Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Brake Job Ripoffs

How to avoid brake job ripoffs

Large chain auto repair shops often advertise brake job coupon specials for brake jobs. Consumers think they’ll save money by taking advantage of those “sale” or “special” prices. Unfortunately, most consumers get ripped off. Here’s how to avoid brake job ripoffs.

How much does a brake job cost—really

In 2019, the average cost for a brake job is between $300 and $450, depending on the labor rates in your area and the vehicle you own. Here’s how that breaks down for a 2015 Chevrolet Equinox

• Labor to remove and replace brake pads (front or rear) 1.0-hr. This includes cleaning and lube/replace brake hardware and adjusting brake where necessary.

• Labor to refinish rotor surface OR labor to replace rotor with new 0.75-hr.

• New OE quality brake pads $100

• 2 new brake rotors  @ $69 ea ($138)

Total cost @ $100/hr shop labor $413

How much do rip-off shops charge for a brake job?

What they advertise and what they actually charge are two different things. Let’s take a look at how the rip-off happens.

Some shops advertise a $99 or $149 brake job “special.” For that money, you supposedly get “premium” brake pads with a “lifetime guarantee.” As you can see above, real high quality OE brake pads retail for around $100. So a shop that’s advertising a $99 brake job and actually installing high quality OE pads would be losing money because the profit on the brake pads wouldn’t be enough to cover the shop’s cost of labor.

What’s the difference between an economy brake pad, OE pad and a premium brake pad? Don’t get screwed by this brake job ripoff. Read this post.

Shops that advertise a $149 brake job would make the profit from the brake pads plus $49 labor, which still isn’t enough to cover the cost of labor.

So how can they sell a brake job for $149? They can’t. It’s just that simple. If you think you’re going to get out of the shop for $149, you’re fooling yourself. They will ALWAYS find parts that “must be replaced.” By the time they’re done, your bill will be closer to $900.

The brake pad backing plate is just as important as the friction material. Read this post to learn about early brake failure caused by cheap backing plates.

Here’s how the brake job ripoff works

Let’s say you stick to your guns and force them to perform a $149 brake job. After all, the brake pads have a lifetime warranty, right? Unfortunately, those “premium” brake pads they installed are anything but premium. They’re often economy pads that the chain buys in bulk from an off-brand domestic or offshore supplier. Their cost? Usually no more than $10-$15 per set. They install them. You pay the $149 and you’re on your way.

In less than a year—two max, you’ll be back to get them replaced under warranty. No problem, they’ll replace the pads for free. But the warranty doesn’t include labor. So you’ll pay the labor charge to replace the pads and they’ll pressure you into replacing the rotors and calipers. Assume you stick to your guns again and refuse the extras. You’ll pay for 1-hr shop labor to replace the pads, around $100. Now you’re at $250 for your $149 brake job. Guess where you’ll be a year from now? Yep, back in the same place getting another replacement set of pads and another labor charge. See where this is going?

Or, you get $900 brake job ripoff instead of $149

Most customers don’t know enough about brakes or have enough willpower to resist the shop’s high pressure sales tactics. Here’s the bottom line, generally speaking, nobody walks away from a $149 brake job coupon special without being hit up for new rotors, shims, a hardware kit and new brake calipers.

• Calipers— the shop will tell you your calipers are seized and the pads are wearing unevenly. Possible? Yes. Does that mean you need new calipers? Usually not. New caliper slide pins and boots and a dab of high temperature brake grease can return calipers to full operating condition.

• Hardware kit—these are the anti-rattle clips that keep brake noise down.

brake hardware showing Anti-rattle clips

Anti-rattle clips

But “premium” brake pads come with new clips. If they’re charging you for clips, you’re not getting premium pads

• Shims— these are thin metal/rubber plates that insulate the brake pad backing plate from the caliper to reduce noise. All premium brake pads come with new noise reduction shims. Again, if the shop is selling you premium pads but charging you extra for shims, well, they’re not really providing premium pads.

What are shims? What do they do, and are there different quality shim? Read this post

new brake pad shims

• Rotors— If your old brake rotors are worn down past their “discard thickness” they must be replaced. There’s no way around that. Also, if they have deep grooves, they should also be replaced. Finally, it’s always best practice to install new rotors with new pads or at least refinish the old rotors. That’s the best way to reduce brake noise.

Brake rotors come in economy and premium versions. What’s the difference? Read this post

The next part of the brake job ripoff, junk parts

I already discussed how chain shops often sell economy brake pads but represent them as premium pads. They don’t last as long. They make noise. They rust.

But what about their new brake rotors? Aren’t all brake rotors the same. Nope. Large chain repair shops can buy brake rotors for around $10 each and sell them for up to $100 each. What’s the difference? Take a look.

photos of an economy brake rotor compared to an OE brake rotor

See the difference between economy brake rotors and OE quality brake rotors

Economy brake rotors don’t brake as well because they have less metal and non-OE cooling vanes. Straight cooling vanes cost far less than the OE style shown above.

How much can chain repair shops save by buying economy parts?

The shop’s wholesale cost on high quality brake rotors for a Chevrolet Equinox is around $40 each. But a chain can buy the rotors for the Equinox from China for around $2 each. Don’t believe me? Just go to Alibaba and order online.

picture of brake rotors from alibaba

Buy brake rotors in bulk and you can pay as little as $2 each

brake pads from Alibaba

Buy brake pads in bulk and you can pay as little as $1.80 per set

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?”

State Attorney Generals are onto the bait and switch brake job coupon special scams

PDF of Midas brake job coupon settlement

California Attorney General nails a Midas Franchisee for Bait and Switch. Click on the above image to download a PDF of the California Settlement against a Muffler chain caught in repeated brake job ripoffs

Midas brake job settlement

Industry expert talks about the ramifications of the Midas brake job coupon special settlement with California Attorney General’s Office—Aftermarketnews.com March 16, 2010

Here’s how to avoid brake job rippoffs

• Get brake work done at an independently owned repair shop or dealer that has good reviews.

• If the shop is trying to upsell you to different brake pads than were installed on your car from the factory, ask them WHY they’re making the recommendation.

• If the quote includes a separate charge for hardware or shims, they’re not actually installing premium brake pads. Premium brake pad sets come with all the necessary hardware

• If the shop recommends new calipers, ask they WHY. Unless the caliper is leaking or not retracting, they do not need to be replaced.

• If the shop says your old calipers are seized, ask if they can replace just the bracket instead of the entire caliper. Rebuild brackets cost far less than a new caliper.

• Always ask about the brand of brake pad the shop intends to install. Is it a name brand or store brand? Is it OE or premium quality? In my personal opinion, store brands are lower quality than name brands and they cost about the same price.

• A brake fluid flush isn’t always necessary. If the shop recommends it, ask them if they’ve tested the brake fluid to determine if it should be changed. Brake fluid color is NOT an indicator of condition. Shops use a refractometer or eletrical tester to determine brake fluid moisture content and test strips to determine copper content and pH. If your brake fluid has been tested and failed, have the shop perform a brake fluid flush.

• Ask the shop if there’s a bedding procedure for your new brakes and ask if they’ve performed the procedure before you leave.

©. 2019 Rick Muscoplat

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat



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