Brake replacement is not a job for a first time do-it-yourselfer.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 01, 1999

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1992 Toyota Tercel which has never given me a moment's trouble. I have
more than 100,000 miles on it, and I've never even had it serviced. Risky, I
know, but in retrospect, nothing has ever gone wrong! Until now.

The brakes are GONE. The least expensive estimate is $500 for all four wheels.
Here's my question. How easy would it be for me, a woman, to fix the brakes
myself (with help with the muscle work from my husband, who, incidentally, has
replaced his love of horsepower with a love of RAM)? I know my way around cars a
bit. I have installed an in-line fuel filter on a '76 Nova and replaced
thermostats in cars ranging from a Willys Jeep to a Pontiac Grand Prix. I have
never fixed brakes, though. I'd like to save the labor charges. Should I try it?

-- Bede

TOM: Bede, I would guess from your question that you are an absolute, world-class
cheapskate. Am I right?

RAY: This, from a man who would reuse his toothpaste if it were possible to
separate it from his spit.

TOM: Seriously, Bede. You've gone 100,000 miles and haven't spent a penny on this
car. Now, THE most important safety feature on the car -- the brakes -- are shot,
endangering you and everybody you drive past on the road, and your biggest
concern is saving a few bucks?

RAY: I'd have to agree. While it's not impossible for you to do it, a complete
brake job (pads, rotors, possibly calipers) on a modern car is a significant step
up, mechanically, from throwing a fuel filter in a '76 Nova. And, more
importantly, the stakes are a lot higher.

TOM: Right. If you screw up the fuel filter, the worst that will happen is that
the car won't start. If the brakes don't work, the car won't stop! It's just not
the kind of job you want to do for the first time unsupervised.

RAY: So, you should just swallow your pride and pay a trained mechanic the $500
to do the brake job professionally. And do it immediately. If your brakes really
are completely "GONE," (and they probably are after 100,000 miles), you may be
the next thing to go!


Don?-t get stuck with a lemon. Read Tom and Ray?-s guide, "How to Buy a Great Used
Car: Things Detroit and Tokyo Don?-t Want You to Know." Send $3 and a stamped (55
cents), self-addressed, No. 10 envelope to Used Car, PO Box 6420, Riverton, NJ
08077-6420. Allow 6-8 weeks for delivery.

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