by Tony Molla
There are more vehicles on U.S. roads than ever before. With an estimated 240.5 million cars and light trucks crowding our roads as of 2011, your safety and that of others is at risk when your vehicle isn't stopping and steering at its best. Reducing your vehicle's stopping distance by just an inch or so could make the difference between a minor scare and a major fender bender.
Crowded roads aren't the only concern. The roads themselves are often in a sorry state of repair. Portions of our highway system (including many bridges) haven't seen much in the way of maintenance or repair since they were built.
In cold climates, the freeze/thaw cycle enlarges cracks and holes in the pavement. In sunnier spots, the heat, heavy cargo hauling and years of neglect take their own toll on roads. The result can be a moonscape of potholes that can affect the handling of your vehicle. Bad roads can cause suspension components, so vital to steering control and handling, to grow old before their time.
But you don't have to be an automotive expert to keep your vehicle's stopping and steering systems safe. An ASE-certified brake service technician is trained to diagnose problems and identify potential areas of concern, such as checking thickness of rotors and identifying worn brake lines and hoses.
Pay a little now, or a lot later
Putting off repairs for too long results in growing costs. For example, let’s look at a typical brake job. Not only will you have to buy new brake pads, but add in new brake rotors as well to replace the ones that were ruined by procrastination.
New rotors can range from $50 to $250 or more, depending upon the vehicle application — and that's for each wheel. Even if normal wear dictates rotor replacement, the upside is that it could be the last time you'll ever replace them before you trade in the vehicle.
It's important to perform needed maintenance early. Allowing the situation to bloom into an expensive repair threatens the practicality of keeping your paid-for wheels on the road. If you made 36, 48 or even 60 monthly payments without flinching in order to buy the car, but don't like to pay for maintenance, try considering it as a short-term "car payment" that only has to be made occasionally.
Safety tips for brake service:
Invest in a top-quality brake pads.
If any rotors are marginal for continued service after refinishing (too thin or very close to the minimum thickness specification), have them replaced. An ASE-certified technician can compare the specification dimension and your rotors' actual thickness for you on request. If you own an older vehicle equipped with original equipment (OE) rotors, be prepared to replace them at this time.
Have the brake calipers inspected to ensure that any moving parts, such as slides and bleeder screws, haven't corroded and frozen up.
Don't always jump at the lowest quoted price for your brake job. A low price quote can mean that you're not getting the complete brake system serviced.
Remember, there are cheap jobs that use basic components. There are also more-expensive jobs that use premium components. When evaluating the cost of any vehicle repair or maintenance, consider the quality of work and the parts. What's the cost difference between the two? Which one would you trust most?
Beyond basic brake pads and rotor replacement or resurfacing, ask for quotations on the following expanded parts and services if you own an older vehicle:
If your brake hydraulic system has never been flushed, consider having it serviced to remove moisture and impurities from the fluid reservoir, lines, calipers and/or wheel cylinders.
Have rubber-type flex brake hoses replaced when they're hard, cracked or simply old.
When rotors are being resurfaced for reuse, request inspection of the wheel bearings.
On rear-wheel-drive cars or trucks, have the front wheel bearings inspected and repacked with new grease, along with replacing the seals. Don't take the chance of being stranded over an inexpensive bearing or seal.
For drum brake applications, ask to have a new brake hardware kit installed when the brake shoes are replaced and the drums are refinished. The technician should ensure that each assembly's wheel cylinder pistons, starwheel adjuster and bleeder screw aren't sticking or seized.
Have your emergency brake assembly tested periodically. Have it repaired or adjusted if necessary.
This approach to vehicle maintenance may cost a little more up front, but if you make the investment now, you can be sure that-old or new-your car or truck will stop in the shortest distance possible-and be able to steer around trouble.
If your vehicle is more than five years old and has only had brake pad and rotor servicing in the past, it's generally appropriate to have the items from our expanded list serviced or replaced.
To find a local ASE Blue Seal Shop that can help you keep your vehicle in top condition, visit our ASE Blue Seal Shop Locator page.
An ‘Epidemic’ of Unperformed Maintenance
Consider these facts regarding vehicles and maintenance:
In its Automotive Aftermarket Status Report 2012, analysts at the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA) reported unperformed vehicle maintenance across the entire U.S. fleet had grown to $62 billion in 2010, compared to $54 billion a year earlier.
According to a 2005 Car Care Council report, poorly maintained vehicles account for 5 percent of all accidents, causing more than $2 billion in property damage, lost wages and medical expenses.
The average age of cars on today’s U.S. roads is more than 11 years, according to a 2011 study by Polk, a Southfield, Mich.-based research firm. Light-duty trucks average 10.4 years old, and the average age of the U.S. fleet is 10.8 years old.
Arbitrarily dividing the unperformed maintenance amount by an assumed (and generous) average repair cost of $300 per vehicle across the entire car and light truck fleet potentially indicates that 206.6 million vehicles need some type of maintenance and repair.
Amazingly, this suggests that more than 85 percent of the entire passenger car and light truck fleet suffers from some form of unperformed maintenance. If your vehicle is over five years old, the likelihood that it needs maintenance or service of any type climbs dramatically.