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There are many crucially important systems in your car that help it work correctly, but arguably none are more crucial than its brakes. They're tasked with safely bringing your vehicle to a stop despite many factors working against them: temperature extremes, repeated hard pressure, and more. You can probably see why they require proper maintenance, then.
All pieces of a car's braking system need to be looked after, and the two that need the most regular maintenance are its pads and rotors. This is where speed dissipates. The pads clamp down on the rotors via hydraulic fluid pressure, which is controlled by the brake pedal. Over time, the pads and rotors wear down and need replacement.
As such, factoring in the cost of replacing brake pads and rotors must be part of any car owner's budget. If you drive a normal sedan or hatchback, you'll likely spend between $300 and $400, though the price can go up from there. Let's work through some factors and figures so you know what to expect.
Cost Factors of Replacing Brake Pads and Rotors
These will all impact how much cash you shell out, whether you install them yourself or pay a shop to do it. The bulk of it lies in parts costs.
Thankfully, there isn't much to a brake job. In fact, it often only entails replacing the brake components on a single axle, so just the front wheels' pads and rotors or solely the rears. If only the front brakes need replacing, the main parts you'll pay for are two rotors and one set of pads—four pads total. Or, the rotors might have plenty of life left, which means only the pads and any applicable additional hardware will need replacing.
Any Additional Hardware Needed
That's to say, if additional hardware isn't required. Many brake designs also feature clips and springs, which should be replaced every time a brake job is done, and you often need to purchase them separately. If you're replacing them yourself, factor in buying brake pad grease, and some shops might charge for this, too.
OEM, OE, or Aftermarket?
The quality of the parts comes into play, too. Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts, meaning purchased or supplied from a dealer service department, are the most expensive because they have the manufacturer's markup added on.
Original equipment (OE) costs less because those parts don't include dealer markup. This is where a lot of value lies. They're often the exact same part without the car manufacturer's logo printed on it. Sometimes, the logo is even scratched off—I've encountered this on countless OE parts for my BMW and Audi.
OE parts might not be made by the exact same supplier, but still possess the same OE-or-better quality.
Finally, the aftermarket has no shortage of sturdy, well-made options. This will often be more expensive, especially if they're intended for improved braking performance. Going the aftermarket route could also mean parts that don't quite meet OE-level quality standards, but are still good enough. It's best to play it safe and go for parts with at least OE-level quality—it's a crucial part of driving safely, after all.
We have a great guide that details how long brakes last. Check it out!
The Kind of Vehicle
Generally, the larger or more performance-oriented the vehicle, the higher the parts costs. Bigger pads and rotors mean more material, which increases the price. Certain performance brake designs cost more than others, too, such as two- and three-piece rotors as opposed to the more common single-piece design.
Some performance cars have relatively simple braking systems, like the E92-generation BMW M3. However, due to their size and two-piece rotors, the cost is quite high compared to a more easy-going BMW 328i of the same generation.
What About Turned or Resurfaced Rotors?
If there's enough meat left on a brake rotor, or they're warped, a shop might suggest turning or resurfacing them. This entails cleaning them up, removing brake pad material, and machining them so they roll smoothly and straight again. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but it's often a better value to just pony up for new rotors.
The Labor Aspect of Replacing Brake Pads and Rotors
So you've secured the parts, or they're in the catalog ready for purchase. What next? Installing them onto the car, of course!
This is what labor is: How much does an individual or entity's time cost to provide a brake replacement job? Labor rates aren't as cheap as they used to be, but then again, nothing is. Dealers often charge $150 an hour or more.
A straightforward brake job with no hang-ups usually takes an hour per axle for any shop that's well-equipped with lifts, the proper tools, and well-trained technicians. That amount could increase if some unexpected issues arise.
Because of where brakes are located and what they do, it's common for them to see a lot of corrosion along with general wear and tear. Also, components like rubber brake hoses can wear out over time due to the amount of heat they experience day in and day out.
If a dealer service technician has to battle a lot of rust to uninstall the old pads and rotors, that could increase the labor cost. Or, if the previous technician did a poor job, that will almost always add time to the job. There might be some mistakes or indications of poor technique to remedy, such as undoing rounded or stripped fasteners, re-tapping bleeder screws, and more.
Additional Parts That Could Need Replacement
Again, some parts might need replacing along the way. This could include a new or rebuilt caliper, new brake hoses, a wheel bearing, or a fluid flush. Brake fluid should be replaced at least every 2-3 years. If the car really needs it, yet the bleeder screw is stripped, that will significantly increase the labor cost.
Maybe you're considering doing the brake job yourself. DIY maintenance is fun and rewarding, but can quickly turn into a major headache if you encounter issues, accidentally break something, don't have the best environment to wrench in, lack the proper tools, and so on. We're pro-DIY at The Drive, but only if you realize the true risk versus reward, and are willing and able to do the job.
Brake jobs may be generally easy, but again, this is a crucial part of the car's operation. An error could result in injury or death.
Parts Plus Labor When Replacing Brake Pads and Rotors
Add it all up and the total cost of replacing brake pads and rotors can vary quite a bit. It depends on the parts being used, the condition of the car, the shop's labor rate, and more. Generally, a straightforward brake job on something like an economy car could run $300-$400, but something with bigger brakes that's a bit newer could exceed $1,000. Or, if you've got a Mercedes-McLaren SLR, a lot more.
I hope this sheds a lot of useful light on how much it costs to replace brake pads and rotors on your car. They're a crucial part of safely operating any vehicle, and when kept in good working shape, they could save your life one day. Do your research, budget accordingly, and feel free to utilize our guides when figuring out the best brake pads and rotors to buy.