bore at the normal extent of travel. When you push the caliper pistons back and fit new pads, you will have to pump the brake pedal to get them back against the rotor surface. If you press the pedal too far, the master cylinder piston seal will run into this crud ridge and likely damage it.

Although the job takes a little longer to pump the pedal a short stroke for more cycles, it helps to avoid this damage and adding a new master cylinder to the repair task.

In addition to the above, do only one axle of brakes at a time. Start with the rear if you are doing both front and rear. Get those together and drive the car a while until they are sure they are working well and bedded in. Then do the fronts.

Be aware that the Volve split braking system is 1/2 of each front caliper and one of the rear calipers so if you goof up both front calipers and leaks occur you will lose all braking. Just make sure that you have a solid brake pedal after you are through. If in doubt run the engine up against the brakes to make sure that the brakes will hold satisfactorily before you get any momentum up.

Have you decided how you are going to deal with brake rotor surface? perhaps replace rotors, have rotors turned on a lathe? do you know where to lube sliding parts of the brakes ? and with what, any idea on how to inspect parking brake components? what about bearing inspection and packing, new seals? lots of common but important issues with a brake job, fluid flush? I could go on and on, and you don’t really get this kind of stuff in a manual.