XJ Brakes

By Glenn Baker

As we all know, brakes are one of the most important systems on our Cherokees.  Unfortunately, it is also potentially one of the weakest parts of the XJ.  While the braking system can be upgraded depending on your budget, I will be explaining how to replace the front brake Pads, Rotors, and Calipers on a stock 1996 Jeep Cherokee 4X4.

When replacing the front brakes, I think it is best in the long run to replace the calipers, along with the pads. If you have any "pulsing" in your brake pedal, you should also have your rotors "turned" on a brake Lathe to ensure that they are "true", or just replace them as I have in this article.  While you can rebuild your calipers, the cost of replacement calipers is within most peoples budget.  The choice is up to you.

The first thing you need to do is get all of the needed parts together.  For this project, I ordered the following parts:

Once you have all of the needed parts together, you need to jack up the vehicle and secure it with jack-stands.  A good place for the jack stands is either on the uni-frame rails, right behind the lower control arm mounts, or on the axle tubes. Remove both front tires, and set aside.  You now have access to everything you need to get at for the front brake replacement. I would highly recommend doing one side of the vehicle at a time. That gives you the other side as a reference to look at if you get confused.

Start by carefully removing the caliper end of the brake hose. You will get some leakage from the hose, so make sure you have a drip pan handy.  Take the time to clean-up the end of the brake hose and fitting.  Now, you can take a regular screwdriver or pry-bar, and gently pry  between the brake pad and caliper to retract the piston slightly to ease in removal.  Now,, remove the two caliper attaching bolts on the inboard side of the caliper.  You will now be able to pull the lower end of the caliper to the rear, and remove the entire caliper.

Now that you have the caliper off, take a minute to refill the brake master cylinder with fresh fluid.  This will help reduce the amount of air introduced into the system as the front hoses drip old fluid into your pan.

Time to remove the rotors.  If your brakes have not been apart before, you may have one or two retainers on the lug studs.  These are meant to hold the caliper on the hub during vehicle assembly, and will not be needed when you reassemble your brakes.  These can easily be removed with wire cutters, or pliers.  Now you rotor should just slide right off with little effort.  If you live in the "rust belt" or similar areas, a gentle tapping with a mallet may be needed.

Take a couple of minutes to clean up the hub area of any road debris or mud. You will also want to use some sandpaper or a wire brush to clean the "caliper slide surfaces".  Inspect these surfaces for wear, as the pads and caliper must be able to slide freely to function properly.

If you are installing new rotors, you will need to put a "multi-directional" finish on them.  This can be done with either emery cloth, or Scotch Discs if you have them. Simply rub in a circular manner to create some light scratching on the rotor surface.  This will aid in the proper seating and break-in of the pads.  If you are using your original rotors, they should already have this done after the brake shop machines them.  Install the rotors to the hub assembly at this time.

Take a small amount of Syl-Gyde and lube the caliper slide surfaces.  Do not overdo it, as you do not want the excess to get on your rotor or pads.  This will allow proper operation of the caliper/pad assembly.

Time to install the Caliper/Pad assembly!  Make sure that you have the correct caliper for the side of the vehicle you are working on...there is a "left" and a "right" caliper.  An easy way to verify this is to ensure that the bleeder screw is at the uppermost position on the caliper. If they are not installed on the correct side, you will not be able to bleed all of the air out of the system.  The caliper is installed in the reverse of removal, ensuring that the pads are in the correct position in the caliper, and on the caliper slide areas.  Star the two caliper mounting bolts by hand, you may have to wiggle the caliper a bit to get them properly lined up.

Attach the brake hose to the caliper, using the new copper sealing washers.  It is very important that these parts are clean to ensure a proper seal, and long service life of the caliper.  Once you have the hose reattached, open the caliper bleed screw approximately one turn. This will allow gravity to fill the caliper while you work on the other side, as long as you keep the master cylinder reservoir full.

The other side is done the same way.  I stress that it is important to take your time, keep all of the parts clean, and be safe.

Now is a good time to take some Brake Parts Cleaner and spray off the brake rotors to make sure any oil or dirt that may have got on them is cleaned away. 

Before you put the wheels back on, you will need to have somebody help you bleed the brakes, or you can use a Mighty-Vac or similar tool to bleed the brakes by yourself.  It is important to ensure the master cylinder reservoir stays full while bleeding the brakes, or you may have to start all over if air is pulled into the system.

Due to the varying brake systems available, it is beyond the scope of this article to cover brake bleeding specifics.  I suggest you consult a manual specific to your year and model for those instructions.

Once the brakes are bled, verify that you have proper brake operation by depressing the brake pedal several times.  You should have a nice hard pedal. If not, further bleeding will be needed. Verify you have no leaks, the reinstall the tires, and torque the lug nuts to proper specifications, and take the vehicle off of the jack stands.

When you set out for a test drive, try a couple of stops before you hit the road to ensure proper operation. Keep in mind, until the new brakes seat, brake performance may not be optimal.  You should avoid panic type stops for the first 50 miles or so if possible.

That's it!  While it may seem like a lot of stuff, front disc brake service is very simple and straight forward on the Jeep Cherokee. With some basic hand tools, and some attention to detail, most anybody should be able to accomplish the job.

Glenn Baker


Content 1999 North American XJ Association