How Long Does it Take to Change Brakes?

by Jody L. Campbell

Changing the Brakes

While changing brakes is a common automotive repair, there is no clear cut way to say that it will take "X" amount of time. Labor guides are often used to prepare an estimate for vehicles by reputable repair facilities. People fail to realize that calling for quotes over the phone for brake repairs is not a very accurate way to determine the time and price that will be involved in the job. If someone wants to buy the parts and tackle the job on his own, the lack of the proper tools can become an issue, and other variables can impose setbacks and major challenges to the time involved in replacing the brakes. Another person's perception of replacing brakes may not be an acceptable service to another. Taking wheels off, removing calipers, and removing and replacing pads is a typical backyard mechanic's perspective on a brake repair. It may take the backyard mechanic 45 minutes, when the repair facility quoted them two to three hours. When repair facilities quote repairs, there are more variables involved in what is commonly referred to as a "pad-slap." Caliper slides are extracted, cleaned, re-lubricated and then replaced. Rotors are also often machined or replaced when replacing pads, and that's something a backyard mechanic most often disregards. The repair facility most often removes hardware clips that hold the pads in the caliper anchor. A tool is used to grind off the excessive rust and corrosion. Lubricant is applied, the hardware cleaned and then replaced, and then another application of lubricant is put on top of the hardware. The backyard mechanic might squirt a little silicone lubricant that comes in the box with the pads he bought on the surface of the corroded and rusty hardware, or he may disregard it altogether. Although the backyard mechanic may have beaten the time estimate of the repair facility, chances are that he did not perform all the recommended services to the brakes to ensure quality and safety.

Variables

A stripped lug nut or lug stud when trying to remove a wheel, a seized caliper bolt that snaps under torque, a caliper bolt head that rounds off when trying to remove, a caliper piston that will not budge locking the pads against the rotor(s), caliper bridge bolts seized in the knuckle, a rotor that will not come off the hub, a bleeder screw that snaps off the caliper when trying to bleed the hydraulic braking system, are just the beginning of what can happen during a routine brake repair replacement. The list can go on and on. Variables involve a large part of estimating and then "eating" time when it comes to brake repairs. Geographical regions also apply a degree of challenges to the mix. Areas that endure severe winters are most likely going to show the effects of rust and corrosion to components exposed to the elements more than to vehicles that are used in more temperate climates.

Flat Rate Labor Time

Labor guides such as Chilton's or ALLDATA are used to apply "flat-rate" labor charges in the automotive industry for two reasons: to protect the customer and the repair facility. While this may sound contradictory in terms, review a couple of different scenarios of the same brake repair: Technician "A" inspects the car and gives a quote for replacing brake pads, servicing the calipers and machining the rotors; 1.3 hours of labor is applied to replacing the pads and servicing the calipers, while an additional hour is applied for machining each rotor. That's 2.3 hours to replace the pads and machine the rotors. This time is then applied to the shop's hourly labor rate. If the labor rate is $80 and hour, that's $184 of labor plus the price of the parts. The technician completes the job in just over an hour. While the customer may feel that she just got ripped off, she fails to realize that repair facilities are not non-profit organizations. The technician is not making $80 an hour--the shop is. The technician most likely has years of qualified experience, knows how to manage his time,and has the necessary tools to do the job right. Now take the exact same scenario, but this time with Technician B. The exact same quote and repair for the brake repair takes Technician B four hours to complete. The technician may not be as skilled, may not have the necessary tools and therefore has to improvise, or may simply work more slowly. A reputable repair facility will still apply the 2.3-hours quoted to you from the original estimate. Some shops apply "real-time" hourly rates and may offer significantly less hourly labor charges. The problem there is that you may be paying for the four hours it took technician "B" to do the job that technician "A" had done in just over an hour.

About the Author

Jody L. Campbell spent over 15 years as both a manager and an under-car specialist in the automotive repair industry. Prior to that, he managed two different restaurants for over 15 years. Campbell began his professional writing career in 2004 with the publication of his first book.