brake pads and rotors replacement: mk4 VW Jetta, Golf, New Beetle

Apr 26, 2017
brake pads and rotors replacement: mk4 VW Jetta, Golf, New Beetle
  • DIY front and rear brake pads and rotors replacement on Jetta, Golf, New beetle 1998-2005/6 mk4

    Difficulty: 2/5

    Disclaimer: Before you attempt any brake work on your car, refer to the factory service manual and follow all precautions. Any and all information presented on this website is superseded by the official service manual and is not a substitute for the services or advice of a certified professional mechanic. See the TOS Agreement for the full legal disclaimer. If the brakes are faulty or not working correctly, tow it to a mechanic and do not attempt to drive the car. Faulty brakes can result in an accident or loss of control so have your local garage do it if you're not qualified to work on the brakes.

    Introduction - This article shows how to replace the front and then the rear brakes.

    You may want to flush the hydraulic system while you are under there. It should be done every 2 years regardless of mileage or as needed. For that procedure, see: 1000q: bleeding brake/clutch hydraulic system. Performance pads will greatly improve brake feel but the best way to improve braking capacity is to step harder on the pedal and get better tires. For a FAQ and mythbusting of brake tips, see 1000q: basic brake FAQ

    I prefer Mintex redbox or Axxis deluxe because they are quiet OEM level brakes that dust less than stock. Performance pads can sometimes squeal when cold or eat up the rotors.

    The rear rotors on VW tend to wear out faster than the front brakes. This is due to light braking with the electronically distributed braking on your TDI. If you are doing the fronts, check the rears as well. Also check to make sure the rotors are still thick enough to last until the next brake job or replace them. In general, the rotors should be turned and cleaned if there is sufficient material to remove and stay above the minimum thickness. Also check for warping or runout. However, since "turning the rotors" involves putting them on a brake lathe and removing the top layer of material to make it flat, it makes them more likely to warp. Braking generates heat and the less rotor mass there is to absorb the heat, the more likely the rotor is to warp. It should only take a few minutes to turn the rotors at a shop, but you could buy new rotors just as easily. If you are having problems with rotor warping, buy better rotors or check hub runout.

    If you have a TDI/2.0L engine and wish to upgrade to bigger brakes and calipers you have to change a few things. If you have a 1.8T or VR6, you have removable brake carriers and can more easily upgrade to bigger brakes. See 1000q: mk4 big brake upgrade for details.

    Parts for DIY Jetta, Golf, and Beetle brake job
    large phillips head screwdriver
    large flat head screwdriver or pry bar
    7mm Allen wrench
    8mm Allen wrench
    13mm and 15mm wrenches
    17mm socket for the lug nuts
    Wire brush or rough scrubbing pad and file

    Can of antiseize
    PB blaster or liquid wrench penetrating lubricant
    brake fluid
    brake cleaner fluid

    Brake pads and rotors from kermatdi, all mk4 brake parts
    Front rotors from Idparts

    Front and rear brake rotor wear specs

    (for the mk4 1.9L VW TDI only)
    Front diameter: 280 mm
    Front thickness: 22mm
    Front wear limit: 19mm

    Rear diameter: 232 mm
    Rear thickness: 9mm
    Rear wear limit: 7mm


    The front rotor is the larger vented one.
    These front pads have a wear sensor. The rear pads have a spring.


    Procedure to replace the Front brakes
    Chock the rear wheels, apply the parking brake, and put the car in gear if it's a manual transmission. Jack up the end of the car you want to work on (using the factory jack points) so that the tire is just barely touching the ground. Remove the center cap to get to the lug bolts, and loosen but don't remove the bolts. I do this so that the car's full weight isn't resting on the wheel. This makes it easier to loosen the lug bolts. Do not completely loosen the lug bolts until the car is secure on jack stands. See 1000q: jack points to see the jack points on my 2003 Jetta. If you can't get the lug bolts loose try using a breaker bar or your leg to increase leverage and because your legs are stronger than your arms.

    Make sure the car is secure before removing the lug bolts or wheel and going any further and see the legal disclaimer for the full TOS.

    Remove the brake pad wear sensor wire (attached to the brake pad) if equipped. There is no brake wear sensor in the rear.

    Pry the dust cap off the dust boot, marked by the dashed red line (below). The rest of the rubber boot should not be removed. Remove the guide pin bolt inside (marked with green below, it's inside the caliper) with a 7mm allen wrench. Repeat for upper and lower bolts.

    Here is a picture of the back of the brake caliper showing both black caps and a brake pad wear sensor plug at the top.

    Pry out the pads and slide the caliper to the side. If your rotors are worn down a rusty lip has formed on the outer diameter of the rotor and will cause the pads to catch a little, just wiggle the pads out.

    Don't let the caliper hang by the brake line - tie it to something with a piece of string or rest it on the removed wheel. Hanging it by the brake line can cause the line to weaken.

    Clean the seals and slides with with brake cleaner.

    The new pads will not fit onto the rotor since the new pads are thicker than the old ones and the caliper piston have moved out for the old pads. Open the brake fluid reservoir to let some pressure out. I do not suggest opening the bleeder since it's dirty and an air bubble might get into the brake fluid circuit, depending on how the caliper is positioned. Bleeder nipples (marked with yellow in the above picture) are always on the top of the caliper to let air out and prevent air from getting in but I prefer to not open it.

    To move the caliper piston, use a c-clamp or brake caliper tool to press the piston back into place. Below is a picture of an Autozone brake caliper tool to press the piston back. Autozone or Advance loan this tool and many others for free or you could buy one at any auto parts store. Note - the rear brakes are slightly different and require a special tool like the one pictured below to press the caliper back in AND turn it at the same time, so don't use a c-clamp on the rear brakes. Your caliper may look slightly different.

    Remove the phillips set screw in the rotor (marked with red arrow below) and remove the rotor.

    CAUTION: The set screws are usually rusted in place which often results in stripping the head. Before you strip it and make this job harder than it has to be, spray it with some penetrating lubricant like PB Blaster to loosen it. Hit the rotor around the screw with a metal hammer and let the penetrating lube sit. Then use an electric impact screwdriver to loosen it. This always seems to be successful for me. If you use a manual screwdriver, make sure the tip fits correctly into the screw head and press forward (hard) to help reduce the chance of stripping it. If you stripped the first one, go out and buy an electric impact screwdriver because you'll probably strip the other ones too. You can buy them at harbor freight for about the same price as some drill bits and screw extractors from sears.

    If it gets stripped, use a stripped screw extractor. If that fails, drill out the screw until the head is drilled off. Take care to not damage the hub if you do drill it out. If the rotor is still stuck after removing the set screw, hit the hub with a metal hammer to break the corrosion.

    This was after removal, you can see the the two holes for the caliper allen bolts on the left. The ring with holes is part of the ABS sensor. If your ABS goes nuts after you do a brake job you know something was damaged. Check the ring and sensor for damage.

    Installation of brake pads and rotors on VW Jetta TDI and similar

    Scrub any rust off the hub with a wire brush and put a light coat of anti-seize around the lug holes and especially the set screw hole to help prevent corrosion. Excessive rust could cause the hub to not seat flat, causing minor wheel vibration and other problems.

    Note - the service manual wheel bolt torque specs do not call for anti-seize but stuck bolts is a problem in areas where they may be exposed to road salting in the winter or corrosion. If you use antiseize, lower the torque spec slightly by the amount indicated by the anti seize technical data sheet. If you can't figure it out, lower the torque spec by 5% if using antiseize. This is on the tight side but the greater of two evils is seized lugs, at least in the Northeast where they salt the roads, vs. stripped hubs or lugs.

    Clean the various parts with brake cleaner, pop in the new brake pads, lube the slide pins and the back of the brake pads with a very light coat of brake grease. Apply anti-seize to the bolt threads and reinstall everything. Do not apply brake grease to the pad or rotor friction surfaces. If this occurs, wipe it clean with brake cleaner fluid. Make sure the new brake pads look like the ones that were removed and fit correctly.

    Make sure that any electrical plugs for the ABS or brake pad wear sensors have been put back and that everything is sitting level.

    Go for a test drive to double check for any fluid leaks and proper braking action.

    Torque specs:
    guide pins (the 7mm allen bolts:) 22 ft-lbs
    rotor set screw : 3 ft-lbs Just tighten it very lightly and make sure the screw head is level and not sticking out
    lug nuts: 89 ft-lbs (dry spec)

    I didn't have a good pic of the mk4 car so here is an mk3 car.

    Rear brakes:
    Since replacing the rear brakes is similar to the front brakes, I will only note the differences.

    Use pliers to remove the parking brake cable retaining clip (marked in green below, just pull it out), and slip out the parking brake cable. You will probably have to move the parking brake lever around on the caliper to get it out. The parking brake lever in the cabin must be off so that there is no tension on the cable.

    Remove the caliper bolts (13mm x2 bolts outlined in red). The factory service manual says that these bolts must be replaced each time they are removed! The caliper bolts must be counter held with the guide pin nuts (15mm x2 outlined in yellow) You can now place the caliper off to the side. Again, don't let the caliper hang by the brake line, always support it or tie it to something with a piece of string.

    Here is another view of the caliper after removal.

    Remove the rotor set screw. Loosen the carrier bolts (8mm 2x allen) just enough to remove the rotor. Remove rotor. Here is a picture of the rear caliper from the top. The brake carrier bolts are outlined in blue, the caliper bolts marked again in red, and the nuts which you have to counterhold marked again in yellow.

    Here is a picture of the rear carrier after removal. Inspect the pins for binding, torn boots, and free motion. Grease as needed.

    The rear caliper pistons are slightly different from the front brakes in that you can't just push the pistons back into the caliper with a c-clamp. You must turn it while pushing it back. Use VW special tool 3272 or something similar from Autozone or Advance.

    Below is a video explaining why you should always use the parking brake.

    Again, scrape any rust off, use brake cleaner to clean the seals and surfaces, then use new brake grease or anti-seize as appropriate.

    Below is an image of the brake self-adjusting mechanism after being removed from the caliper. Note the corrosion on the shank of the self adjuster. This can lead to the parking brake lever not returning all the way and hence dragging the parking brake.

    To clean it remove it from the caliper or to clean it while installed in caliper, remove the parking brake lever and rubber seal seal, then spray PB blaster onto shank and work lever back and forth. This will actuate the parking brake adjustment mechanism so you may need to push the piston back in with the above mentioned piston resetting tool 3272 or similar.

    Installation is the reverse of removal.

    Press the brake and pull the handbrake several times to reset their positions. Go for a test drive to double check for fluid leaks and proper brake and parking brake actuation.

    Brake Torque specs:

    brake caliper bolts - these are self locking bolts. The factory service manual says that they are one use only, torque to: 26 ft lbs. If you don't have replacements and the bolts are clean, not rusty or damaged, have never been overtightened, and with good threads, you could probably reuse them with new threadlocker. Warning: reuse them at your own risk!
    8mm brake carrier bolts: 48 ft lbs
    rotor set screw: 3 ft lbs - very light, just make sure the screw head isn't sticking out
    lug nuts: 89 ft lbs (dry spec)