How to Convert a Vehicle's Drum Brakes to Disc Brakes

A close-up of brakes on a car.
  • 5-10 hours
  • Advanced
  • 300-1,000
What You'll Need
Disc brake conversion kit
Car jack
Car lift (optional)
Safety stands
Break spring pliers
Small screwdriver
Socket set
Torque wrench
Large and regular pliers
Bearing Grease
Disc brake quiet
Silicone lubricant
Caliper lubricant

Converting a vehicle's drum brakes to disc brakes is a challenging process. It requires a solid understanding of automotive maintenance and repair, as well as a wide array of tools. However, that's no reason to be discouraged. Follow the simple steps below.

Step 1 - Preparation

Begin by locating the master cylinder of your car. Drain about half the brake fluid from it. Dispose of this fluid properly and be sure to have fresh brake fluid on hand. Next, loosen the lug nuts on the wheel you intend to remove the brake drum from. Using the jack or car lift, raise up the vehicle and make sure it is safely supported. Now remove the tire.

Step 2 - Drum Removal

If your car is rear-wheel drive, examine the wheel stud for a small rounded clip. This must be removed before proceeding. Locate the access hole on the brake drum or backing plate. Using the small screwdriver, turn the adjuster wheel inside the access hole until the drum becomes loose. If there is resistance from the brake drum, apply silicone lubricant. If resistance remains, strike the brake drum on the outer edge with a hammer to loosen it. Remove the brake drum.

If your car is front-wheel drive, you will need to remove the wheel bearings and the bearing cap before being able to remove the brake drum. Study the location of all the parts remaining in the brake, and take a picture if necessary.

Step 3 - Hardware Removal

Disconnect all springs that keep the brake shoes in place. If you see the parking brake cable, this will need to be removed as well. The brake shoes should be removed together by lifting them away from the centered position. Now take off any remaining hardware attached to the brake shoes, including the adjusted spring, screw assembly, or retainer rings.

Examine the spindle for wear and rust. Clean it or replace it if necessary.

Step 4 - Attaching Disc Brakes

Unpack your disc brake conversion kit and locate the rotor. Attach the rotor to the car's spindle, and fasten it using the included bearings and nuts. Attach the brake pads. Position the caliper assembly over the rotor, and attach the brake lines. Apply anti-seize to the caliper bolt threads. Apply disc brake quiet to the backsides of the brake pads.

If your parking brake cable will not properly attach to the mechanism inside the caliper piston, it may be able to attach to the rear brake rotor, depending on the make of the car. If neither solution works, you may need to install a new parking brake system.

Step 5 - Wrap-Up

Double check your work, making sure all nuts, bolts, and caps are securely fastened. Refill your master cylinder with fresh brake fluid to replace the amount you extracted in Step 1. Take the car for a test drive, paying attention to the feel of your new brakes. If they feel spongy or unresponsive, you may need to bleed them.

While converting your vehicle's drum brakes to disc brakes requires patience and attention to detail, it is ultimately rewarding, both for you and your car. Not only will your new brakes be more powerful and effective, they will prolong the life of your vehicle.