Q: My owner’s manual tells me to bleed my brakes as part of vehicle maintenance. I don’t remember having to bleed brakes on my older cars. Do I need to have my brakes bled?
A: Today Brake service is more than installng brake pads. Fluid maintenance has become an important part of maintaining and preserving the brake system. This is especially true in today’s vehicles with an ABS (Anti Lock Brake System) brake system. Over time this moisture can wreak havoc on the brake system and very expensive ABS brake components. Many manufactures recommend brake fluid replacement to assure safe operation of their vehicles. Brake fluid by nature takes on moisture, in one year brake fluid can contain 2% water in18 months 3% and it is not unusual to find vehicles that have not been properly maintained with 8% water. Many studies have shown the effects of moisture in the brake system. As brake fluid becomes saturated the boiling point of the brake fluid is reduced. New brake fluid that would have a boiling point of 400 degrees may boil at 250 degrees or less. The result is a condition called “brake fade” it is where under heated braking conditions the brake fluid boils in the caliper causing steam in the system and a fading brake pedal.
Stopping distances are severely affected leading to a dangerous condition. If you need to stop quickly you won’t.
Brakes will again stop normally after the fluid cools down. If you are experiencing poor stopping after several stops in heavy traffic or steep declines replace your brake fluid immediately, it is the likely cause of the problem.
The steam that is created by boiling fluid can also expand in your brake system and cause your brakes to drag causing further heating conditions and excessive brake pad wear because when engaged due to the expansion you are driving the vehicle with the brakes applied.
There are also documented claims of dirty brake fluid restricting ABS components causing malfunctions in the ABS system. Finally water is corrosive and in time you are rusting out the brake system from the inside out. Our suggestion is because of the relatively low cost, flush and bleed your brake fluid every two years or during brake repairs where you have not replaced the fluid within two years. It will assure you that your brakes will operate as the manufacturer intended them to and if you will be keeping the car it will help to keep expensive brake parts from wearing out.
There is much more detailed information online. This information is written as a brief compilation in one place in plain English so that you can benefit without taking a college course in physics. If your mechanic is not checking the boiling point of your brake fluid or is not recommending brake fluid replacement as per manufacturers specifications they are either 10 years behind the times, unaware of the importance of dry brake fluid or is not a true brake expert.
The brakes on my car grind and squeal.
Q: I purchased a new car and soon after developed a loud brake grind. I made an appointment with my new car dealer and complained about brake noises. I was told that there was nothing wrong with my brakes and that minor noise is normal. How can this be?
A: Driving conditions and your driving habits may create normal brake noises. Brake noise is one of the largest complaints made to new car dealers. Before I answer the question in more detail let’s talk about what causes brake noise. Wet your finger and run it around the brim of a wine glass, the sound that is created is caused by vibration, Try stopping that noise. The same holds true for your brakes, brake pads ride on brake rotors as your finger on the wine glass. Under normal driving conditions brakes run relatively quietly. So why is it that one person driving the same year make and model vehicle develops a severe brake noise and another does not? In most cases it is the driver that brakes very lightly, over time this type of driving generaly will result in these type of brake noises. How can this be? Brake pads wear very slowly under these driving conditions causing the brake pads to glaze over instead of wearing slightly. The disc brake rotors do the same and if you look at the disc brake rotors through your rim you could see your reflection in the disc brake rotor like a mirror. This is because they have also glazed over. The combination of both mating surfaces now glazed can make a multitude of noises. Minor noises on occasions can be considered normal, if they are excessive and continual the problem needs to be addressed.
What to do? If your brakes are making noises it is important to first have the brake system inspected to be sure that the brakes are in good condition and your vehicle is safe for the road. You can then try is to make harder stops (without overheating the brake pads with constant stops). Try making a hard stop or two when exiting a throughway ramp, making sure that there is no one close behind. If this does not seem to help, have a repair shop remove the brake pads and scuff them up with sand paper, lightly sand the rotors at the same time. Remember to make a heavy stop now and then.
If excessive noises persist you might want to try a softer brake pad where the pads will have more of a tendency to wear even under light brake conditions. Manufacturers put the same parts on every like model and in most cases the brake pads perform well. In extreme conditions, very light stopping or severe or commercial driving conditions an adjustment may need to be made to the friction material harder or softer to accommodate the driver and driving conditions.
Many manufactures have made statements that brake noises can be considered normal, but there is more that you can do in the aftermarket with different options to better address individual complaints.
We at Brake Centers take great care to do the job right starting with the use of quality brake pads and properly installing them.
Technical e-mail question.
Dear Bill. I run a small auto repair shop with my father in Milford, CT. Over the years we have had a couple instances of front wheel drive vehicles with front disc brake and rear drum brakes, that we could not get a good brake pedal after extensive repairs. In the most recent case the vehicle came in with a contaminated brake system we replaced the brake pads, calipers, wheel cylinders hoses and master cylinder. All wheels bleed with good brake fluid pressure and free of air but we cannot get a good pedal. The cars stopped fine but the pedal is just about on the floor. We released the vehicles to the customers and asked them to return after the brake shoes seat in. We re-adjusted the rear brakes to no avail. There is no brake light on. We are tempted to adjust the master cylinder push rod to bring up the pedal. Can you tell me if we are missing something?
Dear Steve. As you know it is almost impossible to diagnose a brake system properly without removing the wheels and physically inspect the vehicle. It sounds like you have many of the bases covered. What to do... § I would not recommend adjusting the master cylinder push rod because if you figure out the low brake pedal condition and repair it the longer master cylinder push rod will now lock the brakes up. § Ask the customer to drop off the car again. § Turn the key to the on position to check that the brake warning light is operational if it is working we might assume that there is no serious imbalance in the hydraulic system. § Be sure that the bleeder screws on the calipers and wheel cylinders are facing up. We have seen calipers and wheel cylinders installed with the bleeder on the bottom and if that is the case you will never be able to get the air out of the system resulting in a low and spongy brake pedal. § Perform a pinch off test. Set line lock pliers on front and rear hoses. Remove one locking pliers at a time. Check for pedal drop. § Down adjust emergency brake adjustment, adjust rear brakes and re-adjust rear brake shoes. I hope one of these suggestions solves your problem. Good luck.
Dear Bill. I had the chance to inspect my customers vehicle again and used your procedures. And BINGO I found that the emergency brake was tightened too much prior to the vehicle coming into my shop. I loosened the cable and was able to get a much better adjustment on the rear brake shoes. Re-adjusted the parking brake cable and unbelievably have a high brake pedal. On behalf of my dad and my customer, I would like to thank you very much for taking the time to direct me in this process.
Steve. What happened in this case is the parking brake cable was adjusted and when you installed the new brake shoes the self adjuster was held wide open as though the emergency brake was on. The brake shoe was not seating against the anchor but on the adjuster. This being the case the wheel cylinder pistons had to travel further to engage the brake shoe against the brake drum. That extra travel needed caused the brake pedal to be low. Once the brake shoe was again against the anchor and adjusted properly the pistons in the cylinder had less to travel to stop the car resulting in the correct brake pedal height. I am glad that this worked out for you. All the best. Bill
Q: My car vibrates when I stop. I have the brakes fixed and some months later they vibrate again. My rotors have been machined and replaced several times over the years. What could the problem be?
A: There are a couple of solutions to your problem that I will explain here. The trouble is that you are not getting to the bottom of the underlined problem.
In recent years new car manufacturers have downsized the size of disc brake rotors mainly to make vehicles more fuel efficient. The downside is that today’s vehicles with the thinner brake rotors are much more vulnerable to brake pedal pulsation. Here are a few steps to get to the root of the problem. § The first step in figuring out what is wrong is by removing all four wheels and performing a brake inspection. § More than likely something is causing the disc brake rotors to run hot, distort and cause brake shutter. § If you have the choice between machining the rotor or replacing it. Replace it, the theory being if the new rotor distorted the newly now thinner rotor will certainly distort and cause brake vibrations. The average cost to resurface a rotor is one hour labor each, that’s just about $200.00 or more for the job. You may be able to replace the old rotors with new for the same price. We suggest putting the money toward new for a better repair.
Things to check: 1. Are the wheels being installed with a torque wrench or a torque limiter to specifications? 2. Are the rear brakes working and in adjustment, if not you will overwork the front brakes. 3. You can also feel the rim after driving to see if the drums are cold. If they are the rear brakes wether drum or disc with intreagle caliper emergency brake are out of adjustment. 4. Prior to retracting calipers spin each wheel, does the wheel spin freely? Is it tight in one area and loose in another as you turn the wheel? In many cases you can indicate what rotors have distorted. Is the same wheel causing the problem each time? 5. Look at brake pad wear patterns, are the brakes wearing evenly comparing brake pads right side to left side? If not you may have a restricted brake hose or a brake caliper that is tight or not fully releasing. These conditions will cause brakes to run hot distorting the steel rotor resulting in vibration on stops. 6. If you are absolutely convinced that all is well with the brake system and are still experiencing the problem it is time to replace the rotors one last time, but here's the trick.
We have had many customers that have had to constantly service or replace their rotors during the new car warranty period only to be frustrated in never having the problem resolved. How do we fix it once and for all? Very simple, throw out the original equipment rotors and replace them with a top of the line hardened steel or high performance rotor.
These parts are only available in the aftermarket and are not available at your new car dealer. In these cases vehicles are driven hard under sever conditions or under heavy commercial use causing rotors to run very hot. Original equipment disc brake rotors simply do not perform well under these extreme conditions. What the customer has been suffering through for years is magically solved and the customer is amazed with the trick.
What is going on lately with new car dealers overselling?
We have seen in the past certain new car dealers that tell their customers that repair work is needed when it is not, but this practice seems to be catching fire with almost every new car dealership. Did they recently go to seminars that showed how to increase their average ticket by selling more work? What ever it is this practice is short sighted because those customers that chose not to do the work and find out that work is not needed later will spread the word about the dealer. And of course this is immoral because people have put their trust in their new car dealers expecting them to be above board and professional. How many trust what their dealer says and authorize work that is not needed because it is the dealer that says so. We have been seeing customers on a daily basis that have been told by their new car dealer that their brake pads are worn out and their rotors are rusty and then presented a bill for many hundreds of dollars. After a thorough inspection of these vehicles we are finding brake pads that have 30,000 miles left on them and rotors that are well above specifications with no rust on the braking surface and rust on rotors only where exposed to the elements which is normal. One Saturday morning recently our first three appointments were cars from new car dealers that were told they needed brakes when they didn't, one a seventeen hundred dollar brake estimate. When I told one customer that the brakes were good she didn't believe me. I questioned the customer and asked what her brake complaint was. Are your brakes making a noise? Are your brakes squealing? Brakes grinding? brakes pulsating? Brake warning light on? She replied she didn't have a brake problem at all, the car stopped perfectly but the dealer said brake pads and rotors were needed. I told her to come back in a year for an annual brake inspection and sent her on her way.
For the shops that have a passion to give honest service this is another slap in the face making customers even more skeptical then they already are when bringing their vehicles in for auto service. It is sad for a good person to see another being taken advantage of and since we do not charge for a brake inspection this problem has become a huge waste of time and inconvenience for us as well.
What you can do to protect yourself from auto repair rip off.
§ Do not authorize any work. § Ask to see for yourself the condition of the brake pads.
§ Ask for the written brake rotor specification and the measured spec's of your rotors.
§ Warn your family and friends that if their new car dealer is suggesting brakes during routine service that they get a second opinion. This is a good practice anytime brakes are suggested. Is it is desperation or greed?
The fact is your new car dealer is no longer a reliable sorce for service. Buyer beware.
Lifetime brake warranties are never what you think they are.
Q: Dear Bill, I had a lifetime brake warranty only to find out that it wasn’t much of a warranty at all. How do your competitors get away with advertising a lifetime brake warranty that in fact is not a warranty at all?
A: Brake pads are a wear item which means they will not last a lifetime, not even in dog years. Be sure to ask questions about brake warranties before authorizing brake repairs. These warranties are offered as an incentive to buy from the garage offering the warranty. The vast majority of the time the warranty leads to great frustration and aggravation to the customer. Do not decide on where to get your brakes repaired based on a lifetime warranty. Ask how long the unconditional parts and labor warranty is. Most repair garages have conditions even on their basic warranty. Here are 10 questions to ask. a. How many months long is the warranty? b. How many miles is the warranty? c. Does the warranty cover only the parts? d. Does the warranty cover only the labor? e. What are the exceptions? f. Is the warranty void under severe driving conditions? g. What is considered severe conditions? h. Is the warranty void if damage to a covered part is caused by subsequent damage by another failed part? i. How much will the job cost if I came back under warranty? j. Is the warranty unconditional?
Many brake repairers have a long list of excuses as to why your brake repair is not covered under their warranty. You can visit their waiting room just about any day and hear disappointed customers complaining that their warranty is not being honored.
These lifetime warranties are especially notorious. § These warranties are offered and sold only with the most expensive premium brake parts adding insult to injury. § If accepted under warranty, the warranty covers only the friction material (brake pads). There is many times a surprise service fee. The customer has to pay for the labor to replace the pads. § If any other problem is found in the brake system they will not replace the pads under warranty. § You have to repair any brake problem that they find, and they will find other problems to have the warranty honored. Basic brake warranties vary from one place to another. Most new car dealers offer a 3 month, 3,000 mile warranty. Most independent garages offer a 6 month 6,000 mile brake warranty. You must ask what the restrictions may be. If you are paying good money for a brake job, be sure to know what type of warranty that you are getting so that you are not spending money for the same repair a few months later.
Brake Centers has a unique customer friendly warranty its what we call a no nonsense warranty. All work that we do is covered for minimum of 12 months or 12,000 miles unless noted clearly upfront. No questions asked. No excuses. You will never hear a customer complain about us not covering a repair under warranty.
Q: I was charged $800.00 for front brakes at another shop. Was I taken advantage of?
A: Auto Repair Rip Off? Maybe Not… Although the price on the surface seems to be high… It would be difficult to go back in time and see the condition of your brake system prior to the repair but I can offer some insight as to how the price that you paid could have been legitimate and just as part of a proper and safe brake repair. And if the price is indeed legitimate you may be tarnishing the name of an honest, hard working man offering a professional service and trying to make a living.
The brake system is made up of more than the friction materials (Brake pads and brake shoes) in fact there are many components that must be checked including, the master cylinder, wheel cylinders, calipers, brake lines and hoses that can all leak resulting in brake failure. Rotors and drums can cause brake pulsation, vibrations and poor stopping conditions. There are many other brake components including the ABS system within the brake system. If the brake technician fails to check these components they are not doing their job right and may be allowing you to drive a vehicle that is unsafe for the road. The right thing to do is to check the brake system in its entirety, report back to the customer and let the customer decide how they would like to repair their vehicle. As always,
if you are not sure of the brake price given, get a second opinion. If you want a better idea as to what the cost of the brake repair should be check out the “Brake Cost Estimator” on the Brake Centers of America website. Match up the brake components replaced with the prices on the brake estimator. This is only a guide, keep in mind that as a brake specialty shop our high volume prices will be about 25% lower than competitor’s prices in most cases. Although we cannot go back and check the brake parts that were replaced in your case let’s hope that the shop was doing their job properly and sold you only the brake parts that were needed for a proper repair and charged you appropriately for that repair.
Do I Need Brakes?
Q: How long do brakes last? I have 37,000 miles on my car and have never replaced my brakes. How do I know when it is time to replace my brakes?
A: Do not rely on brake warning lights, there is no better way of knowing when you need brakes then a brake inspection. There are several indicators used on vehicles some vehicles have metal wear sensors on the brake pads that contact the rotors when the brakes are low creating a squeal. Others use a float in the master cylinder, as your brakes wear the caliper piston move out making more room for brake fluid in the caliper in turn the brake fluid in the master cylinder becomes low and the brake light is triggered. Be sure not to add brake fluid to the master cylinder on these models of you will not get a warning. And lastly most high end vehicles have wear sensors built into or attached to the brake pad, the pads wear down to the sensor and the low brake warning light will indicate low brake pads on the dashboard. Some models use a combination of these. Driver habits and the driving conditions in which a vehicle is driven is what in most cases determine how long brakes will last. If you drive long distances on open freeways you are not stopping often (Excluding I95 through Fairfield County) and therefore your brakes will last longer. If you drive in the city often you are always on the brakes and you will need brakes sooner. If you use the vehicle for commercial use and carry a lot of weight you are slowing down a heavier vehicle and brake pads will wear excessively. People who drive vehicles with manual transmissions and drive long distances do the best as far as brake wear goes. So as you can see there is no good answer as to how long brakes should last. All these systems have their flaws. Brake sensors whether electrical or mechanical are not put on all of the brake pads, if a pad without a sensor wears out first you will wear the brake pad into the rotor without warning. If someone adds brake fluid to your master cylinder you again lost your warning.
Regardless of the type of driving that you do or the low brake indication system your car has, there is no substitute for inspecting all four wheels of your brake system every 12 months or 12,000 miles. Ask if there is a charge for a brake inspection first. Most places will not charge for the inspection. For the most part, the difference between a minor brake repair and a major one is catching small problems before they become major ones.
Ask us your brake related questions e-mail Bill Pelletier, President, Brake Centers of America or contact us on our website www.BrakeCenters.com.
The slender new look for disc brake rotors.
Over the last decade or so disc brake rotors have taken on a new slimmer look and many wonder why. If you are an old-timer you will remember an enormous, big fat brake rotor. When you replaced your brakes you would always machine several thousandths of an inch off of each side of the rotor each time the brakes were replaced and the rotor seemed to last forever. So why spoil a good thing? There are a couple of reasons that over the years manufactures decreased the size of disc brake rotors. First as you probably know that the cost of steel and other metals have increased dramatically over the years. And when a manufacturer can save a few dollars on each car and multiply that by millions, they will if they can always decide to take the cheaper route. The government further has imposed MPG (Miles per gallon) guidelines and standards. So where the car manufacturer can make a vehicle lighter that helps with fuel efficiency. With the combined benefits of a lighter vehicle and the less expensive product the decision is made to make brake rotors as thin as possible.
But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What is good for the car manufacturer is not such a good thing for the consumer. These new thinner disc brake rotors have a tendency to distort which causes brake vibration and pulsation.
Many times the rotors can be machined but if you choose to do so it is very likely that the same brake vibration / pulsation problem will return in short time. This leads to an increased maintenance cost to the consumer. § What do we recommend? If you don’t have a vibration or brake pulsation problem when you are replacing your brake pads, do not machine the rotors as part of the repair. It is difficult for old-timers to understand this because to them changing brakes means also machining rotors, which was true then, but no longer. Many manufacturers now agree making statements that rotors should not be machined unless there are groves beyond .060.
§ What happens if you machine a rotor as part of normal brake service?
Some manufacturers deem there rotors non serviceable. Others will allow small tolerances for machining. If you choose to resurface a rotor that there no problem with you may be creating a problem. The theory being, the thicker rotor is venerable to vibration / pulsation the now thinner rotor is now more venerable. That is why many customers entering a shop for a simple brake repair soon returns with a brake vibration or brake pulsation complaint.
§ Should I have my brake rotors machined if I have a brake vibration or brake pulsation?
Always ask for a price of machining the brake rotor VS replacing. Machining the rotor will cost approximately one hour labor or about $100.00 each and may only be a temporary repair. In many cases you can replace the brake rotor with a new one for the same cost. The repair shop obviously makes more by machining your rotor because they make their money by selling brake labor, we don’t believe that is the best route for the customer. Choose wisely!