How To Replace The Front Brake Pads

Part of the reason first-gen Porsche Cayennes depreciated so steeply for the decade-plus after the model debut involved maintenance costs. After all, a performance SUV goes through consumable parts like tires and brakes quite quickly, while requiring extra attention to oil and filter changes, steering components, and, in the case of my 2006 Turbo, the center driveshaft support.

But that performance also makes the Cayenne a great purchase for anyone who wants an SUV that mixes fun on-road driving dynamics with reasonable off-road capability, as long as they can afford to pay the so-called “Porsche Tax.” Fortunately, the Cayenne shares many components with the Volkswagen Touareg and Audi Q7 siblings—and Porsche always publish extensive parts catalogs for owner reference, so I jumped into Cayenne ownership hoping to find reasonable parts at prices and save money by doing the little jobs myself.

The previous owner who sold me the Cayenne included a three-ring binder of maintenance history in the deal, so I know he replaced the front brake pads and rotors almost exactly three years and 30,000 miles ago. Considered I drove mostly highway miles since purchasing the car with 115,000 on the odometer, that still felt like a pretty short lifespan for the front brake pads once they began squealing recently. Luckily, I found a set of PowerStop Evolution Plus ceramic pads for under $60 delivered and pad wear sensors from Uro Parts for under $20, saving a ton of money versus the hundreds that sites like Pelican Parts and FCP Euro ask for OEM and original pads. All in, changing the brake pads required about an hour of labor and no special tools other than a measurement caliper.


Measuring The Brake Rotor Thickness

Before I shopped for brake pads, I used a long-reach measurement caliper to make sure I didn’t need to replace the rotors, too. The edge of each brake rotor specifies a minimum thickness, so that mechanics know when to replace the discs along with the pads. The 350-millimeter discs on my Cayenne cost a fair amount less than the option 380mm Turbo S-spec discs, but I still happily noted measurements of 34 to 35 millimeters on both front discs with my caliper. Measure the rotor at various points to verify even wear, then compare to the specs on the disc itself. In this case, the minimum thickness rating of 32 millimeters leaves me at least one more brake pad worth of wear before the rotors should need replacing, too.


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Porsche Racing History On Display

Any time I change brakes on a Porsche, I find myself of the company’s racing history because the engineers make wear items so easily accessible. In the case of my Cayenne, replacing the front brake pads required one 13-millimeter socket only. Loosen the nut on the inside of the caliper first—this might require a good amount of muscle to break loose due to the high heat created by braking components.

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Unclip The Brake Pad Wear Sensors

Use a pair of small needlenose pliers to unclip the brake wear sensors, if you can. The inside sensor on mine proved impossible to remove without breaking the little clips—the sensor will come out with the pad anyway, but removing the wires can help make the rest of the job much easier.

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Remove The Sensor Wires

Loosening or removing the brake pad sensor wires typically takes a bit of effort, too. The shop my Cayenne’s previous owner hired to do the brake job even tucked the wire in the loop of the brake bleeder valve cap, a nice touch. Again, while not 100% necessary, freeing up some slack in the wire can help clear up the working space. A small flathead screwdriver should do the trick for the pad retainer clip, as well as the actual plug for the sensor farther up on towards the air-spring and shock assembly.

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Gently Tap Out The Retaining Pin

I used a punch that luckily fit perfectly to gently tap out the brake retaining pin with a rubber mallet. The grit and grime of a (by-now) 129,000-mile Cayenne brake caliper actually made this part more difficult than I expected. Popping out the holding spring as soon as possible helped, though.

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Pull Out The Old Pads

Depending on your brake fluid pressure and how long you put off this job, pulling out the old pads may require a bit of leverage from the flathead screwdriver again. On the first side, mine came out easily but the second took some more effort after I compressed the caliper pistons to install the new pads. I purposefully took the job one side at a time in the name of photography, but doing both at the same time may help make this step easier.

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Compress The Caliper Pistons

Normally, I use the old brake pads and a flathead screwdriver to push in the caliper pistons—but I normally also replace the rotors, as well, so I can live with the potential to cause a bit of damage. In this case, since I planned to only change the pads, I gently pushed on the pistons using the plate from my caliper press and a folded paper towel to protect the rotor from the flathead. Surprisingly, the three pistons on each side moved easily, to the point that I was quite worried about a brake line leak. (Of note, the Cayenne’s massive front brake pads render my caliper press plate far too small to actually use as intended, so I got lucky here, for sure.)


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Grease The New Pads

I got lucky again when I took the next step and installed the new pads. The PowerStop kit included new carrying springs, as indicated on Amazon, but no anti-squeal lube. I found some left over from my last job changing the rear pads and discs on my Mitsubishi Montero (just enough, since the Porsche brakes require far more to cover the sheer surface area).

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Cleaning Off The Brake Retaining Battery

I then used a wire brush to clean off the brake pin before reinstallation. A steel wool pad might do just as well here, to help the pin slide back in more easily.

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Finagling The Spring And Pin Back Into Place

Probably the most difficult part of the job came next, as I tried to figure out the best way to squeeze the pin back into place over the new retaining spring (all while taking a photograph). With a bit of grease on the pin, I pushed the spring as far towards the outside edge, then compressed as far as possible with hand strength and used the mallet to tap the pin through. The fit might feel easier without the need to document the job, though this portion also depends on the condition of your pin.


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Torque Down The Nut And Install New Wear Sensors

Use a torque wrench to tighten the 13-millimeter nut back onto the end of the holding pin to 22 lb-ft. Don’t forget to install new pad wear sensors, looping the wires through the retaining spring clip and, if you feel so inclined, the bleeder valve dust cap. At this point, the job seems done, but always climb into the driver’s seat and give the brake pedal a few good pushes to make sure your pads seat onto the rotors without too much pedal fade or mushiness, which might indicate a leak. Re-mount your wheels and go for a slow test drive, testing that your new pads actually bring your Cayenne to a stop.

PowerStop then recommends a series of five moderate to aggressive stops from 40 miles per hour down to 10 miles per hour to break in the brake pads, followed by five more moderate stops from 35 to five miles per hour, then to drive around for about five minutes without stopping. This break-in procedure should help to cure the heated resin in the pads. After following the break-in instructions as closely as possible, I can report that the first few hundred miles with the PowerStop Z17 Evolution Plus pads show a marked improvement in feel compared to the old, worn pads (which bore no brand name). The initial bite feels relatively similar, but continuing to push further into the brake pedal travel produces an excellent, linear increase in braking power. All for under $80 and about an hour for the whole job, subtracting the time I spent photography the process. I may still perform a brake bleed, given the ease with which I pushed the pistons back in, that might improve the Cayenne’s braking performance even further—at least, until I bite the bullet and replace the rear pads and rotors together, coming up soon .


Sources: amazon.com, pelicanparts.com, fcpeuro.com, and powerstop.com.


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