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I took my car in today to service my brakes...

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Dear Tom and Ray:



I took my car in today to service my brakes. The mechanic called me and said that I needed the "premium brake pads" because I have big calipers or something. (I took that as a compliment.) My question is: Is that true? I have a 1997 Chevy Lumina. My first assumption was that he just wanted to sell me a more expensive part or didn't have any of the cheaper pads in stock. Was I taken? -- Lance

RAY: Not at all, Lance. For a lot of cars, you CAN choose from a variety of "grades" of brake pads -- from "Shinola" on down. But for this particular car, the so-called premium pads are the only ones that are deemed acceptable by Chevrolet.

TOM: My guess is that in testing the car, Chevy determined that lesser-quality pads did not provide enough stopping power. The premium pads have more metallic content, so they not only stop the car better, but they also last longer. On the downside, they cost more -- for your car, about $70 a set (four pads, which cover both front wheels). And because of the metallic content, they sometimes make more of a screeching noise when you stop.

RAY: You could, I'm sure, convince some other mechanic to put in a cheaper set of pads for this car, Lance. But they wouldn't stop the car as effectively, and you'd have to replace them again sooner. So I'd stick with the factory recommendation.

TOM: Interestingly, a lot of taxi drivers use the real-cheap pads. Since they're jamming on their brakes all day long, they don't want to hear the brakes screeching at all, and neither do their customers, I guess.

RAY: And the pads they use cost about $7 a set. I think they're made of compressed Dunkin' Donuts coffee cups. But since the cabs are in the garage every night anyway, they can change the pads out whenever they need to -- which is probably about once a week.
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