Servicing brakes on a 2004 Toyota Highlander

My passenger side (a.k.a. right) rear brake caliper was seized so, with the help of a co-worker, I replaced the rear rotors, calipers and pads, and I flushed (most of) the brake fluid. I didn’t touch the front brakes. It was a great experience and I learned a lot about the brake system in my car. So here’s a quick account.

We jacked up the car according to the owner’s manual. We used a jack similar to the following to lift the rear end of the car off the ground. We did not use jack stands in addition to the jack but, in retrospect, we definitely should have for extra safety even though we were mostly working on the brake assemblies from the side of the car rather than underneath.

My friend had a pneumatic driver (maybe you would call it an air driver, air screwdriver, pneumatic impact wrench, air impact wrench, etc.) that we used to easily remove the wheel nuts and get the tires off, and then to torque the wheel nuts back down again when we remounted the tires after we finished. This was a huge convenience, and I wouldn’t want to do it again without one.

I bought a pair of rebuilt Toyota calipers for $62.99 each from a local auto parts store. There was an additional “core deposit” of $75 ea. which was refunded to me when I returned the “cores,” which is what they call the removed caliper assemblies. In addition to the calipers, I bought a pair of rotors ($42.99 each) and a set of brake pads. My friend had advised me to buy the non-ceramic type of brake pads because they provide better stopping, but the store only had ceramic type pads in stock, so I purchased the Wagner Quickstop brake pads, $30.99 for a set of four. Two pads are used for each tire, so this was enough for the rear tires only. I have been driving the vehicle for about two weeks now and the stopping is far better than it was before, but this would be expected anyway since one of the calipers was seized. Therefore, I can’t say whether non-ceramic pads would perform better, but I can say that the ceramic pads seem to do the job fine.

The salesperson at the store recommended that I buy a can of brake cleaner as well, which turned out to be a very good suggestion. The brake cleaner is basically a super nasty chemical solvent, like kerosene. I think I bought CRC brand “Brakleen” but not sure. We used this to de-gunk the rotor mount after removal of the old rotors and to remove the protective coating on the new rotors prior to installation.

The whole process took about four hours, but much of this time was spent (1) goofing around and (2) was due to my friend teaching me what to do, because I had never done brakes before. The brake work could probably be completed within two hours.

There were a couple tricky parts that took some troubleshooting to complete. First, some of the caliper mounting screws were difficult to access with our ratchets, wrenches and drivers. Second, the emergency brake had to be relaxed in order to remove the rotors, and it was not clear how to do this at first. Through trial and error we found that we had to first rotate the rotor so that an access hole was located in line with the e-brake adjustment gear, and then use a screwdriver or similar pokey tool to rotate the adjustment gear enough to relax the e-brake enough so that the rotor would come free. For future reference, the e-brake adjustment gear is located toward the bottom of the stator, about 6:30 or 7 o’clock.



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