The braking system is one of the most critical components of your car that needs careful maintenance. Most vehicles come with a disc brake system that comprises brake pads, rotors, pistons, and calipers. The disc brake is an upgrade to the less common drum brake system and provides a more reliable braking performance.
However, the brake pads and rotors need frequent replacing as the friction and heat wear them out quickly. While you can DIY in your home garage, you’re probably asking, how much should it cost to replace brake pads and rotors?
Let’s find out.
What Are the Signs Your Brake Pads and Rotors Need Replacing?
Generally, there are prescribed mileage intervals for replacing your brake pads and rotors. But, we recommend that you change them immediately if you notice any of these problems with your brakes.
- As the brake pad material wears down, the metallic part of the pad may begin to scratch on the rotor surface. When you apply the brakes, the metal on metal friction produces a screeching noise. This is an indication that the brake pads need replacing.
- If your brake pedal vibrates when you press it, it could mean that the brake rotors are warped. Warping is when the rotor surface becomes uneven from glazing by the brake pad material.
Overheating due to excessive braking is one of the major causes of warping. While you can machine the rotors to smoothen the surface, we advise replacing them with new ones as the cost difference is minimal.
How Often Do Brake Pads and Rotors Need to Be Replaced?
In ordinary situations, good-quality brake pads should last between 25,000 miles to 70,000 miles, while rotors often last between 50,000 and 70,000 miles. We also recommend checking your brake fluid every 24,000 to 36,000 miles or when you suspect a leak.
The calipers and pistons typically last as long as the vehicle and are only replaced when old or have mechanical issues. However, the maintenance schedule of replacing the brake pads and rotors also depends on several other factors, such as the quality of materials.
Brake pads contain various compounds that fall into organic and semi-organic, metallic and semi-metallic, and ceramic brake pad categories. Most cars typically feature metallic or semi-metallic brake pads, which offer durability and excellent performance at high temperatures.
On the other hand, most brake discs come as cast iron, but you can also find them in layered steel, steel, aluminum, and ceramic materials.
Your driving habits and the terrain where you drive the vehicle can also affect the durability of your brake pads. Hard braking while driving at high speeds and excessive braking on congested city roads can cause your brake pads and rotors to wear out faster than when you’re driving on a highway.
Drivers who use both their feet to drive may finish their pads faster and glaze the rotors. This is because one foot is constantly applying pressure on the brake while the other is accelerating the car, which causes the pads to overheat.
Also, if your rotors are wearing out unevenly due to glazing, it can cause new brake pads to crack or wear down faster than usual. Therefore, it is always a good idea to replace your rotors and brake pads concurrently for durability.
How Much Does a Complete Brake Job Cost?
While there is no fixed answer to this question, you can get a general cost estimate on how much your brake pads and rotors replacement job will cost, depending on several factors.
If you can perform the replacement job yourself, the overall cost may be significantly lower.
However, if you are taking your car to a mechanic for the brake job, the easiest way to get a realistic cost estimate is by calling a few independent shops and getting quotes from them.
A typical brake pad and rotor replacement job may cost you between $250 – $500 per axle, depending on the type of replacement parts you use and the labor rate you get. To break it down further, you can expect to pay between $35 and $150 for the brake pads and $40 to $60 for labor per wheel.
OEM Vs Aftermarket Brake Pads
Generally, the best brake pads you can choose to use are the OEM pads instead of aftermarket components.
OEM is the abbreviation of original equipment manufacturer, which simply means getting the original parts made specifically for your car from the manufacturer.
The advantage of OEM pads is that they are designed to meet the requirements of your vehicle. So, you have the assurance of getting high-quality replacements covered by a warranty.
On the flipside, aftermarket brake pads can offer you certain advantages that the OEM parts don’t provide. For instance, you may prefer a specific performance attribute that an aftermarket part has, such as better braking power for heavy loads, that your OEM part does not have.
Additionally, aftermarket producers use a different manufacturing process that makes their parts more affordable and available in the market.
However, aftermarket parts have some drawbacks, and the primary one is that you may end up with poor quality or defective parts not covered by a warranty. Also, some aftermarket brake pads contain asbestos, which may expose you to serious health risks even though it makes a pretty decent and inexpensive brake pad.
While it is not a requirement for manufacturers to indicate the presence of asbestos in their products, we recommend only buying products labeled NAO, which means non-asbestos organic.
How Much Does It Cost to Replace a Brake Rotor?
While brake pads usually wear out faster than the rotors, it is advisable to replace both parts simultaneously to ensure the maximum performance of your braking system.
Rotors generally wear out due to warping, which is a condition caused by the brake pads overheating on the discs. The pads leave residue material on the disc surface, making it uneven, which affects the overall performance of the braking system.
Ideally, your mechanic can smoothen the rotor surface through a process known as machining or turning the rotors.
Machining basically shaves a layer off the surface, which causes the rotor thickness to reduce and become less effective. Plus, there is very little cost difference between machining and replacing the disc with a new one, so we recommend you go with the latter.
Rotors also come in different materials and aftermarket types, which can affect the overall cost of the replacement job.
Cast iron is the most commonly used material for brake rotors, and while it is the heaviest material available, it is also the most affordable. On the other hand, high carbon discs are the most durable and can withstand high temperatures without cracking. They are, however, significantly more expensive.
Like brake pads, you can also opt for performance aftermarket discs, especially if you are going to replace your pads with premium quality options such as ceramic pads.
Generally, rotors can cost between $30 and $75 each, while labor to replace both rotors and pads can cost up to $200 per axle.
What Can Make a Brake Pad and Rotor Replacement Job More Costly?
One of the key considerations mechanics use to determine the overall price is the make of your car. Generally, European brands, such as BMW and Audi, may cost more than American-made vehicles because they are slightly different, and it may take the mechanic longer to work on them.
Additionally, a high-end truck may cost significantly more than a typical everyday car because they might prefer aftermarket performance parts instead of stock replacement pads.
Your driving environment and brake pad materials also play a role in the cost because you can install a more expensive brake pad for heavy-duty use.
Other Related Maintenance Jobs You Can Perform
While disc brake calipers are typically the toughest and durable parts of your braking system, it is still advisable to check their condition as well.
Calipers are the brake parts that house the pistons, which squeeze the brake pads against the rotors to stop the car. Generally, calipers and pistons are only found in disc brake systems and can give you up to 100,000 miles of service.
These parts often wear out due to corrosion. The most obvious sign that you need to replace them is when your car pulls to one side when you apply the brakes.
Calipers are also the most expensive to replace as they can cost up to $130 per unit. Ideally, it is better to replace your brake calipers in pairs to ensure they perform well together.
You should also know how much a tune-up usually costs.
While the engine is critical for making your car move, the braking system is essential for making it stop. Most modern cars come with sensors that alert you when your brake pads are worn out. But, there are other indicators of worn-out brake parts that you should not ignore.
A complete car brake service typically takes 15 minutes to an hour at the shop and can cost between $300 and $1,000 depending on your car make and the replacement parts. It can cost you less if you decide to perform the job yourself because it is one of the easiest DIY projects you can do. However, be sure to consult your car manual for specific repair information. Also, remember to always wear gloves, safety glasses, and a mask to protect yourself from brake dust and leaking fluids.