You love your car. Oh, do you love your car. But maybe it's time for a change. Nothing drastic; nothing expensive. Just the car equivalent of a manicure -- a new flash of color for your faithful friend. You're going to paint the brake calipers.
There are a few different ways to paint brake calipers. You can purchase a kit, which includes a can or two of paint, reactor, spray-on cleaner and an applicator brush. If your brakes have large calipers, or if you want to create a custom hue by mixing colors, you'll probably want to buy two kits (which will still run less than $100 total) [ source: G2].
Some people use spray-on paint rather than brush-on paint. That can work too, but make sure it's paint designed to endure high temperatures, such as engine block paint. Don't use normal spray paint, which will flake off. You may also want to buy a can of clear, high-temperature finishing spray.
Finally, you must answer this question: Where will the calipers be when you paint them? The hard-core method entails removing the calipers from the car. Because this approach is more complicated, some people opt not to do it -- that is, they paint the calipers while they're still attached to the brake discs. However, this raises the risk of getting paint on other parts of the brake -- or on the car's body. If you leave the calipers on, remember that in every project a little paint winds up where you don't expect it. Allow extra time and materials for masking.
In this article, we'll take a look at how to take out the old brake lines and put in the new ones. But first, how do you prepare for this procedure? And which tools will you need? Read on -- if you can tear yourself away from the paint samples.
Preparing to Paint Brake Calipers
Of course you're excited about spiffing up your wheels, but don't just dive in without preparing. Here's what you should have on hand:
- A secure way to jack your car up and remove all four wheels at once. This means jack stands or a floor jack, not hydraulic jacks. Don't skimp on your own safety.
- A tire iron
- A dust mask
- Soap that removes grease -- whatever you normally use to wash up from auto repairs
- Spray solvent, brake cleaning fluid or alloy wheel cleaner
- Paper towels
- A small paintbrush, about a half to 1 inch wide
- Dropcloths, newspaper, masking tape, plastic grocery bags and whatever else you need to keep paint from going where you don't want it. If you're using aerosol paint, remember that it can travel very far. Cover everything.
- Tools for cleaning the brake calipers. You may want to combine the efforts of a toothbrush, a small piece of sandpaper, and wire brush -- or a power drill with a wire brush attachment. Don't dream of using the drill and wire brush without goggles. Even good brushes can send those sharp little bristles flying [source: Neal].
If you're removing the calipers, you'll also need:
- A way to suspend the calipers without putting any weight or stress on the brake line. Wire clothes hangers will do.
- A ratchet to remove the brake calipers
- A way to drain the brakes
Finally, a few optional supplies:
- Acetone (fingernail polish remover) for cleaning up spills
- A clear glass container in which to mix paint, if you're combining colors for a custom shade.
- An abrasive cleaning pad, such as a ScotchBrite, if you're painting over an existing coat of caliper paint.
One other thing you should have on hand? Time. You won't be able to drive the car for 24 hours after painting the brake calipers, so plan well.
Preparation is what separates a good job from a messy one. Actually applying the paint is pretty easy. Find out what to do on the next page.
Cleaning and Painting Brake Calipers
First, park your car, set the emergency brake and lift the car securely on your floor jack or jack stands. Remove the wheels.
If you're removing the calipers, now's the time to do that. You'll need to drain the brakes. Take care not to put any strain on the brake lines. Suspend the calipers on coat hangers.
Now, the single most important step: Clean, clean, clean. You can't get a smooth finish unless you start with a smooth surface. Get the calipers as clean as possible -- no traces of dirt or grease. Start with the wire brush. Then try the solvent [source: Neal]. Don't use the power drill after the solvent. The solvent is flammable, and the drill can give off sparks. Also, don't get solvent on the brake lines or cylinders. It will damage them.
Use the wire brush to remove the major debris. Then go after the nooks and crannies with your sandpaper and toothbrush. Wipe everything down with a paper towel. Spray on a lot of brake cleaner, and scrub it off. Any dirt left? Try your grease-removing soap.
If you're painting over existing paint, your cleaning job is easier. Scuff the old paint with the abrasive pad until it's completely dull. Then spray on the brake cleaner.
Next, use your drop cloth and tape to mask all the parts of the car -- and the workspace -- that you don't want to paint. Remember, this is especially important with spray paint.
If you're using non-spray paint, now's the time to mix your colors and stir in the reactor. Adding the reactor means you're on a time budget. The paint will harden and stop being usable in about four or five hours.
Spray or brush on a light coat of paint. You're going to put on multiple coats, so this first one doesn't have to be perfect. Don't let the paint pool anywhere, but don't worry about tiny bubbles or blemishes.
Let this first coat dry for about 15 to 20 minutes. Then put on another coat, and let it dry for the same amount of time. Repeat this a few more times, until you have four to 10 coats in all.
You're done, right? Not so fast. Read on.
Reattaching Brake Calipers after Painting
As the saying goes, it's pretty boring to watch paint dry. But you don't have much of a choice about it. This is one part of the job where you might want to just go inside and read or watch a movie. Resist the temptation to touch that shiny new pretty color. Don't remove the masking yet either. If you're applying a clear topcoat, you can do that now.
How much time the paint will need to dry depends on the temperature and humidity, as well as how many coats you put on. Don't expect it to be completely dry before a full 24 hours have lapsed. Don't reassemble the brakes before that time has passed. The paint might not look wet, and it might even feel dry to the touch, but you can still scar it with tools.
Once the required time has passed, you can remove the masking. Look for drips and clumps of thick paint. You may want to sand these down, scrape them off or thin them with acetone. If you do, be sure to clean up the resulting dust or solution. Then, reattach the brake calipers to the brake discs. You'll need to top off the brake fluid.
Reattach the wheels. Lower the car safely to the ground and remove the jacks.
Now, the fun step: let's ride. Let the brakes warm up slowly -- no sudden, screeching halts -- so the heat helps the paint set. And don't forget the most important part: walk up to the car, jingle the keys confidently and step back and admire the coordination of your exterior paint with your brake caliper paint. Doesn't that look great?
To learn more, visit the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Franker, Brent. "Painting Brake Calipers on a 1996 Z28 SS Camaro." http://www.bfranker.badz28.com/fbody/calipers.htm
- G2 Brake Caliper Paint Set product description. Tirerack.com. (Accessed November 4, 2008) http://www.tirerack.com/brakes/g2/caliper_paint.jsp
- "How to Paint Brake Calipers." CarSpace. March 22, 2008. (Accessed November 4, 2008) http://www.carspace.com/guides/How-to-Paint-Brake-Calipers
- "How To Paint Brake Calipers." Dub Films/Wheel and Torque. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2467546146480945644
- Neal, Jason M. "Painting the Brake Calipers." http://orca.st.usm.edu/~jmneal/tiburon/calipers.htm
- "Painting Brake Calipers." Forum, TurboBricks. (Accessed November 4, 2008) http://forums.turbobricks.com/archive/index.php/t-434.html