Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Brake cleaning service

What is brake cleaning service and should you have it done?

Brake cleaning service — what is it?

Most people have never heard of brake cleaning service because it’s a fairly new service recommended by shops to increase their bottom line profit at your expense. I’ll explain what the service does and why, in very rare cases it may be necessary.

Do brakes get dirty?

Well, yeah. The brake pads, shoes, rotors and drums do wear and fling off dust. However, on disc brakes that are open to surrounding air, that dust blows off the brake components. On drum brakes, the brake dust can accumulate inside the drum and deposit on all the internal moving parts. In extremely rare cases, the dirt accumulation can be so bad that it causes the brakes to make noise. In those cases, a brake cleaning service may eliminate the noise.

But there are other reasons to consider a brake cleaning service IF the shop includes the steps below AND you have the symptoms listed below.

What SHOULD be included in a brake cleaning service?

What cleaning should be done on disc brakes

• The #1 problem with disc brakes is corrosion

Corroded brake caliper slide pin

Corroded caliper slide pin

on the caliper slide pins that prevents the caliper from releasing, causing uneven brake pad wear. Caliper pins corrode because the protective rubber boots deteriorate and allow water and road grit to enter the bore. Caliper pins and boots are cheap, running about $15/set (two wheels). If the bore itself is clean (no corrosion), cleaning out the old grease and regressing with high temperature synthetic brake grease, along with new caliper slide pins and boots can restore your brakes to like new condition.

caliper slide pins

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

• Anti-rattle clips: See this post for more information on anti-rattle clips. Dirt accumulation or corrosion on anti-rattle

anti rattle clips

High heat degrades the spring tension of the anti-rattle clips and rust can cause the brake pad “ears” to bind

clips can prevent the brake pads from properly releasing, causing uneven pad wear. To correct the situation, the brake pads and clips should be removed and the abutment areas cleaned of all rust. Then the abutment should be treated with a light film of synthetic high temperature brake grease before installing new anti-rattle clips (about $15/set).

image showing brake caliper braket, brake pad clips and new boots

Apply brake grease to cleaned pad clip areas to reduce rust jacking. Then install brake pad clips and new boots

• Rotors: Severe

brake cleaning service

Rusted rotor cooling vanes

rust inside the cooling vanes can reduce rotor cooling. The shop can run a small circular wire brush into each cooling vane to remove the surface rust.

There are no other moving parts that can be cleaned during this service.

What cleaning should be done on drum brakes?

• The #1 problem with drum brakes is dirt buildup on the self-adjusting mechanism that prevents the brake shoes from moving out as they wear. When the self-adjuster mechanism accumulates too much brake dust, the ratcheting pawl can no longer rotate the toothed wheel. That wears out the pawl. At that point, the entire self-adjusting mechanism should be replaced (about $15 per wheel), not just cleaned. That’s the only way to fully restore proper operation. Other than cleaning or replacing the self-adjusting mechanism, drum brakes really don’t need cleaning.

What symptoms justify purchasing a brake cleaning service?

Brake squeal, pulling to one side during braking, brake pedal pulsation while braking, shudder, grinding and poor braking performance are all indications you should have your brakes checked.

If the shop determines that corrosion on the caliper slide pins, anti-rattle clips and abutment areas are the cause of the noise and braking issues, but the brake pads and rotors are still in good condition, THEN a brake cleaning service, if done according to the steps listed above, is a wise investment. The brake cleaning service will extend the life of your brakes and costs far less than a brake job.

Is brake cleaning service a rip off?

Kinda. Shops are “recommending” these services more to increase profit than because of actual need. You won’t find brake cleaning listed anywhere in your owner’s maintenance guide. So the question is: If the car maker doesn’t recommend it, who is coming up with the recommendation?

How to deal with a shop that recommends a brake cleaning service?

When the shop recommends a cleaning service, simply ask; “Why?” “Your brakes are dirty,” is NOT a justifiable reason to get this service performed. If the shop instead shows you corrosion on the caliper pins or anti-rattle clips or uneven brake pad wear or binding self-adjuster mechanisms, then you’ve got a shop that’s looking your for your welfare.

Brake cleaning cost?

As I mentioned above, new caliper pins and boots and anti-rattle clips cost about $30 for two wheels. Disassembling the disc brakes on two wheels, removing the rust and replacing those parts takes slightly less than one hour. So the going price is around $130 including parts. Add another half hour to clean and replace the self-adjusters on drum brakes if done at the same time.

©, 2018 Rick Muscoplat


Posted on by Rick Muscoplat

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