How Much Does a Brake Replacement Cost?
Brake pad cost = $30-$130 per set (1 set per axle)
Brake rotor cost = $25-80 per rotor (2 rotors per axle)
Labor cost = $150-350
Total repair cost = $230-650 per axle
How Do Brakes Work?
When you press on the brake pedal, hydraulic principles multiply that force to engage the brake pads and rotors, and stop the car’s momentum. Both disc and drum braking systems utilize the friction created when the two materials are pressed together to safely stop the vehicle. Braking systems in an car are subject to wear and tear, meaning the parts will need to be replaced from time to time.
Brake pads are made from a mixture of metal fibers, ceramic, and organic materials that are hardened at high temperature. This material is mounted onto a metal backing surface. It allows for a responsive, quiet braking surface that does not create as much heat as metal-to-metal does. They are meant to wear down and be replaced periodically.
Rotors and drums, the other friction surface, are made from steel and will need machining or replacement with each change of pads or shoes.
The calipers, wheel cylinders, and master cylinders will need replacement as a car ages, or as mileage becomes high.
How Do Brakes Fail?
When the brakes are used at higher speeds, or when rapidly stopping, excessive heat can be generated. If it becomes too hot, the oil and resin still embedded in the brake pad material will excrete onto the rotor and create a thin film. Known as brake fade, this film trapped between the pad and rotor will make braking very difficult.
Excessive heat can also lead to the warping in the metal rotors. This warping will cause a pulsation in the brake pedal any time the brakes are engaged.
Worn Brake Pads
If the brake pads wear down too much, the friction material on the pad will wear out completely, leaving only the metal mounting surface. This metal-to-metal grinding causes more noise than braking power, and indicates that it's past time to replace your pad and rotors. Braking distance will increase dramatically.
There's a piece of metal that will touch the rotor when the pads get low, before reaching the metal backing, known as a squealer. That squealing is a clear indication that the brakes need to be replaced (or at least inspected by a mechanic). If it's ignored, the metal-to-metal grinding sound that follows will make it very clear that the car needs to get into a shop ASAP.
Reduced Hydraulic Pressure
If this metal on metal grinding continues, the heat created by this friction will overheat the rubber seals inside the piston and compromise the flexible rubber hose. Brake fluid will leak from the seals around the piston in the caliper, reducing the hydraulic pressure. With little or no pressure, a car cannot stop quickly, and can cause an accident.
Hoses that become damaged due to excessive heat collapse internally and will not let fluid flow to or out of the caliper or wheel cylinder. If the car pulls to one side when braking, a caliper or hose may have failed. It should be looked at looked at by a mechanic immediately.
What to Expect When the Brakes are Replaced
Brake pads and rotors are usually replaced as a set, so two new mating surfaces can be broken in together. Occasionally, the rotor can be machined (turned) if enough material is left.
It's a good idea to have a conversation with your mechanic to determine the right kind of parts for your car. There are cheaper options, but most will recommend factory parts that give the same feel, stopping power and longevity as the original set. Most brake jobs can be done in a short amount of time, sometimes while you wait.
If you pay attention to your car's symptoms, you'll know early on that your brakes need to be replaced. Postponing the service will only cost you more down the line - replacing hydraulic parts is very expensive!
How Often Should Brake Pads and Rotors Be Replaced?
Brake pads and rotors can last anywhere from 12,000 miles to over a 100,000 miles. Severe driving conditions, such as heavy commuter traffic or city driving with multiple stop signs and lights, wear brakes at a higher rate. Highway driving, where brakes are applied infrequently, causes minimal wear. The quality of materials used in the brake pads and rotors will also have an impact on their longevity.
Dangers of Rust
Infrequent use can actually damage the brakes as well. Early morning weather can leave moisture (dew) on the rotors and cause rust spots. Usually this small amount of rust will be cleaned away with the first use of the brakes. However, if a car sits too long without use, the rust will become entrenched on the rotor to the point that it can't be cleared off; replacement will be required.
Brake life varies, so it's important to pay attention to your built-in indicators. It's also a good idea to ask for periodic checks by a technician (like during a tire rotation) to help you plan and budget for your next service.
Brakes are incredibly important for your safety, and for those on the road around you. Putting off repair is dangerous, and will likely cost you much more in the end. Use Openbay to compare pricing from local shops, and schedule your service online!
Service article originally written by an ASE Master Technician, has since been updated.