If you want a job done mostly right and $600 cheaper…

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.

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5 responses to “If you want a job done mostly right and $600 cheaper…

  1. This was quite entertaining! It’s good to hear that you don’t always have to take your car to a mechanic to get service done. My dad almost always changes my oil (I’m a college student) and I’m hoping he’ll teach me how to do it so I can do it myself one day.

    I like Midas, overall. My car started missing very badly a few months back, and they replaced the spark plugs first, which really needed to be done anyway, as they were pretty bad. But when that didn’t fix it and it turned out to be the coil, they had a used but working one laying around from an engine they’d replaced for someone else, and gave it to me for free. I ended up paying about $90 for new spark plugs and a coil, which was amazing. However, you’re definitely right–when in doubt, the usual prescription is “replace everything!”

    Anyway, good read. Congratulations on your mechanical prowess!

  2. The repairs you made to your brake system may be adequate for you, but remember you drive on public streets where the safety of other comes into play. The reason for having the brake rotors properly machined is to assist in the heat disipation cause during the stopping process. If the rotors are “grooved” there is less surface making contact to the brake friction material. It’s also nessessary to bleed the brake system in order to remove air and contaminants from the hydraulic system that are the major causes of brake failure, as your brakes heat up the brake fluid helps to maintain proper pressure, moisture in the hydraulic system will cause brakes to seize up or not allow pressure to be transfered to the wheels. The result is that you are placing the public at danger with your careless disregard for safety merely to save some money. It’s true you don’t always need to replace rotors or calipers but it’s best to find a reputable repair facility and take the time to educate yourself as to the required repairs.
    The brake system is one part of the vehicle you don’t want to take chances with.

  3. You’re from Midas, right?

    Lemme see… suggesting that somehow the amorphous “public” has a say in how I maintain by brakes: Check. Selling me up on products and services I still don’t need: Check. Hinting that I don’t have the smarts to do it myself: Chick-itty Check.

  4. No, I am not from Midas, I am however a Master Automotive Technician with 32 years in the business. First of all driving is a privilege not a right, that is why you have to license and register your vehicle and get a driving permit (your license). Most states also have minimum safety standards for motor vehicles (that’s why a police officer can give you a ticket for bald tires, or burned out bulbs and such) The fact you claim of up selling is a common business practice in every business, however in the auto motive business to up sell doesn’t mean to sell you more of the service you are already in for ( you came in for brakes so why try to sell you a brake job, that stupid). The process of up selling would then entitle looking the rest of the vehicle and then recommend OTHER repair that are obviously ( by you careless attitude toward vehicle maintenance) necessary. When you take your car to a repair facility, it is your responsibility to request the repairs you want and to look over any recommendation by the repair facility and approve the repairs before any work is performed. There are some unscrupulous shops out there, but then that happens in every business ( just look at everything that’s happening with the mortgage companies now). You have the right to request an estimate of all repairs that are required before having work performed, if you don’t like the estimate, get a second opinion. In the end it is your responsibility to find a reputable shop you trust where you can eventually get the services you seek at a price you are comfortable with. That the way business is carried out. And the “amorphous public” does have a say in the way you maintain your brakes, as long as you drive on public through-ways. And yes, I don’t think you have the capacity to perform the repairs on your own (at least not correctly) as obvious by your total disregard for the wanting to replace the damaged (“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) and worn (“In fact, the back side of the rotor that was making all he noise was grooved like chunky Fisher-Price record” ) components of the vehicle. As to your girl friends total lack of respect for the environment by merely allowing for the oil to continue to leak out everywhere instead of just fixing the problem )which by the way could have been repaired rather quickly with many readily available epoxies that would have treated the problem quickly. The only time that it would seem that a repair facility was trying to sell you everything (“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,”) is because you have obviously not maintained your vehicle properly to begin with. It’s easier and usually cheaper to maintain a vehicle running right then waiting until it breaks down and then getting the repairs. In fact if you had your vehicle serviced regularly you would have known when you needed brake pads and could have at that time just replaced the pads safely, but since you obviously know more than everyone you waited until you made grated cheese of your rotors and since you don’t get regular maintenance your bleeder vales have rusted in place getting you in the predicament you found yourself. It Some people shouldn’t be allowed to drive a vehicle, that why there is public transport. Maybe you should take a bus

  5. If you have a Budget Brakes in your area, they do quality work at affordable costs. They use the same parts as the high-priced guys, so then you can use the money you save towards other maintenance or parts for your car. You should check ’em out at http://www.budgetbrakes.com

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