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Are brake savings always lethal?

By autotech-nath on March 19, 2024

Drivers surely would not skimp on braking repairs – or would they? Rob Marshall delves into the issue to see how you can provide reassurance and optimum value.

Surprisingly, aftermarket brake friction components are particularly price-sensitive. Comline explains that this is not just because the market is competitive but also because parts distributors and car owners are looking for the best deal in today’s challenging economic climate.

Driv (Ferodo) agrees, arguing that customers have become increasingly price- conscious, recently. This is not helped by rising prices. Brembo elaborates that they result principally from increased costs in the supply chain and production processes, such as raw materials, transportation fees, energy costs and even interest rates. Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent geopolitical situations have made price sensitivity more complex to evaluate. Even so, Bosch emphasises that we should not forget the importance of brakes and that selecting lower-quality parts could undermine the efficiency of the system.

Garages, therefore, should strike the right balance between cost and performance and Borg and Beck provides solid advice that you cannot go far wrong with reputable brands.

Borg and Beck (a First Line brand) finds that the most common reason for customers experiencing an increased cost of braking repairs is down to the technician not conducting a proper inspection of the vehicle, before repairs start. Brembo recommends
a close inspection of the colour and appearance of the braking surfaces. This might reveal faults in other components, such as callipers, pads or even bearings.

Offering best value…

Naturally, joining the race to the bottom by striving to be the cheapest, is unlikely to be healthy for the long-term success of an aftermarket workshop. Moreover, you should offer value. Much of this relies on you communicating with the customer. For instance, you may have to explain why an MOT inspection is less likely to spot worn braking components, compared with a full service. Another topic is why maintaining the brake system is a more cost-effective and safer strategy than waiting for an actual failure. These may seem obvious to you but the non-mechanically-minded client may think otherwise.

Explaining the importance of regular brake maintenance and emphasising the relevance of installing fresh fitting kits with new pads, will help your customer to appreciate that you are acting in their best safety and financial interests. Even so, you can offer savings but only after a thorough evaluation. Brembo advises that, whenever you replace the discs, renew the pads. However, you can install new pads without changing the brake discs, if the braking surface is not near, or below, the manufacturer’s tolerances. Brembo reasons that, because pads wear out doubly faster than the discs, a good guide is to replace the discs every other time the pads are changed. Delphi agrees with this stance but only if the brake disc thickness is still within tolerance.

Yet, this depends greatly on your ability to perform an accurate assessment. Borg and Beck cautions that worn discs can have a detrimental effect on the new pads’ longevity and performance. Juratek adds that brake judder (vibration) and noise could result, too. Furthermore, as worn discs dissipate heat less effectively than new ones, braking system performance will be impacted. ZF Aftermarket reveals that poor pedal feel might result, including unpleasant pedal kick-back, if the old disc has worn unevenly. Therefore, should you be in any doubt about the serviceability of the old discs, renew them. While not replacing a lightly worn pair of discs is a prudent means of saving customers money, replacing one disc alone is a stretch too far.

It is easy to leave flexible hoses for MOT Testers to assess. Corroded ferrules and light perishing are reasons to recommend that they be changed at service time.

Avoiding trouble…

Brake manufacturers are keen to tell us not to skimp on other consumable parts, either. ZF Aftermarket advocates that not replacing anti-vibration shims, retaining pins and anti- rattle springs is a false economy that might lead to abnormal noises, at the very least. Brembo explains that these parts are subject to deterioration due to time, which compromises their effectiveness. The springs, for instance, lose their elasticity as they age, meaning that they cannot maintain correct pad alignment, thus promoting noise and premature wear. Above all, the last thing you want is a disgruntled customer returning and demanding warranty repairs, considering that undesirable brake noise is the top complaint.

Even so, other parts within the system will require your attention. Take flexible brake hoses as an example. While they tend to be replaced only after being responsible for an MOT Test failure, ZF Aftermarket says that they degenerate internally as well. The rubber can perish to such an extent that its structure becomes weakened, so it balloons under braking. This can cause abnormal expansion of the hose, reducing the braking performance and causing poor pedal feel. They also can collapse internally, causing binding. Therefore, replacing hoses that exhibit light perishing, or corrosion, before they warrant an MOT Test failure is not a bad suggestion to make.

Brembo extends this advice to other components and comments that the majority of metals and rubber components within the braking system deteriorate. Corrosion especially poses a problem, because it inhibits free movement. With brakes, this locks the brakes on, causing not just irregular component wear but also overheating and extra noise. Brembo advises that corrosion results not just from road conditions but can be accelerated by the use of high- pressure water jets, or aggressive chemicals to clean the car. It, therefore, advises that technicians pay extra attention to the callipers, whenever replacing the pads.

Whichever parts you use, Juratek advises that garages maintain accurate records of all parts used in vehicle repairs, which can be essential in case of disputes or warranty claims.

Top 10 technician errors…

According to Delphi, brakes are one of the biggest sources of customer complaints. One of the causes is, sadly, technicians not following best practice procedures. With the help of the brake friction manufacturers’ experts, who assisted us with this feature, we have put together the most common errors that you can avoid:

  1. Inadequate visual inspection of not just pads and discs but also brake cables, hoses, or wheel bearings. These can wear out the friction components prematurely.
  2. Not verifying that the callipers are functioning/releasing properly.
  3. Not checking disc wear, before replacing the pads.
  4. Not cleaning the carriers, hubs and sliders to a high enough standard, causing brake shudder.
  5. Incorrect fitting of directional pads
  6. Cleaning the anti-corrosion coating from coated discs
  7. Using copper grease
  8. Not cleaning the disc to hub mating surface adequately
  9. Not installing new pad fitting kits and reusing old parts
  10. Not advising the customer on the importance of bedding in new pads/discs.

Fluid flushing…

Brembo reckons that this vital component of the braking system tends to get treated to a quick visual check and only then, topped up. Clearly, this is inadequate maintenance. While an impecunious driver may not be happy about having to pay extra for a brake fluid flush, you may have to explain why the procedure is necessary to ensure that the braking system is working properly, especially now that the weather is warming.

The main issue is fluid absorbing moisture from the atmosphere. Jurid explains that, by lowering its boiling point, this contamination increases the vapour lock risk. This potentially lethal situation occurs, when bubbles form in the fluid as it heats up. The result is increased pedal travel, or even complete braking system failure. Even if this potentially nightmarish situation does not occur, the higher moisture content leads to the fluid corroding the master cylinder, brake lines, callipers and wheel cylinders, therefore reducing those components’ working lives. Moisture and sludge can also form within the braking system over time, highlighting an extra benefit of flushing.

Delphi recommends that workshops check for moisture content at every service, or MOT Test. Brembo advises that many inexpensive boiling point testers on the market are not sufficiently reliable, so it does not recommend that technicians use them. Ferodo agrees and highlights its testing tool (Ferodo FFT100A), which boils a sample of fluid, rather than using the relatively imprecise method of measuring the fluid’s electrical resistance.

To be sure, Bosch advises you to recommend and quote for brake fluid flushes every two years, or according to the vehicle manufacturer’s guidelines, should they be different. Naturally, this advice does not apply, should you be working on an elderly car that uses mineral fluid within its braking system (such as LHM), or has been retrofitted to accept silicone DOT5 fluid. Usually, labels will be prominent within the engine bay.

Minimum thicknesses are embossed on the disc edges but, obviously, tend not to be visible on old, corroded discs. However, the data is available from the manufacturer.

The DVSA quality investigation…

Some readers may remember a major announcement from the DVSA, around two years ago, which highlighted that non-compliant brake pads had entered the UK market. The story attracted headlines within the aftermarket press but the spike in media interest subsided very quickly, with the government agency keeping tight-lipped until its investigations were complete.

Now the results have been published. Thankfully, speculations about an influx of dangerous/fake
pads proved to be unfounded. The DVSA’s Market Surveillance Unit has confirmed that, in previous years, it identified Blueprint and National Brake Technology brands as supplying pads for vehicles mentioned on their packaging but were not on their approval certificates. Those pads, therefore, were not approved to be fitted to those vehicles. Doing so, theoretically, would make the affected cars unroadworthy. As one would expect from well-known quality brands, the DVSA reports that later checks revealed that those manufacturers had brought the affected pads swiftly back into compliance.

Last year, the DVSA also purchased 35 brake pads to check that they complied with R90 Type Approval, three of which also stated they fitted vehicles that were not listed on their approval certificates. The government agency confirms that Brakefit, Stark Automotive GMBH, and Meyle AG admitted an oversight and also reacted quickly to correct them.



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