One type of phone call we receive frequently is from someone concerned about their brakes and asking how much it will cost for “a brake job”. In most cases, they’re confused because they have already called a few other shops and everywhere they call they hear a different price. This is one example of what can be frustrating about the auto repair industry. Unfortunately, there is no official definition for a “brake job”. This means that every place you call will be giving you a price estimate on a different repair procedure, based on their own definition, performed by different levels of qualified employees, and using different levels of quality parts. Also, keep in mind that without inspecting the brake system of your vehicle first, repair shops have no true way of knowing what will be needed to accomplish the repairs. It would only be a guess, and potentially an incorrect one at that. Here is what you should know:
A brake inspection should consist of:
1. A road test to check brake operation
2. A wheels-off inspection to measure brake rotor thickness. Every brake rotor has a spec for thickness to ensure safe operation. When they are outside this measurement, they cannot be used.
3. Measuring the thickness of the brake material to determine if it is above a minimum thickness. The brake pads not only provide the necessary friction, but also help dissipate heat. If pads are too thin, they cannot perform these two important functions.
4. Inspecting the brake calipers for damage such as torn dust boots, sticking pistons, etc. If the brake calipers are not performing as designed, they will not allow enough force to be applied to the brake pads to stop the vehicle.
At a minimum, a brake repair should consist of cleaning, inspecting and lubricating the brake hardware and components. In most cases, this would also include machining brake drums and rotors. It’s important to understand that these procedures are not performed with most “cheap” brake services, and are probably the most critical to be done. Lastly, the brake repair should include installation of new brake materials that meet or exceed the original design specifications.
Important Tip: Do you know that many newer vehicles, including BMWs, Volvos and some Fords, are now manufactured with brake rotors and pads designed to wear out together? This means that they need to be replaced at the same time. If the brake rotor is not replaced with the pads, it can result in brakes that are not going to function as intended. Be sure that whoever is working on your brake system is aware of this new trend.
The quality of parts used is another important aspect of the brake repair to be considered. There are lower-cost brake rotors and drums out there that are made of low-quality metal and improperly heat treated. If inferior quality components are used, they will not allow the vehicle’s brakes to operate within the design criteria. Stopping distance increases. For example, if a vehicle is designed to go from 60 mph to 0 mph in 230 feet, when low quality parts are installed that distance can increase to 280 feet or more. This could mean the difference between no accident and a serious injury accident.
A correctly performed brake repair should do what is needed to allow the brakes to perform as they were designed. A “cheap” brake repair (one not done correctly or done with low-quality parts — or both) may result in your vehicle not being able to stop in time to avoid an accident.
In short, deciding where to get your brakes repaired should not be based solely on the cost. Remember, it is important to have a brake inspection performed first, in order to receive a realistic estimate for the correct repair. For such an important and potentially life-saving procedure, it is best to stick with a shop you know and trust.