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Bargain Brake Jobs

    Your brakes are the most important part of your vehicle. You need to be sure the job is done completely and correctly.

I was looking through my local shopper newspaper the other day and I saw two ads from local shops for brake service. You know the ones, they range in price from $69.95 to $99.95. They sound like a pretty good deal, don't they?

But are they really?

Let's say someone is driving down the street and stops for a light. As soon as he applies his brakes he hears this terrible grinding sound. He might have noticed it before, but never really paid attention to it, but today it is really loud. He decides to have it looked at so he goes to his trusted mechanic for an inspection.

The shop is not too busy today so they bring the car right in and pulls the front wheels off. They do a complete inspection and finds that the noise is caused by the brake pads on the right side. The pad material is totally worn away and the steel backing plate is grinding against the rotor. The rotor is worn down below minimum specification and must be replaced. They also notice that the pads on the left side are only about half worn so they take the calipers off and check them. They find the caliper on the left side is hanging up and not working correctly.

Being an honest shop they write an estimate for a set of premium brake pads, one new rotor, the other one can be machined and saved, a pair of calipers, a new hardware kit and a brake fluid flush and fill. Total cost: $510.00.

That's quite a bit of money, but not unreasonable for a job like this. Now this guy remembers seeing an ad for a discount brake shop that will do a complete brake reline for, say, $99.95. A lot less that what his trusted mechanic wants. So, he tells his trusted mechanic that it is too much money and takes his car to the discount brake shop to have the work done.

So he takes his car to the discount shop and when they inspect it, one of two things happen. It either costs just as much, if not more, than his trusted mechanic or they cut corners like using cheap brake pads and gets it done for a little less. Not much, just a little. But do you really want someone to cut a few corners on your brakes just to save a few bucks. I have seen cars wrapped around telephone poles with brake jobs like that.

Now there is such a thing as a $99.95 brake job, but it is not a complete brake service. You can buy a .99 Whopper at Burger King, but you will not get a .99 Whopper meal. That costs more.

For $99.95 you get a set of brake pads and the mechanic takes a piece of sandpaper and scratches up the rotors a little bit and sends you on your way.

The idea behind this ad is to get you into the shop where they can, hopefully, sell you additional parts and labor. This is called low-balling. Grocery stores use a similar tactic. They use what's called loss leaders, items sold at or below cost to get you into the store where you will buy other items at the regular price. Repair shops have their own loss leaders. It is the $19.95 oil change. You go in for an oil change and while the car is in the air they look around for worn brakes, bad tires and holes in the muffler. Maybe the air filter is dirty, they'll show it to you and chances are you'll tell them to go ahead and replace it. They point these things out to you because, they hope, you okay the repairs. There's nothing wrong with this. I do it myself.

But as far as brakes go, or almost anything else on a car, repairs and maintenance cannot be priced like a Burger King food menu. Each car has different needs. In the example I cited above, the first shop did everything the way it was supposed to be done. They did a though inspection, and came up with a fair estimate. He was honest and professional right down the line. He didn't lure you in with promises of a complete job for almost no money.

A discount shop may not be so honest about it. You may not need all the work they say you do. Many investigative news shows such as Dateline NBC and 20/20 have done shows exposing some of the dubious and, all too often, dishonest practices of discount and chain shops. I have personal experience with just a place. We had one of those fast oil change places open up down the street from us and just for giggles, I took my 1987 Nissan Van in for their "Grand Opening Special."

I stood outside and watched them do the service and they seemed quick and professional enough. Then the Manager came over to me and said that my air and fuel filter were very dirty and needed replacing. I said "Okay, Fine. Show me." They told me that the fuel filter was under the van and I was not allowed to go into the pit to show me. I said that wouldn't be necessary because the fuel filter wasn't under the van.

All of a sudden he got quite nervous because he knew I caught him and in reality he had no idea where the fuel filter was. He also had no idea where the air filter was either. When I put him on the spot by saying "Show me" he found a reason to go back inside and leave me standing there with no further mention of either. When my van was done, the Assistant Manager did up the bill, and when I asked him about the air and fuel filters, he said they were okay and didn't need replacing.

How was I so sure they didn't check them? On a Nissan Van, the fuel filter is located not under the van or in the engine compartment, but under the passenger seat. There is a metal panel that has to be removed to gain access to it and I saw that no one had opened it to look. The same goes for the air filter.

How can you avoid being ripped off? Be leery, don't accept at face value what they say you need is indeed what you need. Have them show you. Most reputable shops will have a checklist they use to make sure everything is checked and are more than willing to go over it with you. If they say you need new rotors, have them show you. You don't need a degree in automotive technology to see a chewed up rotor or that the pads on one side are like new and the other side is completely worn out. A good shop will take the time to show and explain why something needs to be repaired or replaced. Some will even have cutaway displays to help illustrate the system and help you understand what it is.

The brakes are the most important system on your car. You don't want to take chances with it. There is no sense in making the car go if you can't make it stop.

You put your family in your car, aren't they worth getting your brakes done right?

Additional Information provided courtesy of
ALLDATAdiy.com and Warranty Direct
© 2000-2007 Vincent T. Ciulla

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