Brakes: an afterthought until you need them most. That critical safety system you probably think about during your day-to-day as often as you think about going to the dentist (until you break a tooth).
But with regular maintenance and by keeping a sharp eye on the warning signs, you’ll never find yourself in a dangerous “if only” situation as you’re trying to decelerate your vehicle unexpectedly…
A discussion of your car’s brake system should naturally begin with a crash course on the pieces that bring the system all together to make your car slow down when you need it to. Knowing the names of these parts and understanding how they interact will give you valuable context as you stay alert for the signs of wear, practice preventative braking habits, and communicate with your mechanic.
You’re driving along in the Riverwoods and a line of ducklings enters the road following mama duck. What do you do? Well, you’re not a monster. You brake, of course, and here’s everything that happens in sequence to save those little ducklings’ lives:
As your foot presses the brake pedal, the cylinder that holds brake fluid is activated. The fluid is then delivered through hoses to the calipers, which engage the brake pads. Once engaged, your brake pads apply pressure to the rotors attached to your tires, creating the friction that will stop them spinning, decelerate your vehicle, and spare a beautiful little family of ducks.
There’s the nitty gritty, but we’ll go into more detail as we go along.
To put it simply, your typical brake inspection will provide a hands-on assessment of each of the above brake system components in addition to the odds and ends that bring it all together:
The answer to when you should get your brakes inspected is “immediately” if you’re experiencing any of the warning signs of wear or damage (see below).
If your vehicle’s built-in wear sensors are alerting you (with a screeching noise when applying or releasing brakes), it’s time for a brake pad replacement.
Some cars even have electronic wear indicators, but those are few and far between and it’s wise for all car owners to observe some sort of maintenance schedule.
Here’s what we advise.
First of all, it’s important to consider how you’re using your car. Is it mainly a commuter vehicle or is it used largely for urban driving?
A car that commutes 20,000 miles a year over freeways and highways will need to have its brake pads replaced a lot less frequently than one that putts around the city 5,000 miles a year.
Basically, the less you use your brakes, the less wear they’ll experience.
For most cars, however, an advisable frequency is:
We mentioned screeching wear sensors, but another tell-tale sign is a delayed reaction time when applying your brakes. In other words, it takes much longer to stop than it you’re used to. Other signs you should look for are:
Whether you’ve decided to get the health of your car on the same schedule as your personal yearly physical, or you’re actively experiencing any of the above warning signs of a struggling brake system, you’re probably wondering at this point “Okay, but how much is all of this going to cost?”
This will vary by shop. An inspection that covers all the above components can run from “Free, with or without conditions” or up to $80. At Dickerson we [insert Dickerson’s brake inspection details.].
Before we go into the piecemeal repair and replacements costs you can expect from your average shop, here’s a ballpark range for the most common service: brake pad replacement. Unless your car is experiencing a special type of malfunction, replacing your brake pads on time (before the calipers and rotors are affected) is generally the solution to brake system troubles and the average cost is $150 per axle/wheel.
It’s also important to note that your mechanic’s priority will be to create an evenly balanced system, so you can expect them to replace components on either side of the axle simultaneously to ensure safety and quality.
A complete brake job can range between $300 to $1000. Don’t forget that your repairs will land on the higher end of this spectrum if your rotors have been damaged, so make sure you’re keeping those brake pads fresh!
Next to brake pads, rotors and calipers are the most commonly addressed components in a brake job.
As mentioned, the parts themselves will run between $50-$150 each, but after factoring in labor, you’re looking at an invoice for $150-$250.
Comparable to brake pads in cost, this part runs between $50 and $100. After labor, the total cost of replacing the calipers will be $150-$200.
Protect your rotors. This part will cost between $200 and $400, which puts you at $350-$550 after labor.
Another important thing to do is weigh the cost of your repairs against quality and value.
Not all components are created equally. Some mechanics will tout the best deals while installing inferior parts. Before handing over your payment information, ask your mechanic the brands of components they use and why they would recommend them. If your mechanic can’t or won’t give you this information over the phone, that may be a sign to keep shopping.
Quality brands include:
What guarantees or warranties are offered by the shop or the maker of the component? A company that will stand behind their work and product creates a special value that you should simply not go without.
We stand behind our work at Dickerson. If you’re worried about your brakes for any reason, don’t put it off.
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