Ford Explorer Front Brakes and Rotor Removal

Contributed by drbob

This was sent to a reader in reply to a request for a procedure. I am stuck in a hotel in Cleveland, with way too much time on my hands. Sidewalks are already folded up here, so this one gets the 'special' treatment. This procedure applies to pre-'95 cars for sure, and may cover the later models.

Be sure you read this whole procedure and understand it completely before you begin so that you will have all the necessary parts/tools/grease at hand. Here goes....

First of all, you will do well to get a book to help guide you. Absent the book, here's the procedure:

  1. You'll need to get the car on stands and take the two front wheels off. You may find it easier to loosen the lug nuts a little before you lift them clear of the ground. Be sure to use stands rather than depending on blocks or the jack to hold the car up.
  2. The brake calipers are held in place by a pair of pins that have a rubber center section sandwiched by two metal pieces. Take note of the installed position, with a larger flat side. You'll need to put the pins back with this larger flat side in the fatter part of the groove in the caliper-to-knuckle joint. Anyway, you can remove the pins with a hammer and a fat drift. Just tap on the metal parts, squeezing them as you tap them so that those little tangs are pushed past the edges of the cast parts. Go ahead and get them completely out.
  3. With the pins out, you can lift the caliper off. You may need to compress the piston a bit to get the pads past any ridges on the rotor. It's OK to use a screwdriver on the pads, but DO NOT PUSH OR PRY DIRECTLY ON THE CALIPER PISTON. It is a ceramic part, and you will break it. Once the pads are retracted slightly, you can lift the caliper free. Free the inner pad from the grooves in the steering knuckle, noting the position of the anti-rattle clip on the inner pad. You'll need to install this on your new pad. The outer pad is held to the caliper with those two spring clips. Pry up a little on the clips while you pull the pad free of the caliper.
  4. It's important to remember that the hose is fragile. Make sure that the caliper never hangs from the hose, and that you don't pull on the caliper while freeing the pads. A piece of coat-hanger wire should be used to tie the caliper to the spring, out of the way.

  5. Once the wheels and calipers are off, the auto hub is held on by some speed nuts. These are push-on goodies that keep everything together when the wheel is off. You can carefully pry on them with a couple of screwdrivers, then turn them to unscrew them once you are back off of the hub just a bit. This can be a bit of a chore, but resist the urge to pry on them and bend the tangs the wrong way. It turns out to be more work in the end.
  6. With the 3 speed nuts off, the auto-locking hub should come off easily. A gentle pull should get it completely free of the rotor and the splined stub axle. Inside the hub should be relatively clean and free of grease and crud. Using a paper towel or a sacrificial rag, wipe the inside to get any grease that may have migrated down in there from the wheel bearings. My own procedure is to put a couple inches of ATF, or in my case some synthetic gear oil, into the hub. Let that stuff soak in while you do the rest of the procedure. Put the hubs out of the way so they don't get knocked over or have dirt spilled into them.
  7. There's a retainer ring holding the plastic engagement cam assembly on the bearing adjustment nut. It fits in a groove in the stub axle. Push it out with a screwdriver, and put it in a parts tray so it doesn't get lost. Be careful not to hit the plastic cams with anything that might break them.
  8. With the retainer clip removed, you can now pull gently on the cam assembly to remove it. Before you pull on it, note how the two halves line up, with the little wedge sections centered in the gaps in the other half. You'll need to be able to put the cam sections back in the same relative positions so you can get the hub back on. Put the cam in the parts tray so it doesn't get lost or broken.
  9. The next thing to come off is the indexing key for the bearing nut. This is a small goodie that slides in that groove on the spindle, and indexes in one of the round relief grooves inside the nut. The key is about 8mm wide, maybe 15mm long, and is in that groove in the spindle. It tends to get stuck in there, wedged by the pressure of the bearing nut trying to turn. To unwedge it, put your wheel bearing socket over the nut, and turn the nut gently towards the back of the car just a slight bit. Feel for the total amount of play in the nut and the key, and try to center the nut's position on the key.
  10. Ford shows a guy fishing that darn thing out with a small magnet. I have had absolutely no luck with their method, and instead use a dentist's pick with a small hook at the end. I can reach just under the outside edge, and pull the key out. This takes a bit of patience. Once the key is out, make sure it ends up in the tray. Then take your socket and unscrew the bearing nut. Do not even think of trying to get that nut off before the key is out.

  11. With the nut off, you can now pull a little on the rotor, freeing up the outer wheel bearing. It needs to be cleaned and re-packed with grease, so drop it in a plastic cup with some solvent in it. I use paint thinner from the hardware store, and a L. A. Rams beer cup.
  12. Once the rotor is off, you'll want to pull that inner bearing, and the seal. From the outside face, a longer drift or punch will push on the cone of the bearing. This drives the cone out the back, pushing the seal out ahead of it. Seal goes to the tray, bearing goes in the solvent. Keep the bearings separate so you can mate the same cup in with the same cone on assembly.

    Get as much grease out of the rotor as you can. You'll put new grease in there after the rotor is machined. A little of that solvent and a rag will do wonders.

  13. By now, you have the makings of a brake job lying on the floor. Rotors go to the machine shop to get trued, pads and seals get a ride to the parts store for replacement. While the rotor is being turned, clean and inspect the bearings for scraping, galling, wear, discoloration, etc. Any suspect parts should be replaced, along with its mate. That means that if a bearing cone is renewed, its mating cup in the rotor must be replaced also.
  14. Pack the bearings carefully with the correct grease. Ford recommends grease that's normally used in extreme pressure duty in CV joints. When the rotors are back, install the packed bearings in the rear of the rotors, and put in new wheel seals. Once the seals are in securely, fill the area between the bearing and the seal with grease. Now the rotor goes on the spindle, and the inside of the rotor should be filled a bit with grease also before installing the outer bearing.
  15. The retainer nut goes on after the outer bearing, and holds the whole works together. Ford recommends that the nut be tightened firmly to 'seat' the bearings, turn the rotors a few revolutions, then back off of the tension. Re-torque the nut to 15 inch-pounds, and install the key. If the slot for the key doesn't line up, move the nut slightly until it does. It is important that the bearings be installed with the correct torque and pre-load, so that they are not burned up from being over-tightened. 15 inch pounds are a casual turn on the socket with no handle on it-- just your hand turning it.
  16. The cam goes back on next. This is a bit of a chore, since you need to line up the tang in the bore of the cam with the key slot in the spindle. Push the cam on so that those friction pads slide up on the machined shoulder of the bearing retainer nut. Resist the urge to remove or adjust or stretch or even look funny at those garter springs in the cam assembly. Have patience, and work carefully to avoid damage to the plastic cams or the pads or the springs. Here's a tip from Tom Scanlan about getting that cam back on. Tom has found that a short piece of 1-1/2" PVC pipe makes it easy. The inner dimension nearly matches the cam diameter, and the PVC pipe makes it possible to push evenly around the cam without deforming it. An easy push with my palm and the spring loaded cam pops onto the shaft.
  17. Once the cam is installed and pushed back tight, reinstall the retainer clip in the groove in the stub axle. You may need to pull a bit on that stub axle to get the groove exposed to where the ring will slide on. Be careful when you tap on this to seat it-- don't hit the plastic cams!
  18. The hub has been soaking a while now, so carefully drain out the ATF or gear oil from the hub, and slide it on the stub axle splines and the spindle. Those long fingers inside the hub must line up with the gaps next to the wedges on the plastic engagement cam. If the cam is installed correctly, then turned so that the two halves are lined up like they were in step 7 above, you'll be able to slide the hub on easily until the back face mates against the face of the rotor. If it sticks and won't slide on easily, don't force it-- just pull it off and try again.
  19. Once the hub is up tight against the rotor, put those 3 flat speed nuts back on to keep the hub in place.
  20. Install the inner brake pad in the steering knuckle, with the spring anti-rattle clip in the groove where it was before. It helps if you clean the rust and crud out of the groove where the pad sits. A very thin film of waterproof grease in these areas will prolong pad life.
  21. Before you install the outer pad in the caliper, take a few seconds to compress the piston in the caliper. Use a c-clamp, and squeeze the piston back in using the old inner pad to protect that ceramic piston from the clamp. Be careful not to damage the boot that seals the outer edge of the piston.
  22. Snap the outer pad into the caliper, making sure that the spring clips are fully engaged, and seated in their recesses in the caliper casting.
  23. Be sure all the rust and crud is out of the areas where the calipers slide in the knuckle, and also where those rubber-and-metal pins sit. A thin coating of waterproof grease will keep things working smoothly. Slip the caliper over the rotor and the inner pad, and get it lined up with the grooves for the pins. A thin film of that wonderful waterproof grease on the pins will keep them sliding smoothly. Install them, noting their positions from when you took them out. Be sure they are tapped in securely, and that the little tabs are engaged so they won't slide out.
  24. With both calipers installed, seat the pads on the rotors by gently pushing on the pedal with the engine off. Don' press more than about half way down on the pedal so that there is no risk of damage to the master cylinder. Just do it a few time until the pedal comes up nice and hard.
  25. Check for leaks, leftover parts, etc. Remedy as necessary.
  26. Put the wheels back on, and snug them up securely. Put the car back down until the wheels are touching the ground, then torque the wheels nuts progressively and sequentially until you get to 100 ft/lbs. Then lower the car the rest of the way, install the caps or wheel covers, and road test the car carefully. BE SURE that there is a good pedal height before you take the car out of park.
Some things to think about:
  • You'll need new wheel seals during this procedure so get them before you start.
  • There's a list of other services to be done that are quite convenient to take care of while you have the rotors off. The needle bearings inside the spindle need to be greased, and the right front driveshaft splines need a bit too. The u-joints in the front need to be checked/replaced as necessary.
  • Dirt and grease are the enemy of brakes. Keep grease and stuff off of the rotors. Do not handle the pads with greasy hands. Use a good spray brake cleaner to get all the grease and fingerprints off the rotor before installing the pads.
  • Those caliper slides are on the 7500-mile service schedule for grease. Penalty for ignoring this is warped rotors and abbreviated brake life.
  • Replace the rear shoes when you do the front pads. Old rears may look fine, but they force the front to do much more of the work. The fronts are already too small, so anything the rears can do is a help. Shoes are cheap, you are going to the same brake parts store, and your hands and tools are already out.
  • Besides the little hook pick (dental pick) to get that little key out, you'll need a socket for the bearing nut. This is a 2 3/8" tool, with rounded corners for the nut. Mine is made by OTC, and should be available at a better parts place. There shouldn't be any other really special tools to get. A can of brake-clean will help, and you'll need that grease for the bearings.
  • The brake fluid should be changed every two years or better. If your fluid is discolored to red or brown, that's rust from moisture in the fluid. Get some new stuff in there to try and stop the damage. Moisture and the rust in the fluid damage cylinders, calipers, ABS parts, and the steel brake lines-- all of them. If you have a manual transmission, change the hydraulic clutch fluid too.


Brakes are one of the most financially rewarding do-it-yourself tasks, but there is also a large risk you are assuming. A lot of the cost of the service is liability insurance for the brake shop. In spite their best efforts, things happen. And there isn't much forgiveness. If you make a mistake, you may not notice it until you really need the brakes to work in a jam.

Perhaps you are already a fair mechanic, and you feel comfortable with the task. Perhaps you have a neighbor or friend who is in a position to help or advise if you get in a bind. Just take your time, be extra careful, and have patience.

As always, the directions and advice given here are without warranty of any kind. This is free advice, offered at that face value. If you are not familiar or comfortable working on this critical safety system, have it done professionally.

Contributed by Jeff Mellon

Thanks for the info presented. I just followed this drbob procedure on my '93 with 4WD. I also used the Haynes book. A couple of hopefully helpful comments on this 23 step guide:

Step 6. Ford put in upgraded cam assembly while under warranty. Mine is not like the Haynes book or as described. My cam has the split nylon ring with garter spring -- but the rest of the assembly appears to be cast zinc alloy. No plastic washers either.

Step 9. This is the procedure that really hurt me. After reading this seal removal procedure, I whopped the heck out of the inboard bearing race. I couldn't drive the seal out by tapping on any part of the bearing assy. I then did what Haynes recommended: Use a long skinny screwdriver slid in to the side of the bearing till in contact with the seal. Hit screwdriver and seal pops right out.

Step 10. I think it's important to state that the bearing cones must be pressed in/out by a shop --- so no yahoo like me starts trying to knock it out with a screwdriver and hammer. Also, Ford used an adhesive to further secure the seal. I may use a little RTV silicone there. Also, no mention is made of lubrication of the cam assy. Haynes does not mention it per se, but in their lubrication specification section they say that the hub assy. is lubed with bearing grease. Neither of these sources mention how much grease to use. Step 5 suggests that very little grease should be seen in the hub itself. I will go ahead and lightly grease the cam assy. I used synthetic ATF on the hubs per the guide -- seems good.

Step 14. The axle spacer washer was omitted here and also not mentioned in step 7. This special washer goes behind the clip.

And then, in the "Some things to think about" section, I'd recommend that new hub "O" rings be added to the buy-list. Also in this section mention is made of the need to lube the driveshaft splines (right side per owner's manual). The Haynes book procedure entails major disassembly of the front end for this task!!! I see no "tricks" for this job on the Explorer page. And the spindle bearings -- how to get grease to them doesn't even appear in Haynes as far as I can tell.




Updated June 12, 2000

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