You are in the middle of rotating your tires. You take a quick look at the rotors and see this:
Great! Now it's time to make a trip the garage. Wait a minute; why should I pay for a brake job?
Have you ever wondered this? It can cost 2-3 times as much to have a shop do what you might be able to do for yourself. My goal in this post is to show how twice the cost will equal quadruple the value for you.
To start, I'd like to introduce a list of the “steps of the brake job.” Since we're located in a very rusty area in the Northeast, I'm assuming a pretty rough set of brakes and a job with pads & rotors replacement.
1. Measuring brake thickness
2. Removing the wheel
3. Releasing pressure on the brake pads
4. Removing the caliper
5. Removing the brake pads
6. Removing the rotor
I know I broke that section down “barney-style” but my first point is that not every job is what it appears at first glance. Even removing the wheel (the 2nd step) can cause frustration and pain. Because of the corrosion gifted to us by our salt-laden roads, bolts and nuts become seized or fused to threads and are difficult to remove without some kind of an impact tool. Shops carry a wide variety of tools and chemicals to deal with rust and stuck bolts. If you start a brake job by rounding off a lug nut, you can bet the rest of the job is going to be an uphill battle.
The next step involves loosening the brake pads so that the calipers can be removed. It's amazing to think of the small clearances that allow the wheel to turn freely but still make it difficult to remove the brake caliper. If you don't have the proper tools and vantage point, you might damage the caliper with your trusty screwdriver. The piston and the protective boot can become damaged and require a more costly repair if this step isn't done right.
After the caliper is removed, the brake pads and rotor are replaced. This is another step made difficult by our ever-vigilant friend, rust. There is usually a guide/security bolt on the rotor to keep it straight and in place as the brakes are serviced. In the following picture, I've outlined one. On this particular job the bolt was fused, and the head was slightly corroded which meant the bit wasn't fitting in there perfectly.
We used a hammer, an impact adapter, an impact wrench (which requires an air compressor) and a towel to clean the affected area. On other cars we might have also needed penetrating lubricant and special bits for handling corroded heads. In the most extreme of cases the bolt may need to be drilled out and new threads tapped. Are you prepared to handle that situation should the need arise? Are you comfortable welding and torching small areas to get the right combination for a successful bolt extraction? There's no shame in realizing that your $150 DIY brake job costs you $1000 in tools.
Come back next week and we'll discuss the difficulty inherent in installation of the brakes.