Vanagon – front brake fandango

I hope the story that follows will help someone be less stupid than I have been the last 2 days. No, that doesn’t sound right, no one would have been as dim as me notwithstanding.

Story starts with passengers complaining of squeaks from front left brake/wheel. Further development was noticing a clunk/rattle when going downhill on washboard/rough roads this last weekend. Noise seemed to be affected by brake application. Signs say examine front end and brakes. So I do that, could not find any loose or broken suspension components but did find that my brake pads were getting thin, and one pad on pass. side had a broken spring. So here is where I should have sat down and thought things through more. New pads are a good idea, but what about new rotors too? I did measure old rotors, they were within wear spec, so ADD boy here rushes out and buys some expensive Pagid pads and leaves rotors alone.

Quite a difference in thickness between old and new eh? Hint: that should have triggered a response in my brain other than “gee, look at the thickness difference”. Oh and another oversight, I mentioned that I measured the old rotor thickness, doing that I did note the ridges on the rotor (peripheral and internal) where the pads do not touch. I didn’t think that would be an issue, ha!

So I popped in the new pads. Bentley describes the procedure well, but did I do a careful reading? No, I didn’t. I removed both bolts from the caliper slider and removed slider to install pads. That is NOT how to do it. There are bold warnings not to re-use those slider bolts and the new pads came with just 2 new bolts (with pre-applied thread locker). I was puzzled by this, I thought I was shorted 2 bolts. So I used loctite and re-used the old bolts. This was both good and bad as you will see later. I finished pad replacement Monday evening and did not take van for test drive, yet another dumb-assed mistake. Next morning I had an important errand and as I drove out I noticed a rubbing/clicking noise from front right wheel. Bloody hell, drove back and popped that wheel to look. Rushed examination, pulled pads, noticed scoring on inside pad where it was hitting the un-worn area of rotor. Aha I thought, and beveled that part of pad a tad with stationary belt sander. Noise still there. Borrowed car and rushed out. I had the chance to drop by Autospiel that day and talk to Russ about this noise. I explained situation, he asked if I had checked that the rim, or balancing weights were not hitting caliper, I said no, I believed it was the pad on the un-worn part of rotor. Why don’t I listen and think? I decided to by a couple of new Brembo rotors from him (39 bucks a piece), and at same time, noticed them on the counter, a set of radius arm bushings (mine are old and worn out, I’ll post about replacement later, nothing to do with brake job). Got back home and set about rotor replacement.

This time, doing it right. First remove the pads. Undo lower bolt of caliper slider, in this pic I have 13 mm wrench on bolt and crescent wrench on flat of slider rod.

With that bolt out, the caliper body swings up and the pads exposed. Pull out pads.

Now those aneurism inducing 22 mm bolts (2) that hold caliper body to suspension upright. They are on tight (200 ft-lbs) and not much access for the lift deprived driveway “mechanic”. Shoot, forgot to state the usual warnings, ie support van SECURELY on jack stand/good wooden blocks during this procedure. You are really putting a lot of grunt into the van when loosening and tightening those bolts.

Ok, caliper off and hanging on breaker bar stuck in suspension. The slider part came off and is sitting to the right in this picture.

That hex socket bolt need to be removed, 5 or 6 mm? can’t recall.

Then the rotor should slide off the hub. Well, it started to but then hung up on something. At this point I really was not sure of anything, I consulted Bentley again, and again, finally used a puller.

I think it was this rust that was making the rotor difficult. Look at the state of it! What in the name of all that is holy was I thinking when I first decided to leave the rotors alone?

What it looks like with rotor off.

New and old.

New rotor on. I must say that it did give me a warm fuzzy feeling to look at it.

Caliper body re-installed and 22 mm bolts torqued back up to, ugghh, 200 ft-lbs. Pads installed, caliper slider swing back down into position and new bolt used in bottom position. You may find that you have to press in the brake piston to get the caliper to fit over new pads. I used a C-clamp to push piston in.

Other side done, wheels back on, tools put away, brow wiped. Ok, test drive…. rub, rub, rub. Son of a gun (or words to that effect), the noise is still there. Noise goes away when braking, that is a clue. On passenger side I had installed a no-name (drivers side is a Girling) caliper a couple of years ago when I broke the nipples off both calipers. I cannot recall why I got a Girling for one side and a no-name for the other side, but that is the way it is. I looked closely at the caliper. Oh yeah, scoring. So it seems that the added thickness of the new pads pushes the slider outboard enough to hit the rim (stock 14″ steelies yeah, yeah, I know I need bigger wheels. It is on my to do list)

And one of the curious little tits on the rim that is hitting.

Allright! Time to do some real work. Blending disc.

Grinding disc.

Caliper modified.

And yes, happy ending. Rubbing noise gone, and as a bonus, the brakes work.

Summary time:

– read the manual closely, don’t be a dolt like me and skim.

– replace rotors if replacing pads. Don’t screw around, the rotors are so inexpensive it is not worth having them turned. I suppose if you liked experimenting with different pads rotor replacement would get expensive. I have read that for good pad break in, the rotors (if not new or turned) should be scuffed to remove any old pad compound. But after all I went through, I’d recommend just buying new rotors and be done with it.

– be careful with those 22 mm bolts holding caliper on upright. The buggers are awkward to get full force on, don’t let wrench slip and for god’s sake support van well.

– think before and during  doing this job. Please don’t be like me.

– Russ told me that the Pagid pads I chose are excellent, the only downside is that they make more dust than the stock pads. That might be a concern if you had alloy wheels.


  1. #1 by Old Fussbudget on September 19, 2012 - 10:54 am

    Changing rotors on the 2WD is a bit more involved, as the hub is incorporated and you have to replace or transfer the wheel bearings from the old rotor to the new and replace the grease seal.

    That’s a remarkable amount of rust inside. On the several 2WD rotor/hubs I’ve seen there has been nothing remotely like it.

    • #2 by albell on September 19, 2012 - 12:32 pm

      Very flakey rust eh?

      I think rotor replacement is the only job that is easier on a syncro. Faint consolation.


  2. #3 by oldfussbudget on September 19, 2012 - 12:50 pm

    Be nice to those big carrier bolts. When I bought one a year ago it came from California and was the only one presently in the system. Cost about $15 IIRC.

  3. #4 by tanami on October 7, 2012 - 7:50 pm

    Ok, Ok, I’ll do the rotors too! Timely post (again).

    • #5 by albell on October 7, 2012 - 10:48 pm

      I’m liking the pagid pads I installed. They have a nice braking feel, progressive and not grabby.



  4. #6 by harleydavidson123 on June 28, 2017 - 6:33 am

    I have already changed the vanagon front brake leather from MCmotoParts. The quality of this product is good. This time I feel good, because my car is run smooth, progressive and easily stop.

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