Change The Front Brake Rotor on a Chevrolet HHR
The HHR shares the same brake setup as the Cobalt. My 2011 Chevy HHR LT had slowly started to develop a vibration issue in the driver front wheel. After some quick research I came to realize that this seems to be a common issue across many year models of the HHR. It seems the Cobalt based brake system is underrated for the heavier HHR platform, thus warping the rotors and destroying pads. Changing the rotors on the HHR is very simple and will save you literally hundreds of dollars by not taking it to a dealer or automotive service center for the repair.
If you are planning to change the rotors on your HHR due to the vibration issue, do yourself a favor and go ahead and change the brake pads too since they have to come off during the rotor swap. Read my article on how to change the front brake pads here!
During braking, you feel and hear a vibration in the front suspension and through the steering wheel. Vibration will be more apparent when rotors/pads are hot. Uneven brake pad wear.
Removing the Wheel
With your HHR set in park and the parking brake applied, take your 3/4" socket and socket wrench and loosen the hubcap lugnut caps to remove the hubcap from the wheel. It should pull straight off once the lugnut caps are loose enough (they do not fully come off the hubcap).
With the hubcap removed, the actual lugnuts that hold on the wheel should now be exposed. The car should still be on the ground. Again using your 3/4" socket, use the breaker bar to loosen each lug nut 1-2 turns. DO NOT FULLY REMOVE THE LUGNUT! The goal here is just to break loose the lugnut.
At this point, position your jack at the correct jacking point (the HHR has an indicator arrow imprinted into the lower rocker to signify the jacking point) and begin to life your vehicle until the tire is lifted off the ground.
With the tire off the ground, continue to loosen and remove each lugnut from the wheel. Once all lugnuts have been removed, the wheel can be pulled off and set aside.
Removing the Rotor
In order to remove the rotor, you must remove the brake caliper. Using a 9/16" socket, remove the 2 caliper bolt pins on either side of the caliper. Once both bolts are out, you can slide the caliper up and out. DO NOT let it hang by the brake hose (you can cause the hose to break), rather you can let it sit on the lower control arm.
With the caliper out of the way, you can now slide the brake pads out of the carrier. Just grab each pad and pull them out.
Using a 15mm socket (or open end wrench) remove the 2 bolts that hold on the brake pad carrier. Once removed you can now slide out the carrier.
At this point, the rotor should now just slide right off the lugnut studs.
Option of Performance Rotors & Pads
Many HHR owners have claimed that they have dealt with the vibration issue numerous times. A modification that some have taken is to replace their rotors with performance slotted or cross drilled rotors and ceramic brake pads. Owners have claimed this modification had completely solved the vibration issue without it repeating itself on normal pads/rotors. This article has covered how to swap your pads/rotors with stock replacements, therefore I cannot give feedback on the performance rotor and pad swap. If this sounds like the route you would like to take, the steps to remove and install should be the same. Please ensure you use the proper part numbers as they may differ.
Reinstall the New Rotor
If you are installing a brand new rotor, be sure to use some brake cleaner and give the new rotor a good spray down to remove the packaging oil that it comes in. This oil prevents corrosion from happening while it sits on the parts shelf. After cleaning, do not handle any part of the rotor that comes into contact with the brake pad in order to keep clean.
Slide the new rotor onto the lugnut studs. To help with the install of the brake parts, take 1 single lugnut and thread it onto one of the studs all the way so the rotor sits straight and snug against the hub assembly. You dont need to torque it down, finger tight will do.
Slide the brake pad carrier back into place and retighten the 15mm bolts.
Slide your brake pads back into the carrier. NOTE - This would be a good time to install brand new pads. If doing so, be sure to read my article on Changing Brake Pads on a Chevy HHR.
With the brake pads back in the carrier, now take the caliper and slide it into place. Evenly tighten the caliper bolt pins back into place. DO NOT tighten only one side at a time, else the caliper will sit uneven and the other caliper bolt pin will not go into place.
With the brake assembly tightened back down, remove the 1 lugnut holding the caliper snug. You can now put the wheel back on.
When retightening the lugnuts, finger tighten each lugnut until the tire is fully seated onto the rotor/hub assembly. Once finger tight, you can now take your torque wrench and apply some torque to the lugnuts. Be sure to follow the chart below on the correct method on tightening down lugnuts on a 5 lug pattern! At this point, you are not going to be applying full torque to the lugs, rather getting them semi-tight.
With all 5 lugnuts snug, you can now lower the vehicle off the jack. Once the vehicle is back on the ground, you can now go back and apply the correct amount of torque to each lugnut again using the same tightening pattern as the previous step. According to the HHR manual, 100 ft.lbs. is the correct torque setting.
Reinstall your hubcap by placing it back on the wheel (make sure to align it with the air valve hole) and retighten the lug nut caps. You dont need to overtighten!
Sit in the vehicle and apply a few pumps of the brake pedal to ensure that your pads are seating correct onto the rotor. You can now take a slow drive and apply your brakes a few times to make sure everything is working correctly.
Congratulations, you just saved yourself probably $300.00 or more!
Compared to other vehicles, swapping brake rotors on the HHR is an easy job that most any novice wrenchhead could perform. If you plan to swap your rotors, go ahead and swap your brake pads too. Read on how to change your brake pads on your HHR!