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Troubleshooting Brakes: When to Call the Mechanic

Brade pads for car

You may regularly work on your car, handling a variety of tasks yourself. The more you’re able to do on your own, the stronger your skills gets. When it comes to troubleshooting brakes, there may be a line you’re just not willing to cross. We’ll look at the simple jobs you can handle on your own as well as those where calling upon a mechanic may be your best option.

Troubleshooting Brakes: Do-it-Yourself

1. Replace the brake pads. What do you need to change the brake pads yourself? Typically, you’ll pay from $50 to $100 per set of four brake pads, depending on your make and model. Purchase a can of brake fluid while you’re at it. Most commonly this job requires the following tools: gloves, safety goggles, jack stands, lug wrench, wrenches, sockets, and a C-clamp (or brake caliper tool). By following the instructions in your model-specific service manual, this job can be completed in about an hour.

Rear drum brake on my Mazda 808. All finished replacing the brake cylinder just need to bleed brakes now.2. Change the brake calipers. Since you’re already changing the brake pads, there’s a good chance the calipers may need replacement, too. Signs of binding, rust and uneven brake pad wear provide the best evidence for a swap out. You’ll need to add a socket set, wrenches, brake line wrench, a drop light, needle nose pliers, screwdrivers and a torque wrench for a typical job. You will also need to bleed the brakes after you are done. Whether you need to replace the front or rear calipers, you should always replace them in pairs. In any case, brake calipers can cost from $75 to $150 or more each, with labor costs topping $300.

3. Bleed the brakes. Following any work on these parts, your car should brake firm to the touch. Trouble becomes apparent when the brakes feel soft to the touch and require extra pressure to make the car stop. Once you have ruled out the master cylinder isn’t the culprit, then bleeding the brake lines is necessary. Brake fluid is hydraulically pushed through tubes and drives each piston in a brake caliper. Here, you’ll need two people to get the work done — one person to press the brake pedal and another individual to open each bleeder valve to release air. Use a box wrench suitably sized for the bleeder bolt, loosening it a bit. Remove the old brake fluid with a turkey baster or a syringe. While bleeding the system, have your helper add fresh fluid.

When to Call the Mechanic

Your personal comfort level for working on cars will determine when a mechanic should be called upon to handle brake problems. Replacing brake pads, changing calipers and bleeding brakes are tasks you can do yourself or with a helper on hand.

One brake-related job beyond the ability of some DIYers is replacing the master cylinder, which regulates brake pressure throughout the entire system. Fortunately, master cylinders rarely fail, but when they do, you may find the job is best left in the capable hands of your local NAPA AutoCare Center.

Check out all the brake system products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on troubleshooting brakes, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Matthew C. Keegan View All

Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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