Auto Service World
News   November 11, 2010   by CARS Magazine

Doing a Complete Brake Job

Brake work is one of the most common of shop jobs, a sure-fire revenue and profit earner. The classic and tried-and-true sales pitch is the 'complete' brake job: you tell your customer that when they come in for brake work, you will do a...


Brake work is one of the most common of shop jobs, a sure-fire revenue and profit earner. The classic and tried-and-true sales pitch is the ‘complete’ brake job: you tell your customer that when they come in for brake work, you will do a complete and expert job that will let them leave safely from the shop and satisfied with the work.

But what is a complete brake job?

Start by listening

Pierre Lalonde, bilingual technical support specialist with Affinia Canada said the first thing is to have the service writer or attending technician have a chat with the vehicle owner. Listen to their complaints and even take the vehicle out on the road with the owner.

This will give the technician a better idea of what exactly is happening with the vehicle’s brakes and, most importantly, it is a wonderful opportunity to engage with the customer to find out how they are using the vehicle. Do they use the vehicle for light, moderate driving within the city or are they using the vehicle to pull heavy loads such as a trailer up to the cottage; are they driving on city streets most times or do they spend most of their driving time on the highway with aggressive braking? This will provide the opening to discuss different friction materials and to help them decide on what would be best for their vehicle and the driving conditions they encounter.

During that road test the technician should also pay attention to the brake pedal and if it feels off, or soft and mushy when applied; and to ask the owner if they have noticed the same thing. A soft-feeling brake pedal or one that sinks much too slowly may indicate a problem with the master cylinder and it is a good time to mention that you would like to take a look at it when the vehicle is back in the shop, as a worn master cylinder must be replaced for the safe operation of the vehicle. Once the vehicle is back in the shop, take a look as well as the brake fluid for any discoloration as it may be a sign of moisture contamination, as well as the levels. Low brake fluid levels may indicate a leak somewhere or a worn lining. Finally, take a quick look at the brake lights as non-functioning lights could be as simple as a blown bulbs or a misadjusted brake switch. Either way, all of this is part of a complete brake job and doing these checks increases customer satisfaction with the work.

“When performing a brake service, do it right,” recommend Lalonde. “No half-steps, no short-cuts. Brakes are all about safety. Be conscientious, be thorough and your customer will benefit from a job well done.”

Then take a look

Domenic Sagmbelluri, ACDelco product analyst, operations manager with the ACDelco Technical Assistance Centre added once the vehicle is in the shop and the tires have been removed, take a moment to look at the whole system to make sure there is nothing wrong with any other parts of the vehicle that should be pointed out to the vehicle’s owner.

“The technician should (then) perform a brake inspection and check the components for worn or seized parts,” he added. “This will better prepare the technician to provide to the customer a better recommendation of what repairs are necessary with no unforeseen issues later.”

One thing to look for is uneven brake pad wear as such problems can indicate problems with the brake system. Inner pad wear usually happens with the piston cannot retract properly, possibly because it is binding in a scored cylinder or there is a disjointed or worn piston seal, or even that the pad is ridding on a corroded caliper bracket. Outer pad wear happens if the caliper bracket or pins are corroded or even lubricated previously with the wrong lubricant.

“Scored rotors and discoloration, uneven pad wear are signs of a poor return of the caliper piston,” added Lalonde. “Rust on caliper hardware is not good so they will have to be replaced. Using a wire brush will never remove burrs off slider pins and any torn or ripped-off rubber boots will have to be replaced.”

A sticky piston or a hydraulic problem could be the cause of both pads on one side to be thinner than the pads on the opposite side. The side with the premature wear could also have been caused by a brake hose having been damaged in some way.

It is also good to remember that such problems may have their source higher up in the hydraulic line than the brake hose on the side where the pad is showing the wear. To take one example, a faulty ABS modulator may not allow the release of pressure.

Lalonde recommend that technicians also keep this piece of advice at the ready: always replace hydraulic parts by two.

Installing a new part with an old part still on the vehicle will cause an imbalance in the braking system.

“Wheel cylinders, brake hoses and calipers should be replaced as a pair,” he said.

And sometimes, a problem can be caused by faulty design by the vehicle’s designers. What looked like a decent design on paper is, in fact, a problem when the vehicle hits the road and encounters the real world.

Rotors should also be carefully looked at as uneven wearing of the pads caused by hydraulic or other issues could have warped the rotor surface. If it is warped, it should be replaced.

Warping should be carefully monitored on new vehicles as many are now starting to come with new kinds of rotor designs that are lighter in weight in order to help with fuel economy.

Finally, it is recommended that after replacing the brake pads, a “break-in” or “burnishing” procedure be done. Affina provides a technical bulletin (BPI 09-05) for its Raybestos brake pads.

This procedure is to properly condition the pads and rotors and does at least three things to the pads and the rotors: physically and thermally converts the composition of the pad and or rotor surfaces; smoothes the asperities of the mating surfaces; and heat cycles the entire pad structure.

Making the job easier

Brake makers know that one of the greatest complaints of technicians is not having all the parts needed for a job.

To help in this regard, there has been an effort to include all the necessary parts in the box, including pre-lubricated parts in many instances.

ACDelco’s Sgambelluri pointed to the company’s Durastop line of brake pads the come with all of the hardware and lubricants in one package. The Raybestos Professional Grade brakes come with attached shims, application-specific slots and chamfers and other necessary hardware.


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