Article > Opinion

Here's Your $39 Brake Job

By Brian Cruickshank

When does a $39 brake job hurt this industry? It damages the industry's reputation every time a brake job doesn't cost $39.

How much does it cost to fix a dragging caliper on a 2000 Mustang? If you believe some of the advertising that continues around the country, it should only cost $39.

But those of us in the industry know better, right? Considering I work with a bunch of pretty experienced aftermarket professionals, I asked that same question around the office and got answers in the $350 range. The actual price charged by a national service chain on a repair bill that crossed my desk: $912.03.

Of course, I will concede that there are circumstances that might push an R.O. into the upper strata of cost: unique repair situations, elusive electronics diagnostics, hard-to-find parts, etc. However, here we're talking about a dragging caliper on a Ford.

So where did all the money go? As, I analyze the copy of the work order, the numbers show exactly where the gouging - I mean price adjustments - occurred.

For this 2000 non-GT, non-Cobra Mustang, the following work was performed: replacement of two loaded rear calipers, brake fluid exchange and replacement of two rear rotors. This is exactly what you'd expect to be done for a car with a dragging caliper.

The labor, which totaled $164.20, seems to be fine and shows that there was no long, drawn-out diagnostics going on. Labor was $125 on the calipers, $17 on the rotors and $22 on the fluid. The parts total? A whopping $655.

It's pretty apparent that this shop was gouging his customer on parts. For example, the shop charged $420.82 for a set of loaded (non-ceramic) calipers. Based on calls I made to several jobber stores in the shop's area, the best installer price on a set of good-quality loaded rear calipers (ceramics even) should be around $150. These calipers were then marked up $270!

Thankfully, the customer declined to "upgrade" to ceramic pads, the price for which is also noted on the bill. The quoted price on a set of installed rear ceramics? $235.32.

About a year ago in this space, I lamented the state of pricing in the field. I wondered why one store would sell the same parts at wildly different prices. I wondered how the industry could get better at pricing at the jobber, installer and customer levels. Now I'm starting to realize that, in the minds of consumers, it doesn't really matter. When the industry touts its ability to fix problems at low-ball prices, it sets consumers up for extreme disappointment. In this particular case, $912 is a long, long way from $39.

Even though those of us in the industry know a brake job can't be done for $39, the majority of consumers don't know that. All they know is, once again, they're getting screwed by the auto repair business. That's a sentiment none of us wants.

  Previous Comments
avatar   Wolfe   star   8/8/2009   8:50 AM

I tell everyone the same thing, regardless of the situation. If you want my sale, you need to tell me, up front, the honest truth. I am a Jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. I can generally do anything and everything, the problem is that I prefer to leave it to the professionals. I like hiring professionals because they are paid to be accurate and they (generally) have all the required tools to get the job done right. But if you start feeding me lines and sales pitches, I have no quarrels about turning around and walking out in the middle of the pitch.

avatar   DAVE ELLIOTT   star   7/23/2009   12:11 PM

We in the industry know that the 39 dollar brake job is just a hook. Once you are in the door everything else is extra. Who ever heard of a car needing only a "hang and turn" brake job, or even just hang a set of pads on a car. A reputable shop will tell the customer right up front that they will need a full brake inspection, free of course, and then give them a full quote. When I worked in the service dept at Western Auto (there's a name from the past) we gave that brake inspection free. many people got upset that their brakes could not be done for the advertised 59.99. I have always disliked the one price brake job. But it brings the folks in the door, and once they're in the door, they're probably gonna buy something!

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