‘BRAKES’-safety first

“How do I know when my car really needs a brake job?”

You need a “brake job” when your brake linings are worn down to the minimum acceptable thickness specified by the vehicle manufacturer or the applicable state agency in areas that set their own requirements. The only way to determine if new linings are required, therefore, is to inspect the brakes.

You may also need a brake job if you’re having brake problems such as grabbing, pulling, low or soft pedal, pedal vibration, noise, etc., or if some component in your brake system has failed. But if the problem is isolated to only one component, there’s no need to replace other parts that are still in perfectly good working order.

There is no specific mileage interval at which the brakes need to be relined because brake wear varies depending on how the vehicle is driven, the braking habits of the driver, the weight of the vehicle, the design of the brake system and a dozen other variables. A set of brake linings that last 70,000 miles or more on a car driven mostly on the highway may last only 30,000 or 40,000 miles on the same vehicle that is driven mostly in stop-and-go city traffic.

As a rule, the front brakes wear out before the ones on the rear because the front brakes handle a higher percentage of the braking load — especially in front-wheel drive cars and minivans. So many service facilities advertise RM150 brake job “specials” that replace the linings on the front brakes only. Doing the front brakes only is okay and can save you money as long as the rear brakes are in good condition. But if the rear brakes need attention, they should be relined too.

One of the problems with the brake specials you see advertised in the newspaper is that the price is very misleading. A person typically goes in expecting to spend $150 for a brake job, but usually ends up spending considerably more because the brakes need more than the minimum amount of work to restore them to like-new condition. The price of a brake job depends entirely on the work that needs to be performed. So any advertised special is not a firm price, but only an estimate of the least amount of money it might cost you to get your brakes fixed. A price should not be quoted until after the brakes have been inspected. Then and only then can an accurate determination be made of the parts that actually need to be replaced.

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