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BMW E30 Front Disc Brake Replacement

Pelican Technical Article:

BMW E30 Front Disc Brake Replacement

Jared Fenton


2-3 hours






Floor jack, two jack stands, two wheel chocks, safety glasses, lug wrench, 13mm wrench, 15mm wrench, bungee cord or wire hanger to hold brake caliper up, set of metric Allen keys, WD-40, shop rags, metric socket set, brake cleaner, large C-clamp, torque wrench

Applicable Models:

BMW 318i Coupe/Conv (1984-92)
BMW 318i Sedan (1984-92)
BMW 318is Coupe (1984-92)
BMW 325 Coupe (1986-88)
BMW 325 Sedan (1986-88)
BMW 325e/es/is/iX Coupe (1984-93)
BMW 325e/i/iX Sedan (1984-93)
BMW 325i Coupe/Conv (1984-93)

Parts Required:

Brake pads, brake pad sensors, have rotors resurfaced

Performance Gain:

Brakes that stop short, straight and true without squeaking

Complementary Modification:

Replace the rotors

In this tech article we will discuss replacement of the front brake pads on the E30 BMW. While this tech article is specific to the E30, it applies to most other BMW models with floating calipers as well.

I had begun to notice that my brake had started to squeak a bit. Shortly afterwards, I noticed the "brake linings" light come on in the dash. This is a visual system BMW uses to indicate that the brake pads will soon need replacement.

I started by ordering up new brake pads and brake pad sensor from Pelican, of course, and began the process. That said, here's how it is done.

First, loosen the lug bolts but do not remove them. Just loosen them, then snug them up. Next, jack up the car in a safe manner.

Once the wheels are removed you will see the disc brake assembly. Look at the backside of the caliper. You'll see two sensors coming out of the calipers on the driver's side. Follow these wires back to were they connect and unplug them. On the front calipers, you will notice two 13mm bolts at the top and the bottom of the caliper. These are the caliper mounting bolts. We will need to remove these in order to continue. You will need a 13mm and a 15 mm wrench to remove the bolts.

Use the 15mm wrench to hold the lock nuts on the inside of the caliper, by holding them, you will be able to remove the two 13mm bolts. Once the two bolts are removed, the upper portion of the caliper should come right off. Use a zip tie or other means to secure it out of the way.

Now, take a look at the old brake pads. You can see how worn they are from the pics. Compare these to the new pads. Notice the brake wear sensor on the old pads. This will give you a good idea of how the sensor works. Essentially when the pads wear down to a certain point, it wears away the outside cover of the sensor, eventually wearing it down enough to the point where the metal strip inside contacts the rotor, and completes the electrical circuit, and the light on the dash illuminates. We will be replacing these sensors as well.

The next step is to remove the brake rotors. You need to remove them in order to have them surfaced. Re-surfacing brake rotors is important. Failure to do so can cause the brakes to not seat properly or even overheat. Re-surfacing insures that the new pads will seat properly. Any decent auto parts shop can re-surface your brake rotors for usually around $5 a rotor.

Keep in mind, however that brake rotors, by law, can only be re-surfaced a certain amount of times before you exceed the amount of material that can be removed. This is done for safety reasons. If you have exceeded the amount of material that can be removed,  you will have to purchase new rotors.

In order to remove the brake rotors, remove the Allen head bolt that holds the rotor to the hub. You may have some trouble removing these without stripping the bolt, so I recommend that you soak the bolt in a good penetrant spray for a few hours prior to loosening the bolt. This will help prevent against stripped or damaged threads, and a potential nightmare that will send you screaming over the edge. (Ask me how I know this!)

The next step to remove the rotors is to remove the brake caliper bracket that sits on the back of the hub. You will notice two large bolts holding it to the hub. Remove these two bolts, and remove the caliper bracket. The brake rotor should now come free.

Once you have the brake rotors removed, take them to the auto parts store, machine shop, etc.. and have them re-surfaced. Obviously, take another car to the store, as you will find your brakes don't work with the brake discs removed from the car.

Now is a good time to clean everything. You'll want to use a good quality brake cleaner to make sure that the calipers and surrounding parts are clean and free of dirt and grime. Grease on the brake discs can cause brake failure.

With the brake discs surfaced, you can now start re-installing the components. Put the surfaced rotors back on the hubs, and make sure to line up the holes, so that the brake disc hold-down Allen bolt will thread in. It's a good idea to put a dab of anti-seize compound on one side of the threads to prevent stripping the next time you remove the brake discs.

Now that the rotors are installed, it's time to compress the caliper pistons. You'll want to do this in order for the new brake pads to fit. As the old brake discs wear, the piston gradually comes more and more out of the caliper, making it impossible for the new pads to fit.

In order to compress the pistons, first remove the brake fluid reservoir cap, this will relieve the pressure on the system, and make it easier for you to push the pistons. Next, use a large C-clamp as shown in the photo, to slowly push the piston back into the caliper. The caliper pistons should slide back with a minimal amount of force.

Now, install the new brake wear sensor in place. Keep in mind that there is only one brake wear sensor on the right front. The sensor simply clips onto the brake pad as shown in this photo.

Once the calipers are compressed, re-install the caliper bracket on the hub and make sure the bolts are tight. BMW recommends you torque them to 65 ft/lbs.

Next, place the new brake pads on the lower caliper mounting plate as shown.. When they are in place, carefully place the caliper over the pads. You may notice a bit of resistance in doing this because of the new springs that hold the new pads in place. Just use a little force to push the caliper in position, then install the two 13mm bolts and use a 15mm wrench to hold the lock nuts in place as you tighten the 13mm bolts on the outside. Next, plug the sensor connection back in place.

Once all this is done, re-check everything. You don't want to take chances with your brakes. Check and then double check that everything is tight.

Now you are ready to put the wheels back on. Once they are re-installed and tightened, take the car out and test the brakes. You should notice that they don't stop very well at first. This is normal. You'll need to seat the brake pads in order for them to work well. Simply drive the car cautiously for roughly 50 or so miles, and the brake pads will seat into the new rotors. It's also a good idea to pump the brake occasionally during this time to get the rotors hot and the pads seated quicker.

Well, there you have it - it's really not too difficult at all. If you would like to see more technical articles like this one, please continue to support Pelican Parts with all your parts needs. If you like what you see here, then please visit our online BMW catalog and help support the collection and creating of new and informative technical articles like this one. Your continued support directly affects the expansion and existence of this site and technical articles like this one. As always, if you have any questions or comments about this helpful article, please drop us a line.

Comments and Suggestions:
partolan Comments: You reference pictures in your instructions. I don't see any. Can you add the pictures? I'm ready to do this project. Thanks.
March 24, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: There are no photos for this article. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Jordan e30 Comments: I have a few questions. First off I pressed my pistons all the way in and installed the calipers but it's like the pistons aren't pushing out? So the whole caliper is loose on the rotor. My left metal brake line is broke but my right caliper should at least work right? My rear brakes work perfectly fine but that means I have to press the pedal all the way for it to even begin to brake.. I just checked my brake fluid and it is empty so I'll add some but will that help to push the pistons out? I've rebuilt half of my b27 motor and rebuilt my suspension and don't know something that's probably simple on my brakes... :/ oh we'll help please!
May 28, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: If a brake line is broken and the system is not sealed, it will not be able to produce enough pressure to apply the brakes at any wheel. I would start by repairing the broken line. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Mark 42 Comments: Still no pictures. How about a link to them?
April 10, 2014
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: This article has no images. We are working on getting some. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Absolute beginner! Comments: Great description - didn't know about having to re-surface the rotors. Thanks
July 13, 2013
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: If you are not replacing the rotors you should resurface them to prevent the brakes from squeaking while braking - Nick at Pelican Parts  
hbsurfbandit Comments: Same as nickswainer. Excellent description but no pictures available. What is required to view the pictures?
February 22, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Check back in out tech section for pictures.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
nickswainer Comments: Hey im not getting any pictures, u did a great job explaining it but a picture is worth a thousand words.
January 11, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the Info. We appreciate it.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
Vince Comments: This may be a pretty stupid question but do the front brakes have retaining clips just like the back? I did a search and found that I can only buy retaining clips for the back, that and I don't have them on my front brakes and I'm worried that they might have flown off
June 14, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: It depends on the type of front caliper the car has, Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799 and they can help figure out which part or repair kit you need - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Honolulu Comments: WARNING! When you first drive the car with new pads or rotors, the caliper pistons will not be extended as they should be, so your brake pedal will be VERY LOW or you may have NO BRAKES AT ALL.

SOLUTION: Before you drive anywhere, set the parking brake, start the engine and step on the brakes until you get a good feel from the pedal. Release the parking brake, put the car in first gear and move a few feet then stop. If the car doesn't stop well or the pedal is low or goes to the floor, pump the brake pedal until you get a good pedal feel and it no longer goes to the floor. You must have brakes before you can get on the road. Don't drive without brakes, you may crash into something and ruin someone's day... usually yours.
May 11, 2010
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the additional Info. We appreciate it.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
51stliving Comments: This is great Thanks keep up the good work. Helps and gives willingness to attemp and learn
May 17, 2009
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the feedback. Glad we could help.

- Nick at Pelican Parts

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Page last updated: Sun 2/18/2018 02:03:43 AM