NOTE: This conversion alters one of the safety devices (the brakes) on your vehicle. If you decide to undertake this conversion, it should be performed by personnel who are competent to conduct such alterations to a vehicle. This conversion will result in changes to your vehicle’s handling and braking ability. If in doubt, consult the services of a professional.
The quest for better braking performance in the TJ community is alive and well….in fact, I would go so far as to say it is really alive and going quite strong. It seems that every time I turn around (OK, maybe that is a bit of a stretch but you get the idea), a certain west coast TJ wheeler that goes by the forum name of “mrblaine” and Van from Vanco Power Brake Supply, is bringing a better braking system to market. I use the term braking system because it isn’t just better brake pads that is being offered. A properly sized master cylinder (bore size) and pair of calipers, coupled with the correct high performance brake pads, can make for one heck of a braking experience. The Vanco 16″ Big Brake Kit for 15″ Wheels is one such system and is covered in this install write-up.
Why is it called the Vanco 16″ Big Brake Kit for 15″ Wheels? We have to go back to the last brake project I did on my TJ, which was the Vanco Big Brake Kit. This kit, intended for 15″ wheels, was the first major brake upgrade for a TJ owner. The flex prone 63mm single piston factory calipers with their 19.3″ sq of surface area, were replaced with a new dual piston caliper. The pistons were 46mm in diameter and provided approximately 20.6″ sq of surface area. The dual piston caliper provided a much more uniform pressure over a larger area of the brake pad which greatly improved braking performance. A greater area of the brake pad was in full contact with the swept area of the new high performance rotor. The result was awesome brakes compared to the factory setup. But hold on, we aren’t there yet.
The history story continues….. Next on the scene are the later model TJs with their 16″ wheels. Of course, a larger wheel means more space for a larger caliper/rotor. Blaine and Van responded by working out the details for a larger caliper for the new 16″ kit. But hey….what about us 15″ folks. I have a fair amount of money invested in my 15″ aluminum beadlock wheels so swapping those out isn’t really an option. Not to worry…..next comes the 16″ Big Brake Kit for 15″ Wheels. The caliper for the 16″ kit with 48mm pistons, yielding 22.4″ sq of surface area, will fit in my 15″ wheel. It was a matter of finding a suitably sized caliper for a 12″ rotor that would allow its use in both the 15″ and 16″ wheels. Nicely done!
Next came the 15″ and 16″ kits for the Warn Small Hub conversions. (These two kits require machined center-bores in the rotors, which is what I installed on my TJ several years ago.) A Big Brake Kit for the Warn 5.5″ hub conversion kit was also brought to market. Finally, a 17″ Big Brake Kit with 54mm dual piston calipers, a new master cylinder, and 13″ rotors finished out the upgrade path.
Why the reference to the piston’s surface area? It’s all about the pressure being generated by the master cylinder. The increased piston size means a larger surface area on the piston. The pressure created by the master cylinder has a larger piston surface area upon which to act and so generate more clamping force on the rotor. Increased clamping force means better braking performance as long as the pads can withstand it.
The larger calipers that came with this kit are now standard items on the regular 15″ big brake kit.
The Black Magic brake pads that came with the new brake kit are the latest in high performance brake pads for the TJ. These pads are available for all of the Vanco Big Brake Kits except for the 17″ version. Designed as entry level racing pads, the Black Magic pads will withstand temps of 1400 degrees F. This helps reduce brake fade when descending long steep grades out on the trail. They won’t make your TJ corner like a race car, but they will bring it to a safer/quicker stop <grin> on the street or highway.
When I first installed my Vanco Big Brake Kit, it came with Performance Friction pads, which….at the time, were considered the best you could put on a TJ. I asked Blaine how the Performance Friction pad stacked up against the Black Magic brand. He told me my old PF pads were pretty much at the bottom of the list, having been surpassed by a number of better pads in just the past few years.
OK….enough of the history lesson….let’s take a look at the new hardware.
Since I already had the Vanco Big Brake Kit on my TJ, my upgrade consisted of new calipers (with the 48mm pistons) and a set of Black Magic brake pads. I was already running the premium rotors that should be used with the Black Magic pads.
Here is a close-up shot of the business end of the calipers. The caliper application for these 48mm twin piston beauties are listed for a ’03-’05 Ford Explorer Sport Trac. Before you decide to run off to the local auto parts store and buy a set of these to upgrade your stock TJ, stop right now. They won’t fit. The Vanco Big Brake Kit includes the necessary adapter brackets to attach the caliper saddles to your TJ’s steering knuckles. Without the brackets, the only thing this caliper is good for is an 8 pound paper weight.
My new calipers also came with new copper washers for the included banjo bolt and also brake pad clips (abutment clips).
After supporting the front axle with two jack stands (and the floor jack left under the axle for “just in case”), I removed the tires. Here is the existing caliper which must be removed. First off is the banjo bolt (red arrow). I disconnected it from the caliper, removed the old copper washers, installed new washers, and reconnected it to the new caliper. I barely snugged the banjo bolt just enough to keep it from leaking. Once bolted back onto the saddle, I positioned the brake hose for proper clearance. Did I mention I usually spread some absorbent material (today it was old newspapers) to help soak up the dripping brake fluid?
Next to come off was the two caliper mounting bolts (yellow arrows). Once these two bolts are removed, the caliper is easily detached from the saddle by simply lifting it directly away from the rotor.
Vanco 16″ Big Brake Kit for 15″ Wheels – Upgrade
With the caliper removed, the pads (red arrows) are simply slipped out of the pad clips (yellow arrows) by moving the pad out and away from the rotor.
Note that I did not replace the existing saddles (blue arrow). The existing saddles are a direct fit for the new caliper. Since a small amount of clearance grinding must be done on the saddle when fitting it to the adapter bracket, there was no reason to go this route and make extra work for myself. So, the slightly used saddle was left in place.
Almost done…..the two new pad clips (yellow arrows) are pushed into their position on the saddle. Note that the new pad clips are slightly different in design compared to those previously removed. The Black Magic pads are then slid into position against either side of the rotor.
Don’t forget to orient the new caliper so that the bleed screw (red arrow) is positioned at the top! Yes, there really is a left and right side caliper. Not doing so will cause you much grief when it comes time to bleed your brakes.
All that is left is to replace the two caliper mounting bolts (blue arrows) that were previously removed. The service manual suggests a light coating of silicone grease on the bolt. Torque specs, per the factory manual, is 11 foot pounds.
With the caliper bolted back into position, the brake line is properly positioned and the banjo bolt (yellow arrow) is torqued to 23 foot pounds. Tightening the bolt seals the copper washers and provides a leak proof connection. The tire is remounted with the lug nuts torqued to 100 foot pounds.
This is a good place to mention a situation that occurred to a Jeep buddy while we were working on his front axle swap. We had just finished mounting a junk yard pull axle and were getting down to the final steps. He installed a pair of Autozone re-built calipers since those that came on the pulled axle were in terrible shape. We did a quick bleed on the front calipers (engine NOT running, of course) and he started it up to take it for a short test drive through his subdivision. Two minutes later, he shows back up in the driveway and turns off the engine. I noticed some fluid dripping down onto the driveway. It was brake fluid. What the heck? It turns out that the mounting surface where the inner copper washer mates against the caliper housing had a deep gouge in it. As such, it was impossible for the washer to make a full seal. Once the engine was running and the vacuum booster was increasing brake pedal pressure, the banjo bolt fitting started leaking.
That wrapped up the actual installation of the upgrade kit.
The final task was to properly bed the new Black Magic brake pads. Blaine supplies a well written and easy to follow instruction sheet that is packaged with the brake pads. It takes about 45 minutes (one 30 minute session, and one 15 minute session) to season the pads and get them up to nearly their full stopping potential. As you continue to drive your vehicle, you may notice an improvement in stopping performance but at some point, the pads will have been fully broken in and you will be a max performance.
So….if you are wondering how this latest upgrade works….the answer is absolutely GREAT! There is a noted improvement between my old PF pads and the new Black Magic pads. Blaine wasn’t kidding when he said the PF pads really are down at the bottom of the list compared to what is available today.
If you are still driving around on stock brakes (you know who you are), it’s time to get some brakes that are capable of stopping those oversized tires. Swing by Savvy Offroad and get a Vanco Big Brake Kit that fits your needs. If you already have a Big Brake Kit but don’t have the latest pads, check out Black Magic and get yourself the best pads you can put on your Jeep.