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There are a lot of variables that go into making a choice on replacing brakes.  It is not always a cut and dry choice.  Let’s first break down the common types of brake jobs.  Then we will give you some advice on deciding if you need to perform a brake job your car.

Types of Brake Jobs

“Replacing the brakes” is a very generic term. There are several ways that we can replace brakes.  It all depends on the condition of the brakes and rotors. Here are the most common types of brake jobs:

  • Brake pads only – This is only replacing the brake pads. This is generally the cheapest way to do a brake job. We call this “pad slapping” the car. We do not prefer this type of brake job. It is not a bad thing, it’s just not as thorough and will eventually cost you more in the long run.
  • Replace the brake pads and rotors – This is a much better brake job than just replacing the pads. Replacing the rotors will give the pads a fresh surface to seat. It can also help reduce brake noise. The only issue here is rotors can be expensive.
  • Replace the brake pads, resurface the rotors – With this type of brake job the brake pads are replaced.  But instead of replacing the rotors entirely, they are resurfaced. That is where the rotors are put on a machine called a brake lathe.  We remove a very small amount of metal from the rotor making a nice clean surface. This is also called turning, or cutting the rotors. Depending on the wear or grooves in the metal, there are times where resurfacing the rotors is not an option.

What happens if I don’t replace them?

Like most car repairs, the longer you wait, the more it can cost.  If you wait too long, the rivets in the pad will impact the rotor. That may mean resurfacing the rotor is not an option. The rotors will have to be replaced.

In extreme cases more damage can occur. We have seen calipers, the part that pushes the pad in to the rotor, be destroyed. The thinner the pad gets, the further the caliper pushes the pad. At some point the caliper will over extend and fail. This is not only very costly, but VERY dangerous. Remember when dealing with brakes, safety is always a big concern.

How do I know if I need the service?

Many modern cars have a warning system. There are warning lights to tell us when the pads are getting thin and need to be replaced. Some cars have “squealers”, that is a small strip of metal that will hit the rotor when the pad gets thin. It causes a really loud and obnoxious squeal.

While these warning systems are a good thing, don’t fully rely on them. Most cars only have warning lights that monitor the front brakes. That leaves the rear brakes unmonitored. The squealer warning works great. That is until we hear something like, “My brakes have been making a noise for about a year now”.

The right way to check the brakes is to remove the wheels and do an inspection.  Some wheels allow you to see the brakes pretty clearly. Taking the wheels off is the best way to check the system. If you would like to do it yourself, here are some of the things you want to check.

  • Thickness of the pads – Be sure to check the outside and the inside pads. Many cars will wear the inside faster than the outside.
  • Rotor Appearance – Check it for grooves like a record would have. Look at the color, if it is turning blue, you may have an issue. Also look at the edges, if there is a big lip on the outer or inner part of the rotor, you may have to replace them. Turning the rotor too thin will cause a brake vibration.
  • Make sure there are no leaks.

So, do I really need this service?

You may not actually need this service.  If you do your own brake inspections, you have to use your best judgement. If your mechanic is recommending that you get a brake job, here are the things you need to ask.

  • How much pad is left? This will give you an idea of how thin the pads really are. Compare their answer to what the manufacturer suggests for your vehicle.
  • Will they make it to the next service? This is the big one. That question should tell you if you need to do it today, or if it can wait.

One other piece of advice. If you are on the fence, get the brakes done. Please don’t mess around with the system that is keeping you from crashing in to another car.