Car Care Tips

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Maintenance June 14, 2018

How to Navigate Your Brake Estimate

Understand your brake estimate

Your brakes play a significant role in the safety and functionality of your vehicle. If you can’t stop or slow down when you need to, you put yourself and other drivers at severe risk. For that reason, brake repairs and replacements should never be put off.

Whether you need a simple pad replacement or brand new rotors, brake estimates can be tough to understand. We spoke with our expert technicians to explain how to navigate your brake estimate.

Before we dive in, let’s discuss why your brakes are causing you trouble in the first place.

What’s Wrong With Your Brakes?

The most common reason that drivers bring their vehicle in for a brake inspection is due to noise or vibration.

If you’ve ever heard squeaking or squealing when you brake, this likely indicates that at least a portion of your brakes needs to replaced. Some drivers also experience vibrations coming from the wheel, which is another sign that something might be wrong.

What causes brakes to wear? Friction and heat. Think about a driver who brakes aggressively on a highway — two pieces of metal squeeze down on a third piece of metal to stop a two-ton automobile going 75 miles an hour. That’s a lot of pressure on your brakes!

Once you know your brakes need attention, it’s time to get a brake inspection and figure out which parts need to be replaced. Your brake estimate should help explain that for you.

Read: How to Know When You Need New Brakes

How to Navigate Your Brake Estimate

Depending on the condition of your brake pads and rotors, there are three main types of brake replacement you’ll see on your estimate.

1. Brake Pad Replacement

A stand-alone brake pad replacement is the bare minimum brake pad service and not a repair recommended at Virginia Tire & Auto. This service is a brake job where you reuse the old brake hardware and just “slap” on new brake pads.

Oftentimes, when customers are comparing pricing and services,  they’ll come across an ad for a brake service that’s extremely low. Although this might seem like a lucky find, take caution. This is a good sign that the auto repair shop is doing what the automotive industry calls “pad slaps”.  Installing new brake pads while reusing the old hardware is window dressing— and a bad idea. Brake hardware, like brakes, wears out over time. The brake hardware holds the brake pads in the right place, and if you don’t replace the hardware, the pads are going to be out of position. This results in premature wear on your new pads.

A pad slap is not a complete brake job and certainly not a long-term solution.

At Virginia Tire & Auto, we don’t recommend just replacing the pads. It’s our goal to get you back on the road safely—and putting a Band-Aid or quick fix on your brakes most likely isn’t the solution.

2. Brake Pad Replacement & Rotor Resurfacing

The middle of the road brake replacement option is replacing the brake pads and resurfacing the rotors.

Resurfacing your rotors means taking a very thin, microscopic layer off of the front and rear face of the rotors. This way, you get a nice, smooth feeding surface along with the new brake pads. This eradicates any grooves, pits, or hotspots that could cause problems. This also prevents noise and vibration and allows the new brake pads to wear evenly and optimally. Keep in mind, however, that used rotors have a friction film layer that has been removed, and the thinner the rotor is, the faster it heats up and wears.

Ultimately, resurfacing rotors when you install new brake pads is a middle price point and a good compromise if you don’t want to spend the money on new rotors.

3. Brake Pad Replacement & Rotor Replacement

The most complete brake pad service involves fully replacing the brake pads and rotors.

Getting completely new rotors gives you better stopping power and more fade resistance. All cars have brake rotors and, like brake pads, rotors wear out.  Brake rotors have a recommended thickness that must be maintained to be considered safe. Your first priority is to check the thickness of the rotor and also check the manufacturer’s recommendation. This measurement will normally be stamped on the brake rotor itself. If the thickness is below the minimum, then you need to replace your brake rotor immediately.  

Some vehicles require the full replacement because the rotors aren’t able to be resurfaced. In fact, 99% of German cars are this way. The rotors don’t have a high tolerance, so by the time the pads are worn down, the rotors are already below what we call the discard thickness. This means that the rotor has already reached the maximum acceptable thickness and must be fully replaced. Not replacing the rotors could cause major problems.

For optimum performance and if you can afford to, it is worth replacing your brake rotors while replacing your brake pads. However, if you’re on a tight budget, then as long as your brake rotors are above the minimum recommended level and the vehicle manufacturer does not require that the rotors be replaced when new brake pads are installed, resurfacing the rotors could be an acceptable approach.

Need a Brake Replacement?

Bring your vehicle into Virginia Tire & Auto for all your brake inspection and repair needs. We’ll ensure that you understand your brake estimate completely and feel comfortable moving forward with the diagnosis. Schedule an appointment at one of our 17 locations today!

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