What makes a good brake job?

[This post is the introduction to my series on getting a great brake job. Over the next few parts, I'll give you details, what to look for, what to expect, and when to run away.]

There are so many places these days that you can get a brake job. Like oil changes, brake services are a commodity. They are very competitively priced and can even be done by your next door neighbor for a 6-pack of his favorite brew.

However, your safety rides on your brakes. If done improperly you could end up with irritating brake noise at the very least. In addition, poor quality parts may not last as long, leaving you to foot the bill on another brake job in as little as six months. On the other end of the spectrum, however, you could actually get in an accident. The problem for most people, however, is how do you know when you are getting a good brake job? How do the common folk (like me) know what really needs to be replaced and how much it should cost? Much less, how am I supposed to know anything about product brands? How do I know if a bad job has been done?

As a commodity, most people shop for brakes based solely on price. People have no commitment to any particular shop, as long as they can get the cheapest price. Right?

What ends up happening, however, are that shops resort to the old ‘bait and switch‘ to lure you in and charge you more than advertised, or simply use scare tactics to make you think you are unsafe if you continue driving the vehicle. They just want to make a buck (I mean, you’re not their regular customer anyway, so what do they care?). In addition, these shops prey on our ignorance. Similar to the medical industry, it is rare that we question our doctor’s diagnosis. We trust that with his training and experience, our ailments will be cured. How are we to know when they are guessing, or misdiagnosing? A mechanic can tell you that you need new pads, rotors, and calipers, but how can you question something you know nothing about?

In addition, brakes are complicated. There is far more to a brake system than what most people think. There are pads, shoes, rotors, drums, hardware, calipers, wheel cylinder, bearings, hubs, seals, hoses, and pistons, just to name a few parts. Then there is the terminology: friction material, floating rotor, trapped rotor, runout, micrometer, brake bleeding, quick take up valves, etc.

So, how do you sort through all of this and make wise and informed decisions? I am hoping that the next few Brake posts will help you understand this part of your vehicle better and prevent you from being ripped off. Although there are some technical sections, I tried to write things in a manner anyone can understand. Enjoy!

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One response to “What makes a good brake job?

  1. A good brake job starts with a good assessment, including road test, visual inspection of all brakes, measuring rotor/drum diameter with a micrometer and comparing to specs, testing calipers and wheel cylinders for smooth operation, and determining condition of hardware/pads/shoes. As several different qualities of replacement parts are available, determination of what quality and cost options the customer would perfer must be correctly determined . Then an estimate can be made and it should be adhered to. Other mechanical problems affecting driving and braking should also be brought to the customers attention. After the repairs are done in a careful, timely manner, a road test to verify the repairs must be performed.

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