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One of the most critical aspects of car safety and ownership is knowing when to replace your brakes. However, there’s some nuance to the process that some may not be aware of. Getting new brakes can entail a litany of things, each with different pricing and results. It’s an important distinction, and one you’ll want to be aware of to avoid getting taken for all you’ve got at the dealership.

Know what to look for

Brakes are assembled from new at one of Mercedes-Benz's factories
The brakes on a Mercedes-Benz | Silas Stein via Getty Images

First, a little terminology. In essence, there’s a few components to your brakes, each requiring a different brake job or service. The big banana on your brakes is called the caliper. In it, there’s two pads moved by a set of pistons. In turn, those pads and pistons squeeze the circular disk in the middle, known as the rotor. Finally, there’s the brake lines, which carry the fluid that pushes the pistons and pads into the rotor.

If you need to replace your brakes, any of these parts may need to be serviced. For now, let’s look at some of the symptoms. First, you’ll notice poor stopping power. This is the first sign of brake wear and can be caused by a number of things, like a brake fluid leak. Next, there’ll likely be some squeaking on stopping; that is your brakes telling you it’s time to get them replaced. Finally, you may notice some wheel shake when you stop.

There are different ways to replace your brakes

The brake caliper of a new Mercedes-Benz in the factory
The caliper of a Mercedes-Benz | Lennart Preiss via Getty Images

Generally, each of these different symptoms requires a different part of your brakes to be serviced. If you want to replace your brakes entirely, that’ll require both new pads and rotors, if not a new caliper. That last bit is wholly dependent on the condition of the calipers. Thankfully, it’s usually the case that you only need parts of a full brake job.

For example, it may be that your pads wear out before the rotor. If that’s the case, a shop will refinish the rotor to keep things nice and flat, and then install new pads. It could also be that you simply need new brake fluid. Unfortunately, aside from the symptoms listed above, you’ll need a shop or some mechanical know-how to know exactly what is up with your brakes. That is exactly why finding a trustworthy shop is so important. As long as your vehicle leaves the shop and stops correctly, it’s pretty easy for a shady shop to say and charge whatever they want.

Do a little research

A mechanic works under a car in a shop
Basic maintenance is key | David Ebener via Getty Images

So, that begs the question: how do you choose a good shop? In short, do your research. Use customer reviews and word-of-mouth to deduce who to trust with your brake job. As far as pricing is concerned, costs can vary wildly for new brakes. Generally, expect to pay less than $1,000 for a totally new braking system, or even less for parts of a job, like new brake fluid. Regardless, being able to deduce what’s up with your brakes and finding a good shop can save you both money and time. And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?


How to Choose a Quality Mechanic