Q: I think I need new brakes. I’ve called a few repair shops and received a wide range of prices. Should I go with the lowest price? Why is there such a difference in price quotes?
A: It is important to understand that the braking system is the most important system in your vehicle. If your vehicle won’t start, it probably won’t affect your safety, but if you are unable to stop, there could be serious consequences. Do you really want to go with the lowest-priced repairs for something so critical? Especially now, in the winter, when you may be driving in rain or snow, nothing is more critical than having a correctly repaired brake system.
Unfortunately, there is no official definition for “brake job.” This means that every repair shop 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.
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.
A proper examination of the brakes should include:
• A road test to check brake operation.
• A wheels-off inspection to measure brake-rotor thickness. Each brake rotor has a specification for thickness to ensure safe operation. If they are outside this measurement, they can’t be used.
• 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.
• Inspecting the brake calipers for damage like torn dust boots and sticking pistons. If the brake calipers are not performing as designed, they won’t 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 is important to understand that the foregoing procedures are not performed with most “cheap” brake services but are probably the most critical to be done. Finally, the brake repair should include installation of new brake materials that meet or exceed the design specifications.
Here’s an important tip: Be aware that many newer vehicles, most European vehicles and some American-made vehicles are now manufactured with brake rotors and pads designed to wear out together. This means they need to be replaced at the same time. If the brake rotor is not replaced with the pads, the brakes may not 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 brake repair. There are lower-cost brake rotors and drums 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, then 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 designed. A “cheap” brake repair (one done incorrectly and/or with low-quality parts) may prevent the vehicle from stopping in time to avoid an accident.
So deciding where to get your brakes repaired should not be based solely on cost. And to receive a realistic estimate for the correct repair, it is important to have a brake inspection performed first. For such an important and potentially life-saving procedure, it is best to stick with a shop you know and trust.