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What is a brake job?

July 8, 2015
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

After calling around for estimates on his brakes and getting wildly differing prices, a reader wants to know: "What is a "brake job" and what should it cost, anyway?"

Glad you asked. It's a procedure designed to reduce your adrenaline surges and high blood pressure, and its cost can vary wildly from car to car. If you've ever stepped on the brakes and felt the pedal hit the floor, you know about adrenaline. So if you are an adrenaline junkie, don't read this, it might spoil your fun. If, however you prefer your car to stop when you press the brake pedal and you wonder why the prices are so varied, read on.

There is no longer a universally accepted definition of a "brake job." Brake jobs used to be simple to explain and simple to do. No more. Traditionally, brakes were designed so that only the soft material, (the pads or shoes) needed replacement, and the steel parts, (rotors or drums) could be reused over and over. Now, however, to save cost and weight, the drums and rotors are made thinner, and many times cannot be reused when the pads are worn out. They suffer from corrosion, which, like blood pressure, is made worse with the application of salt. Road salt up north, Gulf of Mexico salt down here.

There is a legal minimum thickness allowed for these parts, and if they are not replaced when below minimum, they can break, resulting in complete loss of brakes. A repair shop which reuses undersized rotors could be held liable for your resulting accident, therefore many shops will refuse the job unless you agree to replace undersized rotors. Brake jobs should include measuring the thickness of the rotors and, if they can be reused, resurfacing them on a brake lathe to eliminate grooves, vibration and noises. If they are too thin to allow for this machining, they should be replaced. Remember, they can break, and you will have no brakes when it happens.

As for the price, the point here is that an estimate for a brake job before the rotors have been measured is not going to be accurate. Installing pads without checking and resurfacing the rotors is risky. Also, brake fluid -being alcohol based- absorbs water from the atmosphere and needs to be flushed to control internal corrosion in the calipers and cylinders, which can cause leaks and sticking parts, leading to more brake failures. These hydraulic parts, (the calipers and wheel cylinders), often need to be replaced. Also, there is a large variation in quality between different brands of brake pads, with better quality material resulting in quieter, quicker stops. Some estimates might or might not include these factors, which is why they differ.

As was stated earlier, it used to be simpler. The only safe and accurate way to estimate brakes now is to have a thorough inspection first to determine the needs, and then have the owner decide how much quality he or she wants in the new brakes. As for the adrenaline junkies, we hope they will take up skydiving and get their brakes fixed. We don't like sharing the road with them.

Larry DeHays is the author of the book "The Car Care World", a compilation of his most popular columns. It is available now through Amazon, Barnes and Noble,, or at the DeHays Automotive office, 17617 Broadway Ave., Fort Myers Beach. He has been an ASE Certified Technician for 37 years and an arbitrator for the Florida Lemon Law for 16 years. For more information go to or



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