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How to Clean and Maintain the Brakes of Your Ford F-150: A Step-by-Step Guide

Is your F-150 not stopping as responsively as it used to? Perhaps you hear a squeaking sound? These could be signs that your brakes needs attention. While various factors like worn-down brake pads or a faulty brake caliper could be at play, the accumulation of brake dust and debris is also a common issue. Regular cleaning and brake maintenance not only improve brake performance but also increase the reliability of your truck on the road. This guide walks you through the process for both drum and disc brakes, helping you avoid potential issues. At the end of this page, you’ll find a related video demonstrating the process. Ready? Let’s get to it.

Preparation is Key

Having the right tools, supplies, and game plan is key to a hassle-free brake cleaning. Here’s a list of everything you’ll need for both brake types.

The Essentials

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The Ford F-150’s brake configurations have evolved over the years. Make sure you know the type of brakes your truck has before starting. If you need a digital version of your manual, or are curious about other model years, visit that section on its main page: F-150 Owner’s Manuals.

For the brake system of your Ford F-150, choose a quality cleaner. Some recommended options are: Motorcraft Metal Brake Parts Cleaner: OEM, this cleaner is designed to spray away grease and oil from metal brake parts. CRC Brakleen: Removes grease and brake dust without residue. Permatex Brake & Parts Cleaner: Effectively cleans without affecting delicate components. 3M High Power Brake Cleaner: Powerful, ideal for stubborn residue. For guidance on cleaning products, it’s a good idea to refer to your manual.

A socket wrench is needed to remove the wheel and access the brake system on the Ford F-150. The required socket size commonly ranges from 21 mm to 7/8 inch, depending on the model year and specific wheels on the truck. Modern models often require a 21 mm socket, while 13/16 inch and 7/8 inch socket sizes may also be applicable for certain models or years. For guidance, consult your manual.

It’s important to use a duster or compressed air to remove dust and small particles from the Ford F-150’s brake system, be it drum or disc. This dust can result from the normal wear of brake components. However, when using compressed air, make sure you wear safety glasses and a mask to avoid inhaling the particles.

Occasionally, the brake components of the Ford F-150 may experience a phenomenon called “glazing” or “crystallization,” where the surface becomes extremely smooth and shiny due to heat and friction. To remedy this, you can use fine-grit sandpaper (for example, 220 grit) to lightly scrape the surface of the brake pads or shoes, returning them to their proper texture.

To collect the dust and residue that come off during cleaning.

Nitrile gloves will protect your hands from chemicals and brake dust.

What to Expect During Cleaning and Maintenance

  • Time: Set aside at least two hours for the process, especially if it's your first time doing it.
  • Mess: It's a process that can generate dust and waste. Dress in appropriate clothing and have rags or paper towels on hand.
  • Common Challenges and How to Address Them: Glazed brake pads or shoes:
    Lightly sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper.
    Difficulty in removing drum or caliper:
    Make sure you have the right tools. For drum brakes, tools like a brake drum puller or a rubber mallet can be used to help remove a stuck drum. For disc brakes, a caliper tool or a C-clamp can help in compressing the caliper piston to remove the caliper. If the drum or caliper doesn't move easily, it might be rusted or seized. Applying a penetrating lubricant like WD-40 around the edges and waiting for it to soak in can help loosen rust. Gently tapping with a rubber mallet can also help in freeing up the parts. It's important to exercise caution to avoid damaging any components. If the drum or caliper remains stuck despite these efforts, it may be advisable to seek professional assistance to avoid causing any damage.
  • Safety First: Make sure the truck is well supported on stands and that the tools are in good condition. Always use personal protective equipment such as glasses and gloves.

Brake Cleaning and Maintenance Process for Your F-150

Now that you're familiar with the essential preparations, let's dive step-by-step into the cleaning and maintenance process for both drum and disc brakes. And remember, if at any point you find yourself in doubt, your owner's manual is always an excellent reference.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Drum Brake Maintenance

1. Wheel Removal 

Secure your vehicle with the parking brake, then use the socket wrench to remove the wheel and access the drum brake.

2. Preliminary Inspection

Before proceeding with cleaning, conduct a thorough review of the brake shoes and drums' condition. Indicators of excessive wear on the shoes include a thickness approaching the manufacturer's minimum specification. As for the drum, look for signs of uneven surfaces, heat spots, or deep grooves. If you detect any of these symptoms, it's recommended to consider replacing the affected parts.

3. Drum Cleaning

Apply the brake cleaner inside the drum and on the brake shoes. Use the duster or compressed air to remove residue.

4. Scuffing the Brake Shoes

With fine-grit sandpaper, gently rub the brake shoes to remove any glazing or crystallization. Be mindful to avoid altering the shoe's surface unevenly. This will improve braking performance.

5. Reassembly and Verification

Once all parts are clean, reassemble and replace the wheel. Before driving, press the brake pedal several times to make sure everything works correctly.

Disc Brake Maintenance

1. Wheel Removal 

First, secure your vehicle with the parking brake. Then, use the socket wrench to remove the wheel and access the disc brake.

2. Preliminary Inspection

Before proceeding with cleaning, conduct a thorough review of the brake pads and rotors' condition. Indicators of excessive wear on the pads include a thickness of less than 3mm, although the exact thickness for replacement can vary based on the manufacturer's recommendations. For the rotor, check for uneven surfaces, heat spots (bluish areas from overheating), or deep grooves (often referred to as scoring on disc brakes). If you detect any of these symptoms, it's recommended to consider replacing the affected parts.

3. Caliper and Rotor Cleaning

Apply the brake cleaner on the caliper and rotor, then use the duster or compressed air to remove residue.

4. Scuffing the Brake Pads

With fine-grit sandpaper, gently rub the brake pads to remove any glazing or crystallization. Be mindful to avoid altering the pad's surface unevenly. This will improve braking performance.

5. Reassembly and Verification

Once all parts are clean, reassemble and replace the wheel. Before driving, press the brake pedal several times to ensure everything works correctly.

6. Bed-In Process

Intended for disc brake systems, this process improves grip and extends the life of your brake pads. It transfers a layer of brake pad material to the rotors through a series of hard and soft stops, ensuring a good contact between the brake pad material and the rotors.

Additional Considerations

  • Regular cleaning and maintenance will extend the lifespan of your F-150's brakes. Consider inspecting your brakes every 3,000 to 7,000 miles or every 3 months. Check for wear on the brake pads, assess the condition of the brake discs or drums, and make sure all components are functioning properly.
  • Vibration during braking can be caused by warped rotors. If the vibration occurs, consider having your rotors resurfaced or replaced.
  • Squeaking can be caused by worn brake pads, dirt, or a lack of lubrication. Double check your brake pads are in good condition, dirt has been cleaned away from the brake parts, and brake lubricant has been applied to the back of the brake pads and any other moving parts.
  • Make sure your brake fluid (Motorcraft is great here) is clean and at the correct level, as this can affect the grip and overall braking performance.
  • Investing in high-quality ceramic brake pads (Bosch is an excellent option) can improve grip and reduce noise and dust.
  • If you hear unusual noises or feel that the brakes are not responding as usual, consult an expert.
  • Refer to the owner's manual of your F-150 to follow all maintenance and care recommendations to the letter.

Take care of your F-150, and it will take care of you. Prevention and maintenance are the keys to a safe and reliable vehicle. Stay safe and enjoy the adventures!

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