How Much Do Brakes Cost

Subaru rear brake rotor suspension
Image by John Goreham

How Much Do Brakes Cost To Repair or Replace?

Regardless of whether you own a pickup truck, car, crossover, or electric vehicle, brakes are going to be part of your vehicle’s routine maintenance over its lifespan. Brakes are one of the most important systems on your vehicle so performing work from time to time to keep them in good shape should not be a surprise.

The good news is that as we transition to electrified vehicles of all types, brakes are lasting longer than ever. Many Prius owners report brakes that last as many as 100,000 miles. The secret is electric regenerative braking, which reduces wear and tear on your brake pads and other friction surfaces.

How much to pay for brakes, and what is a fair price for a given service is a very common question many vehicle owners have. While we cannot tell you what your mechanic will charge to the penny, we can give you some helpful price ranges, and we can tell you a bit about your brakes so you are not surprised or suspicious if your mechanic says the parts need to be changed.

Tesla's manual
Tesla Owner's Manual Model 3

Brake Fluid Changes & Regular Inspections

One of the most maintenance-free automobiles on the market today is the Tesla Model 3. It’s a fine automobile in all regards and driven entirely by electricity. Although the car is nearly maintenance-free, brakes are listed in many sections of its owner’s manual. We copied the Service Intervals section above and highlighted the sections regarding brakes with arrows. As you can see, even cars designed to be almost maintenance-free require some preventive brake maintenance.

Follow your vehicle’s owner's manual with regard to brake fluid inspections and changes. Brake fluid degrades over time and loses its ability to perform properly. Old brake fluid may also compromise parts of your brake system that can be pricey to repair.

Most shops will always check the level of your brake fluid as part of a multi-point inspection. Often they will do this for free. After all, anything they uncover becomes a new business opportunity. Shops can also check the health of brake fluid, but more often they will just replace it on a schedule determined by your manufacturer. It is important to do brake fluid changes to protect other brake components from corrosion and other issues that can be costly.

Brake ServiceCost RangeApproximate Interval
premium brake rotor

Brake Jobs - Rotors and Pads

Generally speaking, the term brake job refers to replacing brake pads, replacing brake rotors, and cleaning and adjusting brakes. The job is always completed per axle, meaning an end of the vehicle, front and back. You may coincidentally need both ends done at once, but it is not usually the case.

In the old days of wooden ships and iron men, brake rotors could be serviced by machining them flat. Those days have been gone for a long time. Almost all shops will not machine rotors today on modern vehicles because they are designed to be lightweight and low-cost. There is just not enough material to be machined away. However, brake rotors today cost about the same as machining the old ones. So, if your mechanic plans to replace the rotors don’t be surprised. It is the standard way brakes are serviced today.

Brake rotor and pad replacement along with cleaning and adjustment is a job that almost any mechanic or shop can perform. Many “Brake and Tire” retailers also do the work. You need not use your dealer for this task. If you already have a trusted mechanic, that is your best route. Dealers will charge you the highest price, but some retailers may not have the most experienced mechanics.

Your particular model will determine what you pay for brake rotor and pad replacement. The range we have seen is roughly $350 to $600 per end of the car. If you have not changed your brake fluid in the past two years or 20,000 miles, this is the time to do it. Some brake fluid will be replaced anyway during the normal steps of the job.

Replacing Calipers

Calipers are the part of your brake system that pinch the rotors. They have a piston inside that moves inside of a sleeve. Sometimes, that movement is disrupted by corrosion or wear and the caliper will freeze in place. On some vehicles, the calipers are serviceable, but on many modern mainstream vehicles, they are not. So, your mechanic may replace one.

Unlike with rotors and pads, one corner may be all that is needed, or the mechanic may suggest doing both sides if the opposite caliper also seems suspect. Pricing can vary, but $300 to $500 is a reasonable range to expect for this job. Take note: Replacement calipers are often remanufactured. This is normal. New calipers cost much more and may be unavailable.

Brake Repairs - Master Cylinder and Other Components

Your vehicle’s brakes are mostly hydraulic. Your vehicle has a master cylinder that magnifies the stopping force your foot provides. When this component has trouble you may feel your foot go to the floor, or it may be hard as a rock. Master cylinder repairs are pricey and can run from $500 to $700 on a typical vehicle. There are other components that may fail, but they are less common, and harder to estimate in terms of cost.

Parking Brake Maintenance and Repair

Parking brakes can get stuck if you don’t use them often (guilty). If you don’t park on hills very often they serve no useful purpose. However, if the cable that actuates the parking brake gets stuck it can cause trouble and need to be serviced or replaced. $250 to $400 is a typical range for this repair.

Brake Drums and Shoes

Above we focused on rotors and pads since this is the most common system for brakes by far. However, there are some cars and trucks that use a slightly different system called brake drums and shoes. The drums are normally re-usable or serviceable and the shoes are like pads, inexpensive. Generally speaking, these brakes are comparable to rotor/pad designs and cost a bit less to service.

Car Talk’s Brake Advice - When To Service Brakes

Service your brakes according to your owner's manual. If you experience any issues with your brakes, be it noise, vibration, loss of stopping power, or any changes to the way the car feels when braking, get the car serviced quickly. The problem is unlikely to get better and may get worse unexpectedly. If your brakes feel fine and the mechanic tells you that you have “30% pad life left,” this is normal and you need not hurry to replace the brakes. Changing rotors and pads generally does not improve the way brakes feel very much, so changing the brakes early has little upside if they are working as they should be.

FAQ

How much is a brake job?

A typical brake job involves rotor and pad replacement, some cleaning, and adjustments. Expect to pay between $350 and $600.

Should I replace my brake fluid? My mechanic is suggesting it.

Yes, brake fluid has a normal lifespan of around three years or 30,000 miles. It need not be expensive to replace it, and you don't need to “flush” it. Expect to pay a shop $100 to $200 for this work.

Can I just replace the brake pads, and not the rotors?

Sure, but you may have problems braking, experience vibration, or hear more noise than normal. Most mechanics won’t just replace pads. The reason is that many unhappy customers end up coming back for the job to be done properly later.

Do I have to replace all four brakes at once?

Normally, no. Almost always either the front or the rear brakes are worn to the point of needing replacement. You may have some bad luck and all four may need servicing at once, but it is uncommon. Brakes are always replaced in pairs.

How do I know if I need brakes?

Your mechanic will inspect your brakes and measure the pad life at regular intervals according to the owner’s manual. Brakes are sacrificial items that wear out normally. So expect to need brakes every 50,000 miles or so. If your brakes feel unusual in any way, have a mechanic check them as soon as possible.

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