Ask Auto Specialists auto news

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Ask Autoblog: How are Michigan roads made?

03/10/2008   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Ask Auto Specialists, Etc.

The process of constructing roadways in a Michigan is a long and arduous one that takes many millions of dollars, countless workers standing around and at least five seasons to finish. Roadways here on the home turf of the American auto industry are a unique breed. Even though Windsor, Ontario is just across the river from Detroit and has exactly the same climatic conditions, its roads are completely different from those in Michigan. That becomes immediately apparent as your roll off the Ambassador Bridge. We here at Autoblog strive to keep you, our loyal readers, informed about all things even vaguely related to cars. Therefore, we present our step-by-step guide to the creation of a Michigan road.

The process typically starts in the spring as soon as the salt has been rinsed away. Before the first crocuses pop out of the dirt, the crews start setting out signs and orange barrels along the edges of the most heavily traveled thoroughfares. There they typically sit for anywhere from one to four weeks before the crews return to start closing off lanes of traffic. After another interval of random length, the heavy equipment begins to arrive and the process of tearing apart the existing pavement begins. Just to make sure that no one accidentally misses out on the fun, the same scenario is usually repeated along several parallel paths that might serve as alternate routes between any two major points that people commute.

Learn about the rest of the process after the jump.

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Ask Autoblog: How are Michigan road's made?

03/10/2008   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Ask Auto Specialists, Etc.

The process of constructing roadways in a Michigan is a long and arduous one that takes many millions of dollars, countless workers standing around and at least five seasons to finish. Roadways here on the home turf of the American auto industry are a unique breed. Even though Windsor, Ontario is just across the river from Detroit and has exactly the same climatic conditions, its roads are completely different from those in Michigan. That becomes immediately apparent as your roll off the Ambassador Bridge. We here at Autoblog strive to keep you, our loyal readers, informed about all things even vaguely related to cars. Therefore, we present our step-by-step guide to the creation of a Michigan road.

The process typically starts in the spring as soon as the salt has been rinsed away. Before the first crocuses pop out of the dirt, the crews start setting out signs and orange barrels along the edges of the most heavily traveled thoroughfares. There they typically sit for anywhere from one to four weeks before the crews return to start closing off lanes of traffic. After another interval of random length, the heavy equipment begins to arrive and the process of tearing apart the existing pavement begins. Just to make sure that no one accidentally misses out on the fun, the same scenario is usually repeated along several parallel paths that might serve as alternate routes between any two major points that people commute.

Learn about the rest of the process after the jump.

Continue reading Ask Autoblog: How are Michigan road's made?

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Ask Autoblog: How do you cook with your car engine?

02/12/2008   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Ask Auto Specialists, Etc., Videos, Saab

click above to watch Ask Autoblog: How do you cook with your car engine?

We've been working hard to add more video content to Autoblog, and one bright idea was to resurrect Ask Autoblog as a video series. To kick things off, we decided to answer a question that we had ourselves: How do you cook a meal using the only heat generated by a car engine. We didn't want to try something easy like hot dogs, so we went with ham and potatoes. Follow the jump to see whether or not we found success in the plastic-clad engine bays of today's cars, and let us know what you think of the results. Also, if you've tried to cook food in your engine bay, let us know what you made, and whether it worked out for you.

We'd also like for you to ask us any questions in the comments section of this post that may be on your mind, and we'll pick the ones best suited for video and answer them on Ask Autoblog. If the response is good, we'll make this a regular thing and maybe pick up a sponsor to pay for it. So check out the first Ask Autoblog video after the jump and ask away in the comments.

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Who's faster? Lamborghini Reventon vs. Tornado jet fighter

11/25/2007   [Original: Lamborghini via Autoblog]
Category: Ask Auto Specialists, Sports/GTs, Etc., Euro, Supercars, Lamborghini, Military

Click image for photo gallery

Car vs. jet stunts are kind of ridiculous, but they're entertaining nonetheless. The more exotic the hardware, the better the entertainment, and Lamborghini's Reventón is about as exotic as it gets these days. In a made-for-TV showcase (no, we haven't found video yet), a Lambo test driver and an Italian fighter pilot lined up one of the jet-inspired supercars and a Panavia Tornado combat plane on a 3000-meter runway to see which vehicle could accelerate faster. Long story short, while it probably made for great TV, the Lambo lost in the end. Hey, the 650-horsepower Reventón may be badder than both John Shaft and Truck Turner combined, but when matched against a fighter jet whose twin Turbo-Union RB199 engines combine to make 39,332 horsepower at sea level, it's bound to come up a little shy. We'd take one, anyway.

Gallery: Lamborghini Reventon vs. Panavia Tornado

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VIDEO: Designing the Ford Verve concept car

08/24/2007   [Original: Ford via Autoblog]
Category: Ask Auto Specialists, Concept Cars, Frankfurt Auto Show, Economy, Euro, Videos, Hatchbacks, Ford

Click image for photo gallery

One of yesterday's biggest stories was, of course, the introduction of the Ford Verve concept car that will be presented by the automaker at next month's Frankfurt Motor Show. The B-class show car forecasts the "Kinetic Design"-influenced next-generation Fiesta, and now you can hear from the team that created the plucky little 3-door in a short video released by Ford yesterday afternoon.

Follow the jump to see a 3-minute look at the creative process, complete with designer commentary. We'd also like to call your attention to the new Autoblog Video "bumper" attached to the beginning of the vid. It now incorporates our new logo, and is hot off our man Dan Roth's PC as of last night. Let us know what you think.

Gallery: Ford Verve Concept

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Kia pro_cee'd fully unveiled ahead of Frankfurt

08/21/2007   [Original: Kia via Autoblog]
Category: Ask Auto Specialists, Frankfurt Auto Show, Euro, Hatchbacks, Kia

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Kia will officially whip the cover off its jaunty Euro-only (why, God... WHY?) pro-cee'd 3-door hatchback on September 11 at the Frankfurt Motor Show. We'll be there to bring you on-scene coverage, but in the interim, Kia has provided a new set of photos showing the car in its entirety. Based on the same architecture that underpins the 5-door cee'd, the pro-cee'd is longer, lower, lighter and sportier-looking thanks to styling elements unique to the 3-door.

Despite the differences in appearance, the pro-ceed boasts interior passenger room on par with its five-door brother, thanks to its identical wheelbase length. And while on the subject of the interior, it's very appealing to the eye -- a requirement if it's to be a viable player against the likes of the VW Golf. Longer doors with 70-degree openings help make backseat ingress and egress less cumbersome (thus minimizing Britney-style exhibitions), and cargo capacity behind the rear seat is said to equal that of the more reserved and outwardly practical cee'd. The pro-cee'd will be available in a wide array of trim, engine, and color combinations when it hits the Continent next year. We'll take one of the 143-horsepower cars equipped with the Sport Pack (shown). Oh wait. That's right, we can't. Bummer.

Press release after the jump.

Gallery: Kia pro_cee'd (EU)

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Explaining the burden of "legacy costs"

09/21/2006   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Ask Auto Specialists, Trends, Earnings/Financials

With all the discussion about the domestic automakers' future lately, a few of our readers have left comments requesting some additional background on the situation; primarily, the history of the oft-touted "legacy costs" and how they affect the Big 3's survival.

The legacy costs have their roots in the concept of "cradle-to-grave" care provided to industrial workers by their lifelong employers. Such a system utilized employer-funded pensions to provide retirement income and catastrophic injury coverage for employees, and also ensured workers that they would receive a high level of health care coverage upon retirement. This arrangement minimized the burden on government-funded social security programs and provided significant incentive for loyalty on behalf of the employee, but also depended on steady growth within the manufacturing sector - an assumption that, as we now see all too clearly, turned out to be wrong.

Follow the jump for a breakdown on what automakers could do to address the burden of legacy costs and what they actually are doing.

In addition to requiring a steady base of active employees, pension plans also depend on deft actuarial footwork, and frankly most plans have not adapted well to the increased longevity of retirees. As stated in the Wikipedia entry for pensions, "Because of the J-shaped accrual rate, the cost of a defined benefit plan is very low for a young workforce, but extremely high for an older workforce. This age bias, the difficulty of portability and open ended risk, makes defined benefit plans better suited to large employers with less mobile workforces, such as the public sector." Put into fewer words, an older, shrinking active workforce dramatically increases the cost of employer-funded pension plans. Roll soaring health-care costs into the equation, and a huge drain is placed on profitability.

Membership in the United Auto Workers has declined to about a third of its peak in the late 1960s. General Motors, in the span of twenty years (1985 to 2005), went from 811,000 employees to only 324,000, giving GM 2.5 retirees per active worker (Chrysler lies on the other end of the spectrum, with slightly less than one retiree per employee). It is this shrinkage of the active workforce and the decline in revenue - brought on by the continued loss of market share and the consequential drop in production - that has placed the Big 3 into such a conundrum.

So, what can be done? Well, considering that two-thirds of health-care costs go to retirees and that there is no contractual obligation to provide this care to retirees, the automakers could simply stop paying for it. This would almost assuredly cause a massive strike, so it's not likely a practical solution in the short term. The UAW has allowed a reduction in retiree health care benefits in the last year, but cuts above and beyond what have already been yielded by the union seem unlikely at this time. There is also no easy way to decrease the pension liabilities, short of declaring bankruptcy and dumping the pension plan on the federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation. In fact, Congress is working on plans to tighten pension rules, which stands to wipe out the market capitalization of the Big 3 and would place an even larger burden on future profits.

The best approach at this point is likely what the automakers are already doing - reduce other fixed costs via worker buy-outs and a retooling of labor contracts, and working on recapturing market share (or at least arresting the slide) such that revenues can be maintained. Once this is accomplished, it's a waiting game, as the problem eventually fades away as retirees pass on from this life. The question, of course, is whether the Big 3 can survive long enough, and we likely won't know the answer to that for several years. The focus still comes back around to the product side of the equation, though, as showroom success is absolutely essential to dealing with this problem.

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Autoblog Maintenance 201: Brake pad replacement, Part II

07/07/2006   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Ask Auto Specialists, Maintenance, Tech

In the first half of this particular write-up, we showed the basic process of replacing the front rotors and pads on a VW Jetta. Now we'll go ahead and hit the rear brakes, since the car is already up in the air and we're already covered up to our elbows in grease and brake fluid. We'll also go through the process of flushing out the old fluid and bleeding the brakes, since this car was far overdue for that task.

As we stated in our previous post, this task isn't mechanically difficult, but it does require attention to detail and an eye towards safety. If in doubt, seek the services of a qualified professional.

The rear brakes are similar to the front in terms of outward appearance, but with smaller components (the rear brakes simply don't play a huge role in high-effort stops). In this case, the slider hardware is also somewhat different. Due to the parking brake, there's also something unique about how we deal with pushing back the caliper pistons, but that's not yet visible.

As we suggested before, it's a good idea to make an attempt at opening the bleeder valve before any other work is done. Hopefully, it cracks open easily; if not, a contingency plan will need to be developed to either extract the bleeder, or to obtain a new or rebuilt caliper.

Instead of stationary slider pins that screw directly into the bracket, here we have pins that float in the spindle assembly. The caliper is then fixed to these pins via a bolt. In order to remove the bolts, the pin must be kept from rotating via its hex. This requires the use of a particularly thin open-end wrench.

As I was scrounging through my toolbox to find a spare 15mm open-end to sacrifice for this job (such a wrench could also be purchased, but not in a small town on a Saturday afternoon), the car's owner simply attacked it with a pair of slip-joint pliers and got all of the hardware removed before I even had a chance to spin up the bench grinder. It's not the technique that we recommend, and of course it's always best to use the proper tool and save some potential hassle now or the next time that the brakes are done. However, as long as the jaws of the pliers aren't allowed to slip on the surface of the pin, it's unlikely that damage will occur, and as you can see here things worked out just fine.

With two bolts on each side removed, simply slide the caliper off the spindle, and support it using wire or a nylon "zip tie". Remove the old brake pads and discard them. Remove any hardware retaining the disc, remove the disc, and set it aside for recycling.

At this point, inspect the slide pins. Gently roll back the rubber boots and verify that there is an ample supply of fresh grease. They should move back-and-forth in the caliper bracket with minimal force; if they're hanging up slightly, it probably means that they're dry and should be removed, cleaned, lubricated, and re-installed. If they don't slide at all, you can attempt to remove the old pins using locking pliers and install new hardware, but depending on one's mechanical competency it may be easier - but not cheaper - to purchase a new caliper bracket assembly (in a future Autoblog Project Garage installment, we'll demonstrate how to save a bracket that would otherwise be heading for the trash heap).

Since the rear brake calipers contain provisions for applying the mechanical parking brake, they have a self-adjust feature built into them that requires a special tool to rotate the caliper piston as it's being pushed back in its bore. This tool, shown above, can be purchased at most auto parts stores, or obtained through Auto Zone's "tool loan" system (you basically pay the full price of the tool as a deposit, and that money is returned if you return it in good condition). You can also attempt to do the rotate-and-push chore with the tips of needlenose pliers or one of the inexpensive cube-shaped "universal" tools, but such efforts usually just lead to frustration. Buy, rent, or borrow the right tool, and this part of the job will take just a few minutes for both sides.

As also done on the front brakes, we opened the bleeder valve to allow the old fluid to escape while we pushed back the piston. This is done to prevent contaminated fluid from being forced upstream into the delicate (and expensive!) ABS module.

Note that the caliper is just hanging by the parking brake cable in this shot - it shouldn't be doing that (especially not with the pushback tool attached). Make sure that the calipers are properly supported at all times to prevent any possible damage to the brake hoses or cables.

Clean the new rotors with brake cleaner and fresh rags or towels. After cleaning any loose corrosion from the hub, apply a thin coat of grease or anti-seize compound, and slide the disc into place. Hit it again with the brake cleaner and towels just to make sure that it's free of contamination.

Clean the pads, set them into place on the rotor and caliper bracket, and then slide the caliper into place. Install the bolts using anti-seize compound on the threads, and torque them to specification.

Now, before the wheels go back on, we're going to bleed the brakes. A patient helper is required for this method, and while both vacuum and pressure bleeding can be done single-handedly, the tried-and-true manual method produces excellent results with no additional investment in tools.

We're doing this for two very good reasons - first, the fluid in this car was long overdue for a change. While those in drier, more consistent climates can go many years without worrying about the fluid, humid and often-changing conditions such as those here in the Midwest allow the fluid to "pull" moisture into the system. Left long enough, this forms corrosion in the system, and loose particles will float around and cause all sorts of problems. Considering the minimal cost of bleeding one's own brakes, it's not a bad idea to consider it a yearly maintenance task. At the very least, do it every time a brake job is performed. While some vehicles allow access to the bleeders while the wheels are on the vehicle, it's certainly much easier to do the job while the wheels are off. Combine this with a tire rotation for maximum effectiveness.

Most vehicles with ABS can be bled in this manner, but you should verify with your service manual that no additional steps are required before proceeding.

Start by locating the brake master cylinder and reservoir. It will be on the left side of the firewall, and in this case, it was mounted rather low and behind some plumbing. Wipe off the cap and surrounding area with a clean rag before removing the cap, and if you set it down somewhere, make sure to place a rag underneath it.

This would be a good time to note that brake fluid is an excellent paint remover, so do not allow it to contact your car's finish. If a spill does occur, immediately clean it up with water and a clean rag, being careful not to wipe it across a wider area.

Start by removing the old fluid from the reservoir using a vacuum pump (shown here) or a turkey baster. Whatever you use, don't return it to the kitchen drawer when you're done.

When the old fluid has been removed, top off the reservoir with fresh clean fluid of the appropriate type, and secure the cap before continuing. Selecting a fluid to use can be a confusing topic; start with your manufacturer's recommendation of either DOT3 or DOT4, and if you want to get passionate about it, here's some additional reading on the topic. High-performance brake fluids are great, but simply bleeding the brakes with any fluid on a regular basis already puts you in the top 1% or so of car owners.

Starting at the corner of the car furthest from the brakes (usually either of the rear wheels), we loosen the bleeder with a box wrench, and then gently snug it back up.

Keeping the wrench on the bleeder, we then run a hose from the bleeder down to the appropriate catch canister. A quart-sized Gatorade bottle works much better than a 20oz soda bottle for this task, and the use of clear tubing makes it much easier to see bubbles.

With the bleeder closed (gently tightened), have your helper stand on the brake pedal. When they indicate that pressure has been applied, open the bleeder just enough for fluid to start flowing. Once your helper indicates that the pedal has reached the floor, have him or her hold it there while you tighten the bleeder. Shout back to the helper that they can now release the pedal.

Repeat the process until clean fluid is observed to be flowing from the bleeder, and that no bubbles are present. Then do the same at the remaining three wheels.

Keep a very close eye on the fluid level in the reservoir, as it must be kept at least partially filled at all times. If it runs dry, the bleeding process must be started all over again, so please check it on a very regular basis. Also make sure that the reservoir cap is secured before anyone touches the brake pedal, or else you may observe a glycol geyser.

If you haven't serviced your brakes recently, you may note that the fluid comes out looking more like muddy water or even motor oil. That discoloration is the result of internal corrosion, so it's extremely important to bleed the brakes and flush out the old fluid before it starts turning nasty colors.

After all four corners have been bled and the reservoir is topped off, put the vehicle in Park or Neutral and start the engine. It may be necessary to pump the pedal once or twice to bring the pads into contact with the rotor, and after that a solid pedal feel should be observed. If not, air remains somewhere in the system, so it's time to repeat the process. Do not place the car into service until the pedal feel is solid. Top off the fluid one last time if required.

Once the wheels and tires have been re-installed and the car lowered to the ground, it's time to "bed" the pads as soon as possible (like, before making a beer run). The goal is to transfer a thin and uniform layer of brake pad material to the brake rotors. The procedure should be provided by the pad manufacturer; if not, the following has worked for us:

1) Perform six moderate near-stops from 35 MPH to 5 MPH. Do these in quick succession. Try not to come to a complete stop.

2) Perform two additional hard near-stops from 45 MPH to 5 MPH or so. Some brake fade, burning smells, and even a bit of smoke may be experienced.

3) Cruise around for 5-10 minutes with minimal use of the brakes. Whatever you do, try to keep rolling at all times until the brakes have cooled. This is to prevent "imprinting" the rotors with the pad material, which can result in brake pulsation.

If the brakes have gotten hot enough to properly bed the pads, one should see a hazy grey appearance where the pads contact the rotor. There will be a bit of a blue-purple color on the rotor surface, right along the edge of the swept area.

There are some nearby backcountry roads that we use for bedding brakes, where we can perform these near-stops and roll through some uncontrolled intersections afterwards without creating a hazard. You will certainly not want to do this in a populated area. Vehicles with higher-performance brake systems may require more or harder stops to bring the system up to maximum operating temperature. For those interested, StopTech provides additional reading fun on this exciting topic.

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Autoblog Maintenance 201: Brake pad replacement, Part I

07/05/2006   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Ask Auto Specialists, Maintenance, Tech

While many aspects of maintenance can be put off until the odometer rolls past 100K, odds are that you'll be doing some work on your vehicle's brakes long before then. Vehicles continue to get heavier and our highway speeds are ever-increasing, both of which put an incredible amount of strain on even a modern braking system. Pads and rotors will wear, and the brake fluid will become contaminated with moisture. If you're lucky enough to live in the Midwest, you can also look forward to the effects of corrosion on braking components. The braking system should be inspected every time the tires are rotated, and one can expect to go through the front brakes every 20-40,000 miles, depending on the vehicle and its usage (rear brakes often go much longer, due to their lesser role).

We'll walk through the process of servicing the disk brakes on a friend's 2000-ish VW Jetta. This vehicle was in need of new pads, and the owner decided that he also wanted to install new rotors rather than deal with the hassle of turning the ones currently on the vehicle, as the vehicle had been sitting for over a year.

Like the other tasks that we've covered in our Autoblog Maintenance series, this is a job that most reasonably competent DIYers can perform at home. While this is relatively simple work, it's a bit more safety-intensive than others in the series. There's the obvious aspect of working on a system responsible for controlling the vehicle's speed, so attention to detail is important. We'll also be lifting the vehicle off the ground, and it's critical to do so in a safe manner. Brake dust can also be hazardous to one's lungs, and even though asbestos has been phased out for the most part, inhaling fine dust particles is never a good idea. We'll also be using some solvents that should not be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Finally, it's important to protect one's eyes when working with chemicals or flying mechanical bits.

After acquiring and learning how to use the appropriate safety gear, the next step is to select the proper components. OEM parts from your local dealer can be expensive, but they're a safe and reliable choice. If venturing into the aftermarket, consult your favorite online resource to learn what parts other owners have used with success, and which ones to avoid. You'll want to pick up some other materials such as anti-seize, high-temperature brake grease, thread locker, brake fluid, several cans of brake cleaner, and an ample supply of clean shop rags. Most importantly of all, we recommend having access to a factory service manual for the vehicle that you're servicing.

Once we've acquired all the necessary materials, it's time to lift the vehicle into the air, secure it on jackstands, and remove the wheels.

We'll start at the front. Here we have the advantage of being able to turn the steering wheel to gain better access to the brake assembly, so we'll do so. Before going any further, it's wise to make an attempt at breaking free the caliper's bleeder screw, as doing so will be easier with everything still secured to the vehicle. If the bleeder cannot be opened with the proper tools, it will be necessary to remove it using an extractor or via drilling. Often, it's easier and economical to simply obtain a remanufactured caliper.

Next, we remove the caliper slide pins, using a wrench of the appropriate size. This hardware may require quite some force to remove. If it's frozen in place or if the head becomes stripped out, the entire caliper and bracket assembly will need to be removed for the use of more persuasive measures.

With the slide pins removed, the caliper can usually be slid from its bracket; however, in this case, spring clips need to be removed before the caliper could be freed.

With the caliper tied up and out of the way for a moment (nylon "zip ties" work well for this, as do metal coat hangers), remove the hardware securing the caliper bracket to the spindle. Since these are usually quite tight and secured with a combination of thread locker and corrosion, the use of a long "breaker bar" is usually necessary.

After the caliper bracket is removed, the rotor can be slid off the hub and set aside or dumped into the recycling pile. Some rotors, such as this one, will be held in place with a small screw or two; the removal of these fasteners may require a hand-held impact driver. A few whacks with a soft-faced deadblow hammer may ultimately be required to break the rotor free from the hub.

Since the caliper piston will have extended to compensate for pad wear, we will need to force it to retract. Front calipers can usually be pushed straight back with the appropriate tool or a common C-clamp (rear calipers are a different story, as we'll show in a future installment).

The fluid that is present in the caliper may be contaminated, and if this were to be pushed upstream into the ABS module, significant damage could result. Therefore, it's best to open up the bleeder and allow the excess fluid to exit the system. Some even advocate clamping the brake line to keep fluid from traveling upstream, but crushing a brake line - intentionally or otherwise - makes us extremely uncomfortable.

The hub surface is prepped by removing any loose rust particles with a wire brush, and then applying a light coat of anti-seize compound. Also a good idea at this time is to clean the ABS reluctor ring and sensor of any contamination.

After giving it a quick wipe-down with a clean rag and brake cleaner (we'll come back for a more thorough cleaning later), the rotor is slipped over the hub and secured with any necessary hardware.

Before installing the caliper bracket, we'll want to clean the surfaces that contact the caliper to ensure that the two parts can slide freely relative to one another. We're showing it being done here after the bracket was installed, since someone got ahead of himself in the process.

Clean the caliper bracket bolts, and apply a removable thread locker such as Loctite 242.

Install the bracket and its bolts, which are tightened to the manufacturer's spec or until you're sure they won't fall out. The short length of these bolts makes it essential that they are properly tightened, or else they will be prone to backing out and causing all sorts of problems.

Now, we clean the rotors again. It's absolutely essential to leave no trace of oil, grease, or other contamination on the rotor, or else the pads will be ruined, and the brake function may be impaired (lubricants turn to tar under the heat of braking, and wheel lock-up is usually the result).

Being careful of the freshly-cleaned rotor, the slide surfaces of the bracket and caliper are lubricated. Some will choice to use sticky high-viscosity grease, while we've had good luck with anti-seize. Regardless of what's used, it needs to be resistant to being washed away by environmental effects.

The outside pad is now slipped into place, after first being cleaned with a liberal application of brake cleaner.

We install the inside pad into the caliper, and drop the assembly into place.

Lubricant is applied to the caliper slider pins...

... And they are torqued to specification.

That concludes the task of installing new front pads and rotors. The next time around, we'll hit the rear axle, and then go through the process of bleeding the brakes.

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