Everyone likes a bargain. From the Blue Light Specials of old to the Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays of today that seem to stretch from October until sometime mid-January, we certainly delight in a deal. If you happen to land a monstrosity of a flat-screen HDTV at a big box store, maybe that is not such a bad thing. But if you find a brake service to be a steal, well the only thing being stolen is your money.
That is not entirely true. It is worth stating as often as possible: your brakes are the most important safety feature on your car, truck, or SUV. It really does not matter how fast your ride might move, how heavy a payload it can carry, how many passengers it can seat, or how stylish it looks if you cannot stop on time, every time. You could lose far more than money.
So a bargain on brakes? Not such a deal.
The Cheap Brake Job
Chances are, if you take your car to the dealership to have your brakes serviced, a technician will install factory parts. Of course, it is widely understood that dealership service departments bring with them a hefty price tag for those parts and for labor. So, some auto owners prefer to visit an independent shop instead.
But how do you know if a repair shop is giving you a quality brake job?
Well, unless you ask questions and do your homework, you probably don’t. Too many repair shops extend a discounted brake service using cheap (inferior) parts from overseas as a way to keep costs down. That way, they can bring you in with the promise of a low price. But cheap parts do not perform the same way quality parts do.
Some inexpensive aftermarket brake pads, for instance, do not receive the same corrosion-resistant finish that OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) pads do. Some do not even fit properly in the brake caliper and need to be filed down before they can be installed. That causes even more corrosion problems. And those can lead to seized-up brakes and damage to your brake rotors.
When you take your vehicle in for a cheap brake job, is the technician going to simply slap new brake pads on your car? Will the rotors be replaced or resurfaced as well? Or at least measured for thickness and runout (how true the rotor spins)? Some vehicle manufacturers recommend that only the pads be replaced for the first brake service, as long as the rotors are in good shape. But most brake jobs are not the first brake job. And even then, resurfacing can eliminate any brake pad material that is embedded in the rotors. At the very least, a thorough brake inspection should take place.
But rotor measurement, replacement, or resurfacing all take time – and cost money. So does ensuring that the brake calipers (the clamping mechanisms that squeeze the brake pads against the rotors to stop your car when you mash on the brakes) are in working order. That means inspecting and cleaning the caliper pistons and lubricating the caliper slides. Any clips or hardware should also be replaced. These “additional” items should be included in a quality brake service. Unfortunately, they are too often overlooked during a cheap repair. Or they constitute an additional cost once you have turned your car over to the repair facility.
OEM or Aftermarket?
OEM parts are usually a safe bet. But they are not your only option. Some aftermarket parts are junk. They fail to meet OEM quality standards. But other aftermarket offerings are of the same caliber – sometimes even higher – than OEM. And some types of pads and rotors are only available as aftermarket purchases.
Say you prefer the smooth and quiet feel of ceramic brake pads versus the softer organic pads that come installed on your car from the factory. Then you will need to look toward the automotive aftermarket. Ceramics last longer than other types of pads, but they will also cost you quite a bit more money. Semi-metallic brake pads provide the best performance when you are pulling a trailer, hauling a heavy load, or generally hard on your brakes. But if your car did not come stock with them, again, you will have to buy aftermarket pads.
Same goes for your brake rotors. Custom rotors with advanced cooling capabilities are only available aftermarket. And they are not your cheapest option. Cheap rotors from China are often comprised of inferior materials. Not only do they fail to keep your brakes sufficiently cool, but they deteriorate faster and are prone to hot spots and inconsistencies They are also known to fail at a much higher rate.
Consider some of the pros and cons of aftermarket brake parts:
- They can very often be found for less money than OEM parts. But that can translate as “cheap” and inferior.
- Quality aftermarket parts have costs associated with research and development and quality materials built in to the price. Therefore they can cost more.
- There is certainly a wider variety of aftermarket parts available, but that can make your choice more difficult since you need to do your homework.
- Aftermarket parts can also be of better quality than OEM, but there is an enormous range in quality since there is no true standard for brake system components.
So, what about foregoing the cost of a repair shop altogether? Unless you are a trained and certified or licensed professional, why would you attempt a repair to the most important safety feature on your car? The system was created to make sure you and your loved ones do not slam into other vehicles.
Even a “pad slap”, where only the brake pads are changed, at the very least consists of safely lifting and supporting your three- to four-thousand-pound bohemouth off the ground without dropping it on yourself. And when you take off the wheels and tires and remove the pads, what do you do when the repair goes beyond your ability level? Or, how do you even diagnose whether additional operations need to be done?
Given that (more and more) often specialty tools and procedures are needed for specific vehicles – some even require that a technician disarm the traction control system to avoid an accidental and dangerous closing of the brake calipers during repairs – brake service is best left to a qualified technician at a trusted repair shop. Not to yourself or the guy down the street.
Quality: Your Main Concern
Some shops seem to make an assumption – and a dangerous one at that – that customers are more concerned with low cost than quality. A cheap television might cost you a fuzzy picture; a cheap brake repair could cost a whole lot more. Uneven wear, shorter component life, reduced stopping power, and brake system failure are all risks associated with inferior parts and improper installation.
So, how do you decide between OEM and aftermarket parts? And how do you know you are getting the best value for your money in a repair? Have a conversation with the repair shop. Ask questions. Inquire about repair procedures, materials, and parts. Any serious shop would prefer an educated customer and will be glad to give you details about the repair. Insist on superior service with quality materials. And do not be afraid to pay a bit more for them. After all, there is an awful lot riding on your brakes.
Columbia Auto Care & Car Wash | Author: Mike Ales | Copyright January 2020
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