Hi hcbrainard. Welcome to the forum. If this is the first time you've needed brakes in 90,000 miles, you must do a lot of highway driving. Many cars would have had two brake jobs already.
Your mechanic did you a favor by peeking at your brakes while the wheel was off. You have disc brakes on the front. It is very easy to see the linings with the wheel removed. If the mechanic didn't warn you that the linings were about worn out, you would eventually hear a harsh metal grinding sound when applying the brakes. At that point you would need new rotors for sure. Even before the grinding starts, it is very possible you will need new rotors. There is a published legal minimum thickness they can be allowed to wear down to or be machined to. Most rotors today are made very thin and close to that legal limit to save weight and get better fuel mileage, but that means there isn't enough material to allow them to be machined. Machining them to true them up and smooth them out was always a normal part of a brake job, but today it is more common to replace them. Also, they are very inexpensive compared to twenty years ago so it's hard to justify the cost in labor and consumable cutting bits to machine them.
Another potential clue that you need front brakes is to check the fluid level in the master cylinder reservoir. When disc brake pads wear down, the pistons in the calipers move out to take up the space and maintain a high, solid brake pedal. Brake fluid leaves the reservoir and takes up the space behind the pistons. When new, thicker pads are installed, those pistons have to be forced back into the calipers to make room. Doing so forces the brake fluid back up into the reservoir. That is why mechanics will not top off the brake fluid during other routine service such as oil changes. If they did top off the brake fluid, the extra would spill over and eat off the car's paint when you had the brakes replaced.
Drum brakes take a little more work to check. That's probably what you have on the rear but more cars are coming now with rear disc brakes. Either way, rear brakes typically last two or three times longer than the front ones because they only do about 20 percent of the stopping.
There are a lot of places advertising brake jobs. They lure you in with a low set price for just the front or just the rear, then tell you there are many other parts needed in addition to the standard brake parts. There is nothing unethical about that as long as the parts are really needed, but the problem comes from making you believe you're going to get everything fixed for that low teaser rate. It would be more appropriate to inspect your brakes first, then give you a written estimate for everything up front. Very few cars will get away with just the advertised price. Midas is a bad offender of this. They like to replace just about everything but the brake pedal pad, presumably to insure the quality of the finished repair.
Finally, one of the most important aspects of a brake job is the final test drive. During that drive, the mechanic will apply the brakes considerably harder than normal to seat the pads and promote the break-in process. If that is done, then the car sits for an hour or two to allow the new pads to cool down, you will likely have no problems. If that is not done, if you do extended city stop and go driving, you will often develop brake fade. That is when the car keeps going when you press the brake pedal. That happens only when the new linings get hot, and they get hotter than normal because they haven't developed their normal friction yet. If that happens to you, the cure is to just park the car, let it cool down for a couple of hours, then drive it like normal. The friction will come back when they cool down and that typically doesn't happen again after that.
Expect to pay around $150.00 to perhaps as much as $250.00 for just the front brakes. The person doing the work will measure your rotors to see if they can be machined or if they must be replaced. There may be mounting hardware and / or anti-rattle clips and hardware that are needed too besides just the pads. Rubber hoses will be inspected too for signs of cracking in the outer layer. If that is found, let them replace that hose. That is cheap insurance against loss of half of your braking system due to a leak.
Thursday, September 23rd, 2010 AT 1:16 PM