The ideal goal of any brake job, both from the customer’s and the technician’s perspective, ought to be to restore the vehicle’s brake system and braking performance to the same safe condition as when it left the factory. Anything less is an incomplete and unsafe brake job. Of course, what constitutes this complete brake job will vary widely depending on the vehicle and the state of the braking system, and requires judgement calls by the technician as to what is required. This judgement call, however, should ideally be made based upon a thorough inspection and repair process, so as to ensure the highest quality performance and customer satisfaction.
The following describes not just the process of doing a complete brake job, but also the rationale for doing so and benefits that can help automotive shops to explain to customers why this complete brake job is so important. In doing so, shop technicians can be sure to keep customers happy and returning for future work.
Process of a complete brake job
The first step in a complete brake job is to have a brief conversation with customers about what their expectations are, in terms of how they use their vehicle, what kind of budget they have, and whether they want to use the same friction materials as in previous brake systems. In addition to this conversation, performing a thorough inspection of every aspect of the vehicle’s brake system – brake pads, shoes, rotors, calipers, hardware, hoses, lines, and master cylinder – is absolutely critical. Even though typically front brakes wear out first, and sometimes it is only necessary to clean and lubricate rear brakes, every aspect of the system should be inspected to determine what components must be replaced.
If, in the process of inspecting a vehicle’s brakes, a technician notices that the vehicle’s front brake pads or rotors are worn, it is best to replace the rotors, brake pads, and hardware all at once. Hardware should be replaced each time that rotors and friction materials are, since the hardware is composed of spring steel and loses its elasticity over time. When that happens, the hardware isn’t as able to keep the rotors and pads separate, as is necessary, leading to premature wear on new brake components.
Rotors and brake pads are grouped together in this description of replacing components intentionally because when replacing brake pads, it is best to replace rotors as well. Used brake rotors have a friction film that has transferred from the brake pad to the braking surface of the rotor. Failing to replace the rotors, or at least remove the old friction film on the used rotors, lengthens stopping distance and therefore makes the brakes less safe. If absolutely necessary, it is possible to remove the old friction film by turning the rotors and non-directionally roughening their surface with sandpaper, but later on in the article, we’ll discuss why this is not an ideal solution from a safety standpoint.
In addition to replacing brake pads, rotors, and hardware, it is important to clean every part of the brake system well. In particular, technicians should remove rust from steering knuckle and mounting bracket, if it is present, all the way down to bare iron. Thin layers of rust that form in these areas lead to uneven wearing and sticking of brake pads, and ultimately a longer stopping distance. Rust removal is extremely important, especially considering that rust forms in brake systems in roughly half of the U.S. and causes dramatic reductions in braking efficiency. After cleaning, technicians should also lubricate any metal-to-metal contact points to enable the proper amount of motion movement in the brake system.