Where’s the best place for a brake job?
I believe the best place for a brake job or brake inspection is at an independently owned repair shop or a new car dealer. Independently owned repair shops depend on repeat business from loyal neighborhood customers so they have a strong incentive to be fair and avoid the most common brake job scams. They want you to come back for all your maintenance and repairs, not just a brake job every three or four years. New car dealers also depend on repeat repair and maintenance business, so they too avoid the common bait-and-switch techniques used by many chain operated repair shops. More on finding the best shop for your brake job in just a second. First, it’s important to understand how the brake job scams work and why the scams are used so often by chain operated shops.
Three most common brake job rip offs
1) Low quality brake parts
The auto repair industry is battling a huge problem with a flood of low quality parts from China and other countries. Independently owned repair shops don’t have the financial resources to import these cheap parts in the large quantities required and new car dealers can’t buy these low quality parts due to restrictions in their dealership contracts. But large chain operated repair shops can (and often do) buy these parts in bulk to supply to their company owned and franchised stores. In addition, large consumer oriented auto parts stores also buy from these offshore suppliers.
Since independently owned repair shops can’t buy in bulk, they buy name brand parts as they need them from local professional auto parts sellers like NAPA, CarQuest or Mighty Auto Parts. Or they buy brake parts directly from the new car dealer. New car dealers must buy their parts from the new car manufacturer.
In addition to lower labor costs, offshore manufacturers often use outdated friction material formulas and inexpensive raw materials. Specifically, many of the cheap brake pads are made with public domain formulas from the 40’s and 50’s—formulas and materials that are so outdated, they have no business being used on a modern car. The most up-to-date brake pad formulations are trade secrets and viciously protected by the name brand brake parts manufacturers. Plus, modern brake pads require costlier raw materials to reduce noise and vibration and are manufactured using sophisticated processes and strict quality control measures.
Once you see the huge difference in costs in the examples below, you’ll understand why chain operated repair shops buy their brake parts from offshore suppliers. Don’t let the chains’ lifetime warranties fool you. They can offer a lifetime warranty on cheap low quality parts because their cost is so low, even though the parts themselves are nowhere near the quality of name brand parts. If the cheap brake parts fail or wear out too soon, the chains simply replace the failed parts with another set of low quality parts and still come out ahead cost-wise. That’s because, even though the parts are free under warranty, many chains charge for the labor. The parts can fail multiple times and the consumer pays for labor each time, so replacing parts under warranty is actually a money maker for the chain. The chains depend on the fact that you’ll feel satisfied that the store replaced the parts for free under warranty, even if you have to pay for labor. But if the shop had installed high quality parts in the first place, you wouldn’t have had to make a warranty claim or pay for labor.
Here are some examples of the cost differences between brake parts from a local professional auto parts store versus bulk brake parts from an offshore supplier.
The going rate for a brake job from an independent repair shop or new car dealer usually runs $200 to $275. But chain operated repair shops sometimes run brake job sales for $79, $99 and $149. High quality brake pads typically retail for around $50 to $80 per set and a typical brake job takes about an hour to perform. With shop labor rates averaging around $100/hr nationwide, there’s simply no way (in my opinion) any shop can make money selling a brake job for anything less than $149 (1 hour labor and $50 pad cost).
If you look at the fine print on those brake job “specials,” you’ll see that the price doesn’t include ceramic pads (ceramic pads are required on over 60% of all late model cars), hardware, caliper pins, rotors, or calipers. So the minute you walk in the door expecting a $79 brake job for your late model car, you’ll be hit with an up-charge for ceramic brake pads. In reality, no one gets out of the shop by paying just the sale price.
The bait and switch scam is so prevalent that many State Attorney Generals have pursued legal action against these chains for advertising a price that consumers never actually pay. Not all chain shops are crooked, but they do tend to generate more complaints–read the online reviews for chain shops before you consider get your brakes serviced at a chain store. I mention this lawsuit only because it’s an example of how the scam works.
3) Unnecessary brake parts replacement
If you take your car to chain operated repair shop you’ll find they recommend a brake caliper replacement on almost every brake job. But independent shops and new car dealers rarely replace brake calipers. So what’s going on here?
It’s simple: Many chain operated shops unnecessarily recommend brake caliper replacement on every brake job because it increases their profit. Despite the fact that most brake calipers often work just fine to well past 150,000 miles, many chain shops recommend replacement at every brake job (often every 40,000 miles). In those shops, technicians are often paid a low hourly salary plus commission on the parts they sell. So it’s easy to see why a technician would have the incentive to recommend a caliper replacement with every brake job. .
Don’t get me wrong, brake calipers do fail. You should authorize the replacement of a brake caliper if it’s leaking, if the dust boot is torn, or if the caliper pin bores are so corroded that the technician can’t restore the caliper to operating condition by installing new caliper slide pins. But uneven pad wear can usually be corrected by installing new caliper pins, pad slides, or a new caliper bracket, all without replacing the caliper.
My advice: Avoid chain operated repair shops
Based on all the above information, it’s my personal opinion that chain operated repair shops are far more likely to rip you off.
Find a reputable independent repair shop or go to the dealer
To find the best place for a brake job, search for a reputable independent repair shop at iatn.net. Click the Repair Shops tab and enter your zip code. The International Automotive Technicians Network is a group of technicians and independent shop owners that are committed to the local neighborhoods they serve. The technicians routinely share technical information with one another and offer to help each other out when they run into a difficult problem. My experience is that these are top notch repair shops that charge a fair price and treat their customers with respect.
The only downside to getting your car repaired at an independent shop is that their facilities aren’t as fancy as a dealer shop. They’re often smaller, with fewer waiting room amenities. They often don’t provide loaner vehicles, and they can’t perform warranty repairs. If your vehicle is under warranty and needs a warranty related repair, you’ll have to go to a dealer.
Dealerships, on the other hand, have nicer waiting rooms, loaner vehicles, and free food. Well, it’s not really free—you’ll pay a higher hourly labor rate at a dealer and you’ll also pay more for dealer parts.
©, 2016 Rick Muscoplat
Posted on by Rick Muscoplat