Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Brake Job Cost

How much does a Brake Job Cost

A Consumer’s Guide brake job cost

I’m often asked how much a brake job should cost. The answer depends on where you get it done. If you go to a muffler-type chain repair shop that advertises $99 brake jobs, I guarantee you that the brake job will wind up costing you over $600 per axle. That’s because NOBODY can make money by charging only $99 for a brake job. You simply can’t buy quality brake parts and pay well trained competent technicians and charge only $99. Business that do that would be out of business in a heartbeat.

To make up for what they lost on the fake $99 advertised price, those shops “discover” that every car that comes into their shop also needs rotors and calipers. Practically NOBODY gets out of those shops for $99. Do you need rebuilt calipers? Most often, you don’t.

So how much should you pay? It’s 2017 and the going rate for an average brake job on front wheels is around $275. That price includes a set of quality brake pads, machining the rotors (if needed), a new hardware set and noise reduction shimsand full lubrication of essential brake parts with high temperature brake grease.

True Brake Job Horror Stories

Liane S tells the story of her “brake job from hell”

“I went to a large muffler chain for a brake job. They talked me into rotors, calipers, pads, brake drums, wheel cylinders, hardware, and brake shoes. The entire job cost over $800. Exactly one year later the front brakes were grinding. I took it back to them and they offered to replace the front pads for free (under warranty). But they wanted to replace the rotors, calipers, wheel cylinders, and rear drums again. This time they wanted $700. I asked them why brand new pads would wear out in less than 10,000 miles. They just shrugged their shoulders and told me not to worry since they were covered under warranty. I called Rick and he came over to the shop. He demanded to know why they thought I needed new calipers, rotors, wheel cylinders, and rear drums. He made them measure the rotors and drums–they were fine. So were the calipers. The shop replaced the “lifetime warranty” pads and I left the shop with no charge. If Rick hadn’t been there to help, I would have been screwed again.”

Tom F

“I had a problem with a sticking rear caliper on my Pontiac. I took it to a chain muffler shop that advertises cheap brake jobs. They insisted on replacing both rear calipers, the caliper mounting brackets, rotors, and pads. Their quote was $785. I called Rick and he explained that GM vehicles have a problem with the rear caliper pins. He recommended taking it to the dealer. I did. They removed the frozen caliper pins and installed new ones. They also resurfaced the rotors and installed factory OEM pads. The calipers were just fine. Total cost? $235. Thanks Rick! You saved me a fortune. Who would have thought that the dealer would be cheaper than the $79 brake job special?”

What goes wrong with calipers?

A brake caliper’s job is to squeeze the brake pads against the rotor. When you press on the brake pedal, the master cylinder (like a giant doctor’s syringe) squeezes brake fluid through the brake lines and into the bore of the caliper. The pressure squeezes a piston out and that’s what applies pressure to the pads.

Image of disc brake caliper bracket and brake caliper mounted on steering knuckle

Disc brake caliper and caliper bracket setup

How disc brakes work diagram

When you release the brakes, the brake fluid pressure releases and the square cut O-ring rolls back into place, forcing the piston (#7) back into the bore slightly. The brake pads move away from the rotor slightly

When you release the brake pedal, a square cut O-ring rolls the piston back into the bore of the caliper. To compensate for brake pad wear, the caliper slides on heavy metal “pins.” The car makers take precautions to prevent these pins from rusting by installing rubber sealing boots.

However, as the rubber ages, it can tear and allow water and road debris into the caliper pin area. When that happens, the pins and bores corrode,

brake job cost should include new caliper slide pin boots

Caliper pin protective rubber boots

preventing the caliper from moving. Seized calipers make a screeching and grinding noise and cause rapid and uneven brake pad wear.

caliper slide pins

Replace corroded caliper guide/slide pins with new parts. Lubricate with high temp synthetic brake grease

If the shop tells you that you have that kind of uneven wear and they want to replace the caliper, ask them if the pins are binding. If they stare at you, you know they haven’t even checked the pins. Binding or seized caliper pins are NOT a reason to replace the calipers. A set of brand new caliper pins costs only $10 per side. But a rebuilt caliper costs almost $100.

brake caliper bracket showing internal bores for caliper slide pins

Rebuilt brake caliper bracket with internal bores for caliper slide pins

If the brake setup includes a caliper bracket and the bores in the bracket are corroded, the shop can buy a rebuilt bracket for a fraction of the price of a caliper.

Reasons to replace brake calipers

LEAKING – If a brake caliper is leaking, you MUST replace it.

CALIPER PISTON DOESN’T RETRACT – If the brake caliper piston doesn’t retract slightly after you release the brake pedal, you should replace the brake caliper. That situation is easy to diagnose because you would notice some brake drag as you take off from a dead stop. Plus, you would experience a decrease in gas mileage. The best way to avoid replacing a caliper due to piston retraction failure is to replace the brake fluid every few years. Fresh fluid contains anti-corrosive additives. That keeps the seals in good condition and prevents corrosion inside the caliper bore.

TORN CALIPER PISTON DUST BOOTS – In the old days, shops would install a new dust boot. these days it’s simply not cost competitive to pay shop rates to install a new dust seal. Replace the caliper with a rebuilt unit.

A good brake job requires quality parts

The biggest con job going today is when a shop charges premium prices for economy parts. Shops can buy economy brake pads in quantity for as little as $10 per set. But a factory equivalent name brand set costs around $50. If I’m a chain shop, I can install the cheap

Brake pads come in all price ranges

Brake pads come in all price ranges

pads and give you a lifetime warranty. The pads won’t last long, so I know you’ll be back for a “warranty” claim. But when you do come back, I’ll install another set of cheap pads for free, but I’ll hit you up for the labor and I’ll also nail you for a new set of rotors, and, of course, new calipers. This scam will go on and on until you get wise.

The same con applies to rotors. If you watch the slide show on my home page, you’ll see the difference between an economy rotor and a premium rotor. Or click on this link. Trust me, installing cheap rotors is a really bad idea. It’s NOT a place to save money. An economy rotor will cost you far more in the long run. They don’t dissipate heat as well because they made will less metal and low quality metal.

Plus, they actually ADD to your stopping distance. That’s not opinion, it’s a FACT. So always ask the shop to

Economy pads are naked. You have to pay extra for shims

Economy pads are naked. You have to pay extra for shims

install name brand brake parts. Raybestos, Bendix, Wagner, NAPA/United, Carquest are all good brands. Even then, you should know that each company makes an economy, OEM (what the car makers put in), and a premium grade product. In the repair business, economy parts are called “service grade,” and the best parts are called “premium.”

Which type of brake pads should you choose?

Brake pads stop your car by converting rolling energy into heat. But too much heat can destroy the pads and rotors. During the 80’s brake pad manufacturers started adding metal fibers to the pad material to help pull the heat away from the rotor. Those pads are called semi-metallic or simply “semi-mets.” They perform their job exceptionally well. But they do have some major drawbacks. The metallic fibers grind against the rotors and wear them out faster. And, the metal fibers often cause annoying brake “squeal.” The fibers also rust and deposit ugly brown brake dust on your fancy aluminum wheels.

To combat those problems, pad manufacturers began adding ceramics to the brake pads. These pads are called “ceramic.” They are much quieter and don’t wear the rotors out as fast as semi-mets. Most brake shops tout these as “premium pads.” But ceramic pads don’t stop the car as well as semi-metallic and that’s why you’ll find semi-metallic pads in most large SUVs and trucks. If you replace factory semi-metallics with ceramics, they won’t last as long and may increase stopping distances. The other issue is that there is no single industry standard for what formulas qualify as “ceramic.” There are plenty of cheap ceramic pads out there that aren’t worth the price. So once again, you should rely on a name brand to guide your purchase. As a rule, always replace brake pads with the same style that was installed at the factory.

Do you need new hardware?

The short answer is YES, always replace the brake hardware. brake hardware, brake job, brake springs, brake adjuster, how much is brake jobIt’s cheap and the new slides and springs will make your brake job last longer.

For more information on brake hardware, read this post.


© 2012 Rick Muscoplat



Posted on by Rick Muscoplat


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