A little more than a month ago I had to shell out $666 for the Devil’s Special brake job on the Beetle. And in case you were thinking that that kind of cash takes care of brakes for an entire car, think again. Just the rear brakes. I took the car to Midas because the last time we needed brake work done on the Beetle (front) we went to Brake King, where unlike Burger King you don’t get it your way. You do get raped though, so there’s that. Nine hundred something dollars for that work and in the process we had to take the car to a VW dealership to have the specialized locking lug nuts removed because as the mechanic at Brake King explained, some previous mechanic probably stole the key for those lug nuts for his own toolbox. He said as he slowly and surreptitiously lowered the lid to his own toolbox. We chose to buy 2 new regular lug nuts for 5 bucks instead of buying a new key for $35. At least that escapade had the happy side effect of creating this travel bug.
So anyway, Midas. By the time I took the car there to actually have the work done, it was the second time around. The first time they took all 4 brake assemblies apart as I watched, sceptically, and listened as they explained what they’d found and what should be done. The brake pads needed to be replaced. Okay fine, the part of the brake system designed to be slowly used up needed to be replaced. I was fine with that. Oh, and the rotors would need to be replaced too. Why? Are they grooved? Can’t be resurfaced? Noooo, they’re having a real hard time getting them off. They’re probably rusted in place. By the time they’ve banged on them enough to get them off, they’ll be irrevocably warped. No good. You’ll need new ones. And the calipers will have to be replaced as well. Why? What’s wrong with them? Are they frozen? That happened to me once with a pair of drum brakes. No no no, we can’t get the bleeder valve loose. We’re afraid that we’ll brake off the stem to that valve trying to get it off, and then we won’t be able to bleed the brakes. Ugh. Alright alright. Try to get them off without breaking them, and we’ll go from there. I’d rather not have to buy new calipers. (For those of you keeping a tab, calipers cost more than all the other parts of a brake assembly combined.) I got their word that even if they broke the bleeder valve stems, they could still put everything back together and have it work. I didn’t want or need them oops-ing me into an emergency brake job. When I drove in the brakes may have been squealing, but at least they still brought the car to a complete stop.
Well, the stems did break. And they brought me an $800 estimate for what it would cost to fix everything. I looked at it and said sorry, I don’t have that much money to my name right now. So the guy asked me to hold on, disappeared for a few minutes and came back with a new estimate. $650, but that’s as low as he could go. I can’t do it. I came in with a couple hundred hoping for just some pad replacements. Now he seemed a bit mad, like I’d been leading him on, but what could he do? I told him it’s better that we’re having this talk now, and not in an hour when he’s done the work and my card’s been declined. So they put it all back together and I told them I’d be back when I could afford to have the work done. And I did, and all was well. Then I did my own brake job.
Last weekend I decided to do something about the brakes on the Corolla, that sounded like they were grating up a giant block of titanium Parmesan. You may remember this from a few weeks back. (As it turned out, that strange piece of metal was far more cosmetic than functional.) I went to Advance Auto Parts and purchased to new sets of brake pads for $21 and a C-clamp, on the advice of the kid behind the counter, who was confident that if a dog had opposable thumbs it could do a brake job on a Corolla. I went back home and disassembled the driver’s side front tire. I looked at it for a long time, then went back to Advance Auto Parts to get a larger C-clamp, a kit full of all the springs and clips that the confident kid behind the counter had failed to mention on my first visit, and a complete maintenance manual for a ’92 Toyota Corolla, in lieu of a mutant canine. Total damage: $65. Three hours later I had done both front brakes and changed out all four tires for the monster studded snow tires. Good move, that. Driving around in last weekend’s Nor’easter with those puppies on made me feel like a teenager again. You know. Invincible.
I ended up doing my own brake job for $600 less than Midas, and all I needed was a car jack, a lug wrench, an adjustable wrench, a c-clamp, a screwdriver, a piece of wire, pants (never do your own brake work without pants!) and a cavalier regard for my own personal safety. What did I learn? I learned that Midas, as nice and pseudo-informative as they were, were still feeding me a boat load of bull crap. I never even had to remove the broke rotors, why the hell did they? In fact, the back side of the rotor that was making all he noise was grooved like chunky Fisher-Price record. Sure, it’s gonna grind that new brake pad down pretty fast, but at just $5 a pad, I’ll just put a new one in when it does. I learned that trick from a girl I dated in high school who fixed the crack in her engine block by pouring a fresh new one dollar pint of oil into it once a week to replace what was leaking out. And the bleeder valves? They’re till intact, due in large part to my never having to open them, which was due in large part to never having to disconnect the brake line.
At the end of it all, I don’t blame Midas. I don’t blame myself either, because if I’ve learned one thing from our society it’s that it sure as hell isn’t my fault. They’re there to sell me a product, not to provide a service. Unlike the American medical-industrial complex, the auto repair industry wants to combat the cause of the problem, not the symptom. Your brakes squealing? They’ll replace everything between the tire and the engine. Oil leak? New engine. Cracked windshield? You need all new glass, and probably gaskets. There’s always gaskets. And we should be happy that our medical industry doesn’t yet have the ability to replace parts on demand, or every time it burned when you pee you’d be looking at a bill for brand new kidneys and plumbing. And gaskets. At least you’d be able to afford it with the $600 you saved doing your own brake job.