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Step by Step Tundra Brake Upgrade on a Tacoma (or 4Runner)

Adding Tundra brakes to your 1st gen Tacoma (1996-2004) or 3rd gen 4Runner (1996-2002) is one of the easiest upgrades you can make. The larger calipers, pads, and rotors give your truck significantly more stopping power and at the same time decrease brake fade since the larger rotors are able to better dissipate heat.

The entire process takes only a couple hours, and requires little in the way of special tools. After doing this work on both my 1st gen Tacoma and 3rd gen 4Runner, as well as helping several friends with their brake upgrades, I figured that it was worthwhile to put together a step-by-step guide for the process in order to share some of the tips and tricks I've learned over the years.

If you're interested in reading stories of actual experiences and background information, here are a few worth reading:

Done with that? Let's get started.

Whatever the reason for replacement, it's not a hard job, requires no special tools, and is one you can save a lot of money by doing yourself. So let's get started.

Parts

Note: alternatively, if you want to buy a kit that contains rotors, calipers, and pads, you can purchase one from either Callahan or PowerStop. The components won't be quite as high quality as the OEM components listed above, but many people go this route to save a bit of money. If you do go this route, you still need the Tacoma-to-Tundra Hard Brake Line Upgrade Kit (not needed for a 4Runner), some DOT4 brake fluid, and 3M brake cleaner.

Tools

You don't need much from a tools perspective either. Gather these up and you'll be good to go.

  • A few different size sockets/wrenches (though expensive this is a good kit that has nearly everything you'll ever need)
    • 12mm - to remove the brake line from the bracket on the spindle.
    • 14mm - to remove the brake line bracket from the spindle.
    • 17mm - for the caliper itself.
    • 21mm - lug nuts.
  • A 10mm flare nut wrench for the caliper-brake line fitting.
  • 8mm box-end wrench for bleeding the brake calipers.
  • Impact wrench (or large breaker bar) - for removing your lug nuts.
  • An angle grinder - for cutting the dust shield. Note: you can also use a dremel, hacksaw, or other metal-cutting tool.
  • Torque wrench - to re-torque the caliper bolts and lug nuts.
  • Some rubber vacuum caps - to keep brake fluid from leaking everywhere while swapping the calipers.

Doing the Job

With all the parts and tools gathered, it's time to get to work. Perhaps obviously, the job is mostly a bunch of removal of parts, and then a bunch of installation of those same parts - or rather, installation of replacement parts. This list of steps is just that - a list of steps (which makes it a great resource to print off and reference when you're doing the job).

Removing the wheels

  1. Jack up the front of the truck using a floor jack and place a jack stand under each side of frame, just behind the front wheel well.
  2. Remove the lug nuts securing one of the front wheels. Note: While it's not required for the job, I really do love this Milwaukee impact wrench. I debated for several months whether or not I should get it, and it's one of my favorite tool purchases to date. I smile every time I use it.

Disconnecting the brake lines (Tacoma)

  1. Using a 10mm flare nut wrench, loosen but do not disconnect, the connection between the hard and soft brake lines at the frame.
  2. With the connection loosened, use a screwdriver, pliers, or any tool necessary to remove the clip that secures the soft line to the frame.

  3. With the clip removed, complete removal of the soft line from the hard line.
  4. Push the flare nut half an inch up the hard line and use a rubber vacuum cap to cap the end of the hard line to stop any drips. Note: this is important so you do not drain all of your brake fluid as you complete the job.

  5. Locate the bracket that holds the soft brake line (and ABS line if equipped) to the spindle.
  6. If you have ABS, remove it from the spindle bracket by pushing the clip out of the bracket.
  7. Use a 12mm or 14mm socket (year specific) to remove the bolt securing the bracket to the spindle. Note: there is no need to remove the bolt securing the soft brake line to the bracket, you will be replacing the bracket with one from the Tacoma-to-Tundra Hard Brake Line Upgrade Kit.

Disconnecting the brake lines (4Runner)

  1. Locate the bracket that holds the brake line to the spindle.
  2. Using a 12mm socket, remove the single bolt so that the line is free to move.
  3. Using a 10mm flare nut wrench, remove the hard line from the brake caliper. Note: When you do this, brake fluid will want to start leaking out, so use a small rubber vacuum cap to seal off the end of the line (Hint: push the fitting up the line so you can get a tight fit on the flared end of the line itself).

Removing the Caliper and Rotor

  1. Locate the two 17mm bolts that secure the caliper to the hub and remove them.

  2. Set the caliper aside. Note: If you need a core for your new 13WL calipers, you can use these.
  3. Slide the rotor off of the lug studs and set it aside. Note: The rotors are essentially paperweights; keep them or discard them.

Trim the Dust Shield to fit the 13WL Caliper

  1. Using the side-appropriate Tundra 13WL caliper, hold it approximately in place and note where it overlaps the dust shield that is still attached to the hub assembly.
  2. With a sharpie, mark a cut line. Note: Check both the top and bottom corners of the caliper - you may need to trim the dust shield only for the top, or both the top and bottom.

  3. Using an angle grinder, dremel, hack saw, or other cutting tool, remove the material necessary for the caliper to clear. Note: Don't worry too much about this cut, get it close but it doesn't need to be perfect.

Fit the Rotors and Check for Clearance

  1. Install the new rotor over the wheel studs with two lug nuts that are just tight enough to secure it to the hub assembly. Note: usually this is finger tight.

  2. Rotate the caliper several times to check for clearance of the dust shield by listening for rubbing/grinding.
  3. Bend the dust shield as necessary to prevent any rubbing.
  4. If there is still rubbing/grinding after you're sure that you've bent the visible portions of the dust shield away from the rotors, remove the rotor and check the portion of the dust shield that fits "inside" the center of the rotor. That seems to rub sometimes / for some people - but not for others. For me, it's rubbed one of six times. If it is rubbing, use an angle grinder, dremel, or file to remove/file off a bit of material from the entire radius.

Install the Tundra Calipers

  1. If it isn't already, install the new rotor over the wheel studs with two lug nuts that are just tight enough to secure it to the hub assembly. Note: usually this is finger tight.
  2. Hold the caliper in place and secure it with the two 17mm bolts. Torque the bolts to 90 ft-lbs. Note: Make sure to install the caliper so the bleeder valve is on the top half of the caliper for proper bleeding.

Install the Brake Pads and Shims

  1. Using the supplied grease, spread a thin layer on both sides of the slotted shim, and on the outside of the solid shim.

  2. Assemble the brake pads and shims by creating a sandwich of brake bad, slotted shim, solid shim.

  3. Slide the pad/shim assembly into the caliper, next to the rotor.
  4. Repeat for the second pad/shim assembly.
  5. Install the bottom pin that secures the pads to the caliper by sliding it through holes that align on the two components. Secure it with a small retention clip.
  6. Install the top pin, while also installing the small spring that pushes the pads away from the rotor. Secure it with a small retention clip. Note: The easiest way to do this is to install the two ends of the spring into the pads, making sure the "ears" of the spring are on the narrow edge of the pads. Then, slide the top pin through the caliper, pads, and spring at the same time.

Install the Brake Lines (Tacoma)

  1. Use the 12mm or 14mm socket (year specific) that was previously removed to attach the side-specific bracket from the the Tacoma-to-Tundra Hard Brake Line Upgrade Kit, securing the bracket to the spindle. Torque to 20 ft-lbs. Note that the bracket is oriented so that the hole for the ABS clip is on the bottom, and hole to attach to the spindle is on the top, with the hole for the hard brake line toward the front of the spindle.

  2. Using a 10mm flare nut wrench, install the side-specific hard line from the Tacoma-to-Tundra Hard Brake Line Upgrade Kit into the Tundra caliper so that the other end aligns with the hole in the bracket. Tighten securely, but do not over tighten the flare nut.
  3. Insert the stainless steel brake line between the spindle bracket and frame bracket, using a brake line clip to secure it to each bracket. Note: Reuse the brake line clip earlier removed from the frame bracket, and a new clip supplied with the Tacoma-to-Tundra Hard Brake Line Upgrade Kit.

  4. Finger tighten the hard line to the soft line at the spindle bracket. Once finger tight, use a 10mm flare nut wrench to tighten securely, but do not over tighten the flare nut.

  5. Remove the rubber vacuum cap from the hard brake line at the frame and finger tighten the flare nut into the stainless steel soft line attached to the frame bracket. Note: This may be difficult as slippery brake fluid will be dripping at this point. Work as quickly as possible.
  6. Using a 10mm flare nut wrench, tighten the flare nut securely, but do not over tighten the flare nut.

Install the Brake Lines (4Runner)

  1. Use the 12mm or 14mm socket (year specific) that was previously removed to re-attach the bracket to the spindle. Torque to 20 ft-lbs.
  2. Using a 10mm flare nut wrench, install the hard line into the Tundra caliper. Tighten securely, but do not over tighten the flare nut.

Re-install the Wheels

  1. Re-install the wheels and secure with lug nuts.
  2. Remove jack stands.
  3. Torque lug nuts to 89 ft-lbs. Drive a bit. Re-torque lug nuts.

Bleeding the Brake Lines

Note 1: always bleed from furthest-to-closest bleeder to the master cylinder. In Tacoma's and 4Runner's, that is passenger rear, driver rear, passenger front, driver front. In this situation, since we've only messed with the front lines - and assuming you didn't drain the reservoir under the hood in the process - we will only do the passenger front and driver front, in that order.

Note 2: This can make a bit of a mess. Have a catch basin or shop rags positioned below the bleeder to catch brake fluid that comes out of the bleeder, or fit a clear plastic tube over the bleeder that funnels the brake fluid into a container, in order to keep things clean.

  1. Check the brake fluid level in the reservoir under the hood. If it is below the full line, add fluid to the full line.
  2. Have a second person sit in the driver seat and pump the brake pedal until it is firm - usually a few pumps.
  3. Place an 8mm box-end wrench over the bleeder valve and get the valve to "barely tight."
  4. Have the second person pump and hold the brakes in the following pattern - Pump, Pump, Pump, Pump-and-Hold. Note: it is helpful if they say this as they are doing it.
  5. While the brakes are being held, loosen the bleeder valve to slowly let out air and brake fluid for a short period of time, then re-tighten the bleeder valve. Say "again," to your helper so they know they can stop holding the brakes.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until only brake fluid comes out of the bleeder valve (no air).
  7. Check the brake fluid level in the reservoir under the hood. If it is below the full line, add fluid to the full line.

Repeat this process for the driver front (and/or any bleeders that still need bleeding).

You're done!

With new brakes installed, I recommend a process called bedding the brakes, a process by which you deposit a layer of pad material evenly across the braking surface of the rotor. This minimizes squealing, increases braking torque, and maximizes pad and rotor life.

This process is technically optional - the brakes will bed themselves over time even if you don't do this - it'll just take longer, and they won't work quite as well until they are bedded.

Bedding in Advantages:

  1. Gradually heat treats the rotor and eliminates any thermal shock in the rotor.
  2. Burn off volatiles and moisture from the resin that is near pad surface. This will eliminate “green fade.”
  3. Establishes a layer of transfer film about a few microns thick on the rotor surface. Shearing of the film during friction is an effective source of friction force. Otherwise, when using a freshly ground rotor without the transfer film, the main friction force would come from cutting, plowing, or scoring the asperities on the rotor surface. This leads to inconsistent braking effectiveness.
  4. Mate the two surfaces to a near perfect geometrical match, so that the contact area is high, and therefore the friction force is increased.
  5. The performance of a fresh rotor/fresh pad system would be inconsistent. This is due to ever-changing structures and properties of the two mating materials. Bed-in of pads and rotor will form a stable transfer film.
  6. If bedding in procedure is not applied, a stable transfer film may not be established for a long time. In other words, the rotor surface would have to be constantly regenerating a film that is not quite stable for a long time. This effect would reduce the performance and increase the wear.

Bed-In Procedure:

  1. Make a series of five gentle slow-downs from 60 to 45mph. Do it GENTLY to bring the brakes up to operating temperature. This prevents you from thermally shocking the rotors and pads in the next steps.
  2. Make a series of eight near-stops from 60 to about 10 mph. Do it HARD by pressing on the brakes firmly, just shy of locking the wheels or engaging ABS. At the end of each slowdown, immediately accelerate back to 60mph. DO NOT COME TO A COMPLETE STOP!

Note 1: With less aggressive street pads and/or stock brake calipers, you may need to do this fewer times. If your pedal gets soft or you feel the brakes going away, then you've done enough. Proceed to the next step.

Note 2: During this process, you must not come to a complete stop because you will transfer (imprint) pad material onto the hot rotors, which can lead to vibration, uneven braking, and could even ruin the rotors.

Note 3: Depending on the pads you are using, the brakes may begin to fade slightly after the 7th or 8th near-stop. This fade will stabilize, but not completely go away until the brakes have fully cooled. A bad smell from the brakes, and even some smoke, is normal.

  1. After the 8th near-stop, accelerate back up to speed and drive around for as long as possible without using the brakes. The brakes will need at least 10 minutes to cool down. Note: Obviously, it's OK to use the brakes to avoid an accident, but try to minimize their use until they have cooled.
  2. Repeat steps 1-3 for a second break-in cycle. This may not be entirely necessary in all cases, but is good insurance to ensure a good break-in. Additionally, if you've just installed a big brake kit, the pedal travel may not feel as firm as you expected. After the second cycle, the pedal will become noticeably firmer.

After the break-in cycle, there should be a blue tint and a light gray film on the rotor face. The blue tint tells you the rotor has reached break-in temperature and the gray film is pad material starting to transfer onto the rotor face. This is what you are looking for. The best braking occurs when there is an even layer of pad material deposited across the face of the rotors. This minimizes squealing, increases braking torque, and maximizes pad and rotor life.

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