Brake Repair Berkeley
Quality, consistency, and safety
If you’re looking for a cheap brake job, Art’s Automotive isn’t the right shop for you. Cheap brake repairs, not surprisingly, result in poor brake performance, brake squeak, noises, pulsation, and brake fade. When we do brake work, the brakes will be quiet, effective, smooth, and consistent. Doing quality work with quality part costs more than doing slapdash work with cheap parts. However, if you compare our prices to other shops that do similarly good work, and you compare apples to apples, you’ll find our prices very fair.
We’ve been in business for 35 years, and we’ve done a lot of experimenting. We’ve tried many brands of aftermarket pads and shoes and heard hundreds of sales pitches and we’ve come the to the following conclusion: there are no brake part better than OE brake parts. Genuine pads and pad kits can cost 10 times as much as aftermarket pads, so there’s always the temptation to buy low cost parts to offer a lower cost repair with a higher profit, and if you call around and ask, you’ll find that that’s what most shops do. Amazingly, even some dealerships install aftermarket parts! We’ve tried it, and realized that it’s pennywise and pound foolish.
This page will detail how we do brake work. If our policies strike a chord with you, great. If your philosophy doesn’t jibe with ours, there are a thousands of shops out there and there’s a lid for every pot. But before you go looking for another shop, let me try to talk you into seeing things our way.
Only Quality Parts
We only use Genuine brake pads. If you own a Toyota, we use Toyota pads. Honda? Honda pads. Nissan? Nissan pads. Subaru? Well, you can see the pattern. We only use pads purchased from the dealership. We don’t use OE or OEM pads. OE pads are pads made by the company that contracted with the vehicle manufacturer. For instance, Akibono makes brake pads for some Honda models. Akibono also sells brake pads in an Akibono box. Seems like a great idea, but we’ve found that there’s no guarantee that the OE pad will have the same compound as the Genuine pad. OEM means that the company makes a pad for a car manufacturer, but not the manufacturer of the car the pad fits. Anyway, if we install a set of brake pads on your Lexus, it will come in a box that says Toyota.
Why does it matter? The composition of the friction material is the single most important aspect of brake performance. The composition of the friction material is a delicate balance between cold stopping friction, warm stopping friction, and noise. The better is stops cold, the more likely it will fade hot. The better is stops hot, the worst it will perform cold. Then there is the constant struggle against vibration and noise. The vehicle manufacturer spends a lot of R&D dollars finding the perfect balance, and often they continue to tweak their formula even after the car is sold, so the second set of brake pads may be even better than the first. In short, when you buy a set of Genuine pads, it has been design specifically for your year and model. When you buy an aftermarket set of brake pads, the same friction compound is likely the same as for every part number.
New Brake Hydraulic Parts
We purchase either Genuine or OE hydraulic parts. Aisin makes brake many hydraulic parts for Toyota. Aisin also sells the SAME components in an Aisin box. If we can buy the Aisin component for less, and reduce the cost of the job while maintaining quality, we will. Adler makes hydraulic components for Honda. Tokico makes hydraulic components for Mazda. Learning which companies make which components for which models takes a bit of research and diligence, so we are always very careful when selling anything that doesn’t come in a box from the dealership.
Remanufactured Hydraulic Parts
We’d rather use new parts, but cost and availability sometimes make it impossible. We often repair front brake calipers in house. If you want something done right….. However, if the car came from the rust belt, it’s sometimes not worth the effort. When we can, we’ll buy remanufactured calipers from the company that originally made the part. For instance, Akibono remanufactures their own calipers and they are literally as good as new. If that’s not an option, we may recommend buying a reman unit from the dealership, depending on availability. Finally there are the “other” remanufacturers. When purchasing these parts we evaluate the component before installation, and if it doesn’t look good, we’ll send it back. We stand behind our work and we won’t do repairs we’re not confident in.
We don’t stick with Genuine and OE on rotors. There are several great product available at very reasonable prices. Brembo, Mountain, Ate, and various other OEM manufacturers make rotors that are just as good as what came with the car.
Consistency in Repair Practices
Quality parts alone do not guarantee a good brake job. A mechanic needs to service the brake system, which is a lot different than installing parts on a car. A brake job is usually triggered by the friction material wearing to below the minimum specification, but a brake job IS NOT just replacing the pads.
Brakes have moving wearing parts, and just like your engine and transmission, they need periodic lubrication and maintenance. When the pads wear out, it’s time to clean, inspect, and lubricate the calipers and hardware. This means the caliper pins need to be removed, cleaned, inspected, and if they’re not worn, lubricated and reinstalled. Caliper pins must be lubricated with the proper type of grease. You wouldn’t want to put motor oil in the brake fluid, and you wouldn’t want to put petroleum based grease on caliper pins. Caliper pins must be lubricated with either lithium soap grease or silicone grease. Both of these greases will stand up to high temperatures and pressures found at the caliper, but they also have another important characteristic: they won’t damage rubber. The protective boots for the pins are made of rubber and Japanese cars frequently use a rubber bushing on the caliper pins. If petroleum based grease is used, the rubber will swell and bind, causing the pin to stick. Here at Art’s, we prefer the silicone grease.
The caliper pins are not the only parts that need lubrication. The contact point between the brake pads and caliper brackets also need to be cleaned and lubricated. If there is no lubrication on this slide, the pads may make a “clack” noise at low speeds when the brakes are applied. This lubrication also prevents the pads from binding in the caliper bracket, which will cause ineffective braking and premature brake wear. This area requires a different type of lubricant. Here at Art’s, we use one of two types of grease. Some of us prefer the copper, lead, and petroleum grease sold by Nissan. Others prefer a molybdenum, lead, and synthetic grease made by Sta-Lube. Either product will work fine, the main thing is that the grease needs to be able to handle extreme pressures and high temperatures without being pushed out of position.
Finally the brake shims need to be greased. This grease is not for lubrication, it’s for absorption of vibration. This is a very specialized molybdenum grease. It’s very thick and can withstand extreme temperatures and pressures without thinning. Honda sells the best version of this grease, Honda M77 Assembly Paste, and that’s what we use here at Art’s.
Machining Brake Rotors
Machining brake rotors is not a subject without controversy. Honda’s Service News magazine decried the “unnecessary” machining of brake rotors in their December 2010 issue, and this has been used as a rallying cry for the anti-machining crowd. Let’s start with the basics before deciding on a camp.
What does machining a rotor mean? A rotor is a metal disc made of cast iron that spins with the wheel. There is one rotor on each wheel assuming the car has 4 wheel disc brakes. Brake pads mounted in the stationary brake caliper straddle the rotor, one on each side. When the brakes are applied, the pads are squeezed against the rotor by the caliper, slowing the wheel. Machining the brake rotor means that we cut metal off the brake rotor to remove any defects in the wearing surface of the rotor. The brake pads are softer than the rotor, so they wear out more quickly, but the rotor does wear down as well. When the rotor wears, it does not always wear evenly, so the it’s friction surface may be “lumpy”, or concave, or warped. Machining off the top layer of metal removes the defects, revealing a smooth flat surface for the new pads to rub against.
Honda’s point, if you read more than the headline, is that the rotors should not be machined unless you find a measureable defect. Sounds good on paper, but let’s talk a little bit about metrology, the science of measurement. The first rotor measurement is the thickness of the brake rotor. Manufacturers will have a discard specification, a machine to specification, or both. Once the rotor has worn too thin, it must be replaced. The second rotor measurement taken is run-out, which is easy enough to check with a dial indicator. Run-out is the side to side wobble of the rotor as it spins. Assuming the caliper pins are free, run-out will not cause a pulsation, but left unaddressed it will lead to thickness variation in the rotor, and that will cause pulsation. Which brings us to the next measurement: parallelism. Parallelism is just a shorter way of saying that the rotor is equally thick all the way around. If the rotor has thickness variation, it will cause a pulsation in the brake pedal. How much variation is too much? .0005″ of an inch will cause a pulsation.
That’s 1/2000 of an inch, a pretty tiny amount, huh. If you root around in your mechanic’s tool box, you will (hopefully) find a micrometer. A standard mechanic’s micrometer will likely have a .001″ resolution. In other words, it will be incapable of measuring 10,000ths of an inch and cannot be used to check parallelism. Some mechanics will own better equipment, but may not be able to use it. Sadly, manufacturing has left the country. Metrology used to be taught in high school, now most folks have no idea what the word means. Automotive trade schools focus on diagnosis of the problems and replacement of parts, not measuring, machining, fabrication, or any of the other skills that used to be essential to auto repair.
OK, let’s say your mechanic has the equipment and knowledge to detect 1/2000 of an inch of thickness variation. Why not follow Honda’s advice and check before machining? The short answer is this: it will take longer to measure the rotor properly than it will to just machine it. AND even if a mechanic follows the proper measurement procedure, measuring the rotor 10mm in from the edge in at least 8 equally spaced locations, he may not find a thickness variation if it’s further in than 10mm. In fact, there are areas of the rotors friction surface that simply cannot be measured with a micrometer due to the depth limitations built into the micrometer frame. To summarize, measuring takes longer than machining and may not catch all thickness variation issues.
I can hear the voices of a million anti-machining souls crying out indignantly, “but if you machine the brake rotor with every brake job, the rotor will wear out faster, waa!”. Yes. It’s true. The rotors will wear out a little faster. However, if the rotor is not in awful condition, only a small amount of material need be removed. I typically remove about .018″, .009″ per side. A new rotor will usually have about .080″ of “meat” over the minimum specification, so a rotor will survive 3 or maybe even 4 brake jobs before it reaches minimum specification and needs to be replaced. 30,000 miles is average life for front brakes, so that means you get to keep the same brake rotors for 90,000 miles or more even if you machine the rotors with every brake job. $150 bucks every 90K is a small price to pay for brakes that work well.
Ok, here’s the final argument against machining rotors and our rebuttal. Remember a while back when I said machining had left America? And that we no longer taught metal working skills? Some of the OEs have noticed the same thing, and recommend replacing the rotors if there’s an issue with them because they assert that a mechanic will not be able to produce an acceptable surface finish or even be able to mount the rotor true on the lathe. This has some merit, but doesn’t apply to us. We have a 2500 pound lathe that is extremely rigid, which reduces the chatter that causes a rough finish. We run HSS (high speed steel) bits, which are sharper than carbide and produce a better surface finish, but wear quickly when cutting cast iron, which is some pretty hard and abrasive stuff. In other words we spend more on tooling to ensure quality. We run our finish pass at an absurdly slow feed rate to eliminate a “phonograph finish”. An finally we lap the rotors with emery to knock down any peaks left by the tooling. Our surface finishes are as good as any factory can produce using turning. We don’t own a profiliometer, but comparison under magnification is proof enough.
The friction material wears away and creates “brake dust”. Some of this dust floats away and is deposited on the roadway or wherever, but not all of it. Some of the worn off pad material ends up stuck to the brake calipers, which doesn’t really cause a problem. However, when the brakes are being replaced, all of the dust needs to be removed. There are a few reasons that this is necessary. First, it’s impossible to inspect for wear when you can’t see the bare metal. Cleaning allows for a thorough inspection. Another reason is that lubrication will not stick well to brake dust, so cleaning is necessary to lubricate properly. Then there is the old lubrication. As you may remember from the lubrication section above, we are very picky about what grease goes where. Sometimes the wrong grease has be used previously, so we want to remove all of the old grease. Finally the brake dust is a bit abrasive, so if it isn’t removed from the sliding surfaces it can cause premature wear.