Cutting Corners on Brake Parts

January 23, 2009

About 1-2 times per week I am put in the position of having to explain why a vehicle has poor braking performance when the brakes were just serviced or repaired 1-2 weeks ago by another shop.  Typically the brakes are noisy--either squeaking or making a bothersome rubbing sound when applied.  Often the problem has to do with a vibration or pulsation when the brakes are applied, especially when slowing down to exit from a freeway.  Sometimes it has to do with the pedal being too soft and the brakes not having enough stopping force.

All the above concerns often have to do with poor quality brake parts.  In the late 1980s, the manufacturers had to stop using asbestos in any brake parts.  Of course this was a good thing for the peoples' health, but the factories have had a hard time coming up with brake pads and shoes that stop vehicles without a lot of loud squeaking or rubbing sounds.  I was working at two different dealerships at the time asbestos disappeared, and every other week we would get another shipment of brake pads or shoes that were supposed to "work". The point here is that it hasn't been easy for the some of the best engineers to develop a workable brake pad or shoe that stops without squeaking or grinding.

There are some TV-advertised chain shops that sell "guaranteed for life" brake pads and shoes.  The only problem with these types of parts is that they tend to destroy the rotors, calipers and drums when they quickly wear out.  These are not covered and are very expensive to replace (This is no accident).

I often see and hear about "rebuilt" Brake Master Cylinders that never work properly, and can even fail, causing the brake pedal to suddenly go to the floor.

Cheap and improperly manufactured brake rotors and drums quickly warp which cause a pulsation and/or squeaking when the brakes are just weeks old.

I had an old and very salty Service Manager who always used to say to me, "Dan, never take a chance with Brakes, Steering or any kind of Fuel smell, because any of these can kill one of our customers."  If your Check Engine Light comes on, you can pull off to the side of the road.  If your Brakes or Steering fail, you may die.  If your vehicle catches on fire from a fuel leak, you may die.  It's not worth the risk of an accident.

As far as Brakes go, ALWAYS insist on the highest quality or factory parts for this type of work.  If you need to cut back, use an off brand paper towel.

Next: The "Premium Fuel" Myths

About the Author

Daniel Dillon is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

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