I was recently going through 1950′s issues of Brake and Front End and was amazed how “blood and guts” was leveraged to sell the motoring public and shops the virtues of brake system inspection and repair. Mangled cars, bicycles lodged in grills and flaming visuals of vehicles that could not stop in time were the norm. It was in stark contrast with the advertising of today pushing economy, durability and quiet performance.
Last year, 33,963 people died in traffic crashes in the U.S., the lowest total since 1954, according to the Department of Transportation. The fatality rate of 1.16 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was the lowest since the government started tracking it in 1966.
It seems the American consciousness is more concerned with cell phones, drunks and texting instead of mechanical brake failures. But, it also seems the motoring public is more concerned with losing parts of their wallets than a limb.
Over Easter vacation I had a chance to visit with family and old friends. I have always been known as the “car guy” and consulted by people seeking advice. Typically, it is a question about a squeak, rattle or other annoying noise a vehicle is making. But, it seems lately the focus of the inquiries are more of an economic nature than about safety and performance related issues.
A friend who leases a 2007 Dodge Caravan asked me about a brake problem he was having. He said that occasionally the pedal was going to
the floor. His first question out of his mouth was, “How much is this going to cost me?” He did not ask if it is safe for him to drive with his three small children in the back.
You have to understand my friend is one of those great parents that checks websites to find out what car seat, playpen or stroller has been recalled for maiming or killing a small child. But, this is also coupled with a streak of cheapness.
I asked him when it occurs and how long it has been happening. He said at least twice a day on his drive to work on the freeway, and for about a month.
“So, how much is this going to cost me?” he repeated as if all car guys had some sort of secret price sheet in our heads. “How much is your family worth?” I asked. This is where polite conversation ended.
Instead of answering the question about the value of his family, he fired back, “I saw on the internet about other owners having the same problem.” He had to go there.
I told him that he could probably find guy who also has Chuck E. Cheese Pizza vomit in his Stow n’ Go seating well that he can’t get out no matter what he tries. The hostility was reaching DEFCON 3.
The Internet provides us with a bounty of information on how to repair today’s complex vehicles (typically requiring a user name, password and credit card number). But, we live in fear of customers thinking they can fix their vehicle with a Google search and a trip to the parts store, or the ones that search the internet for ways how to out smart shops.
The internet can be a virtual “shoulder to cry on” for drivers with similar car problems. If they search their problem they can find a forum of people who are just as confused, ignorant and scared. Some of these threads can go on for pages with little or no technical help.
With our conversation going downhill quickly, I asked him why he had not brought it to a shop or at least a dealership. He said that he did not want to get “screwed” by having to pay for something he did not need or have to pay for before his lease was up.
It is unthinkable to me he would risk the safety of his family in order to save a few dollars. It was clear the fear of losing money has replaced the fear of losing life and limb with the driving public.
There is a solution, just like how Pepsi has brought back “Throwback” versions of their products, the aftermarket needs to do a throwback to an age when mangled cars and images of children chasing a ball into the street were featured prominently in friction material advertisements.
Forget the images of kids getting out of an SUV for soccer practice or a women in a pantsuit sitting comfortably in a waiting room while her car is fixed, I want to see gore in ads that would make any personal injury lawyer blush. Major chains should replace catchy price-based jingles with the sounds of screeching brakes and car crashes in their ads.
I know this may be going a little far, but for far too long we have been trying to create warm fuzzy feelings about brake repair, shops and parts that are not there in the first place. The industry has forgotten that we prevent people from hitting stuff that can kill them.
There is one simple piece of advice I try to live by: “know what you know and know what you don’t know”.
It is a simple credo that can save you from making mistakes and looking like a complete jackass.
I am often asked about my opinion of a certain brand or application of brake pads, or what I prefer. I always feel awkward when answering these questions. While I have performed a large number of brake jobs and visited more brake pad engineering and manufacturing facilities than most people, it is difficult to give the person the answer they really want, or one I am completely comfortable with.
I can not be a brake pad Pope who can give a blessing to one manufacturer or another. Also, I can’t condemn an entire country’s brake pad production. I have often found blanket statements about one type of material or another can get you in a lot of trouble due to its inaccuracies and over-generalizations.
In a perfect world, I could measure Mµ levels, SAE testing number or stopping distances from 60 mph. But anybody who works in a shop, I know that this is irrelevant when a customer comes back complaining of noise or after the brakes have failed or developed a problem.
Selecting the right friction material is a difficult task. I could say that you should select the most expensive pad that your supplier offers. But, I know that the right pads for the customer are often not the ones at the top or bottom of the price column. It is a matter of looking at the engineering, reputation and appearance of the product. But, most of all it is about trust and reputation.
“If a company is willing to spend money on the foundation of their product, it does not speak well for the rest of the pad.”
One of the most under utilized resources for information about brake pads is the parts store counterman or counterwoman. While they are not an engineer or even a technician, they can tell you what gets the most returns and what sells the best.
If you are going to judge a brake pad by its appearance, there are three areas you need to look at. First, look at the material used to make the shim. If the material is not a sandwich of metal, rubber or other composite material, they could be trying to pull a fast one on you. Throw the shim on the floor. If it makes any rattles or pings, do not use that pad.
Second, if how the pad looks in the caliper is important to you, take a small propane torch or open flame and apply it to the pad. If the paint comes off quickly, that paint will not be an effective corrosion barrier. High quality coatings and even plating that can take the abuse typically cost more, but can last the lifetime of the pad.
Third, the foundation of any brake pad is the backing plate. If it takes a hammer or a great deal of force to install the pad in the caliper bracket, it could be a sign that the tooling for the backing plate is worn out. If the tooling die used to stamp the backing plate is worn out, the ears and other contact points will increase in size or become distorted. If a company is not willing to spend money on the foundation of their product, it does not speak well for the rest of the pad.
Also, look at the reputation of the company. Can you get someone on the phone from the manufacturer? Do they advertise in BRAKE & FRONT END? What are they willing to do to get your business?
Most of all, try the brake pads for yourself. If you are willing to put them on your own vehicle, you might feel better about selling them to your customers.
I was recently doing a brake job on my 2002 Jaguar X-Type. On one of the real caliper bolts, there was a 12oz steel and rubber donut.
The reason for the weight is to help dampen vibrations and shift the frequency. It is the same approach GM engineers used on the new Camaro when they placed what appeared to be lead wheel weights on the caliper. It works, but it is not the most attractive of solutions.
Good, Better and ?
I am not making judgments on OES brake pads or other parts, or making blanket statements on what pads are better. But, what has been confusing is the marketing mes- sages used by both aftermarket and OE marketing people. This is one of the few things I can critique with some authority.
For the past 10 years, the phrase “Meets OE ______” has been used by the replacement parts industry to the point where it has lost any and all meaning. Some companies even use it to sell wiper blades. But, it is still part of the collective conscious of technicians that OE equals quality.
There was recently a false advertising lawsuit between two aftermarket manufacturers concerning OE “kiss” of quality. The the defendant printed the claim “Meets OE Requirements” in their marketing materials. The plaintiff just wanted to get the company in the courtroom so they could make them produce documents from the OEs outlining the requirements.
The plaintiff knew the defendant could not produce the documents because OEs do not make these requirements available to the general public or the automotive industry. Some even doubt they even exist.
It has become even more confus- ing because new car dealers are now selling a secondary, or less expensive line, with their OE’s name on the box for brakes and there parts.
Once, it was believed the dealer part was the direct replacement that matched what was originally on the car. The new “good” offerings has some techs questioning what they are buying and what is the real meaning of OE.
I hate to break this to a lot of shop owners and technicians, but 97% of the time (my estimate) when you are buying a brake pad set from a new car dealer, you are not getting the exact pad that was installed on the vehicle when it was assembled.
Sure, if the vehicle is a new plat- form, chances are that within the first year of production the pads setting on the dealer’s shelves might be the exact pad from the assembly line. But, after a certain period of time, those pads will be replaced by pads that are close, but not the exact pad. This is called an Original Equipment Supplier (OES) pad.
Factory installed brake pads can be very expensive because the OE is willing to spend money to have quiet brakes because brake noise complaints costs a lot of money. An OE engineer once told me that the amount of money spent on preventing brake noise makes the cost of the unintended acceleration problem look like chump change.
The most expensive part of anfactory-installed pad is the friction material. But, the testing and engineering of the pads are also very expensive. These costs can push the price of the pad well past ultra-pre-mium brake pad territory.
When it comes to OES pads, chances are it will not be the same pad, or even manufacturer. It will be close to the OE pad because, in some cases, the OE is willing to share design and engineering specifica- tions with the OES supplier.
Most shops will tell you they buy brake pads from the dealer if the customer specifies it or if they have confidence in the dealer’s product (which is rightly deserved in some cases). Some of these OES pads are manufactured by many of the adver- tisers you see in this magazine.
But, the most irritating aspect of these second-line pads is when local dealers try to pass off $99 “pad slaps” as “approved service” with “genuine” parts.
Most of the marketing and advertising at the local level by the dealers makes it sound like the consumer will drive out of the service department with a new car for $99. It is a marketing ploy that plays on the assumptions and ignorance of the consumer. Also, it is hurting the automotive service industry as a whole.
The expression “warped rotors” still seems prevalent in the brake service community. According to common lore, a warped rotor is the usual cause for pedal pulsation or vibration in the car or steering wheel that motorists experience during braking.
In cases relating to the brake system sometimes caused by worn suspension components, the cause for vibration and pedal pulsation is actually the variation in thickness of the rotor and not an actual “warping” of the rotor.
Cold brake roughness manifests in a similar feel of pedal pulsation or steering wheel vibration, and in severe cases, there will be speed-related surges in deceleration felt during normal driving and light braking. This phenomenon is caused by lateral runout that exists when the rotors are initially mounted on the car. Over time, this slowly turns into disc thickness variation due to inconsistencies in the lining only touching the higher spots of the rotor during off-brake driving.
The mounted lateral runout of a rotor on a brand new vehicle can be as high as 50 microns (0.002″). Once-per-revolution contact between the rotor and pad generates thickness variation.
It only takes about 10 to 20 microns (0.0004” – 0.0008”) of thickness variation before it becomes noticeable to the driver. Typically, unibody vehicles with strut suspensions are more sensitive than those with a separate frame and body. Additionally, more abrasive lining materials, calipers with a lower running clearance and higher initial mounted lateral runout, all add to making the cold roughness more noticeable in a shorter period of time.
The remedy to unwanted vibration and pulsation relies on finding a high-quality brake pad made for a specific vehicle that is less susceptible in creating noticeable DTV.
Courtesy of Akebono and Brake and Front End Magazine
This week we have an awesome and insightful help video created by Esurance. This video walks you through all the necessary steps on how to slow down your car and even completely stop it when your brakes fail. It is very good advice!
Check it out.