United States Department of Transportation statistics reveal a shocking trend in the automotive industry: From 1996 to 2018, American drivers and car owners have reported over 87,000 brake problems. The top-five most-reported problems were related to issues with disc brake pads and brake rotors, and it’s important to note how brake pad and disc brake rotor condition can affect your vehicle’s safety. Because disc brakes are a wear item and need to be replaced when they reach the end of their usable life, which is a cost many drivers don’t expect.
Whether you know a little or a lot about cars, you’re just a driver or a do-it-yourselfer, the information in this article should be helpful in explaining why brake pads and brake rotors cost what they do.
The Cost of a Brake Pad & Rotor Replacement
Brake pad replacement costs can vary greatly, depending on several factors.
First, there is the year, make, and model of the vehicle being repaired. Economy cars and family sedans are usually at the lower end, while sports cars and luxury cars are at the higher end.
Then, for each given vehicle, brake pads and brake rotors vary in price, depending on brand, quality, and application.
Finally, installation costs can vary, depending on whether you do it yourself or go to an auto repair chain, local independent shop, or to the dealership service center.
Brake pads are usually sold in sets of four, as each vehicle uses two brake pads at each wheel and brake pads are usually replaced as an entire set. If you need brake pads for both the front and rear, you’d need two sets of brake pads, one for each axle.
Depending on the vehicle, front brake pads and rear brake pads may be priced differently, usually because front brake pads do around 70% of stopping the vehicle. The first consideration you should make is brand, as this can tell you a lot about the company and quality you’re paying for.
- Genuine parts, such as Toyota or Jeep, are the most expensive and guaranteed to perform as well as those from when the car was new. It’s good to note, though, that most automakers don’t produce their own brake pads.
- Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts don’t carry the vehicle brand name and are slightly less expensive but are made to meet or exceed the standards set by the manufacturer. They’re made by the same companies that provide brake pads straight to the automakers for installation on new vehicles.
- Generic brake pads, by “no name” manufacturers, are the least expensive and often the least-quality brake pad option you can choose. They’ll physically fit the vehicle, maybe, but there’s little guarantee how well they’ll perform or how long they’ll last.
- Specialty brake pads might be made for a specific purpose, which can push prices upwards. Sport and truck brake pads increase stopping power but increase dusting and may wear out faster. Low-dust brake pads generate less dust, for cleaner wheels, but may sacrifice stopping power.
Experts suggest choosing quality brands over no-name products, even though it might be more expensive. The advantage is that top-brand brake pads come with at least some kind of guarantee as to fitness for the job and a relative guarantee they’ll last a reasonable amount of time. If your no-name brake pads fail or wear out prematurely, you may have no one to call for resolution.
Some high-quality brake pad brands we recommend include:
- AC Delco
Because there are so many different combinations of brake pads, it can be difficult to generalize exactly how much brake pad replacement can cost. To give you an idea of how much the pricing can vary, check out this chart from AC Delco:
|Brake Pads||Set Of Two||Set Of Four|
|Generic||$14.85 – $20.52||$13.42 – $60.70
|OE||$38.41 – $905.26|
|Generic||$10.79 – $50.19||$17.78 – $150.23
|OE||$50.67 – $905.26|
|Generic||$12.34 – $57.97||$21.34 – $99.93
|OE||$52.51 – $120.71|
On the other hand, some auto repair chains offer a simpler pricing structure, which applies to the most common vehicles on the road.
This Pep Boys chart, for example, features single pricing per axle, but it’s good to note no one is getting Lexus LF front brake pads for $149. Still, it’s a good idea of what you can expect to pay for the average vehicle:
- Standard Brake Service: $149
- Original Equipment Replacement Brake Service: $199.99
- Premium Brake Service: $219.99
- Ultra Premium Brake Service: $239.99
- Power Stop Brake Service Package: $125 (per axle)
Now about the disc rotors.
Disc brake rotor costs also vary, depending on several factors. Of course, vehicle year, make, and model are the starting point, and front brake rotors are typically more expensive than rear brake rotors. Disc brake rotor price also varies by brand, construction, and application.
- Genuine brake rotors, such as Lexus or Chevrolet, are the most expensive choice, but also guaranteed to fit and function as new from the factory.
- OEM brake rotors are usually made by the same companies that supply the automakers, but with a different name. They’ll function as well as or better than new, just like genuine parts.
- Generic brake rotors are the least expensive option. They’ll physically fit the vehicle, maybe, but quality control and performance may be questionable.
- Specialty brake rotors can range greatly in price, depending on application. Slotted or drilled sport rotors are designed to dissipate heat, dust, and gases better and maintain braking power in extreme conditions, for example.
Again, brake rotor brand and reputation have a lot to do with how well their parts perform and how much the company supports their buyers. Genuine and OEM brake rotors come with great support, while generic parts may not even come with a phone number.
Though brake rotors don’t vary as much as brake pads, their pricing is highly variable, as this generic AC Delco chart reveals:
|Generic||$9.76||$9.76 – $212.91
|OE||$44.18 – $118.26||$35.89 – $2,314.36
|Generic||$11.53 – $212.91||$17.34
|OE||$35.89 – $373.40||$35.89 – $1,485.15
Full brake kits are also available from certain aftermarket and OEM brake brands, including new brake pads and new brake rotors, and sometimes new brake calipers. Full brake kits are great choices such as when upgrading to a specialty brake or overhauling an old brake system. Brake kit prices can vary depending on several factors, such as vehicle, brand, and application.
These largely vary using all the above parameters, but the estimated amount is roughly around $21.07 – $2,726.97
Of course, unless you’re planning on installing new brake pads or brake rotors on your own – more power to you if you can – you’ll have to account for labor costs and shop costs to install them. Unless the labor cost is built into the package, such as the previously-mentioned Pep Boys package, you’ll usually pay an hourly rate. Labor costs typically vary depending on location and who’s running the shop.
- Dealership service centers are usually the most expensive, but they also use the latest tools and factory-trained technicians to do the job. They know your car like the back of their hands.
- Independent auto repair shops usually charge less, and this is posted in a conspicuous place at the service desk. Independent shops may or may not employ highly-experienced mechanics, so shopping around is a good idea.
- Similarly, auto repair chains charge less than dealerships, posting their hourly rates in a place you can easily see it. Chain shops usually keeps their technicians educated on the most common maintenance work, such as oil changes and brake jobs.
- Because the cost of living and the cost of doing business in urban areas is higher – rent, utilities, wages – the labor cost in urban shops is usually greater than that in suburban or rural auto repair shops. This applies to dealership service centers as well as independent and chain shops.
To give you an idea, sample total charge for brake rotors/discs replacement and brake pad replacement (parts and labor) for selected vehicles are as follows:
|Brake Rotors/Discs Replacement||Estimate
|2003 Chrysler PT Cruiser||$215|
|2010 Suzuki SX4||$258
|2006 Lexus SC430||$265
|2014 Chevrolet Suburban 1500||$329
|2010 Land Rover LR4||$563
|2009 Chevrolet Corvette||$2,834
|Brake Pad Replacement|
|2010 Kia Rondo||$136
|2014 Nissan Titan||$140|
|2010 Volvo C30||$150
|2006 Audi S4||$173|
|2003 Audi A8 Quattro||$214|
|2004 BMW 645Ci||$279
When considering brake repair options for your vehicle, be sure to call around and ask questions.
Reputable brake repair shops should carry good name-brand parts and offer some kind of warranty for the parts and labor. If your vehicle is in decent shape, getting an estimate by phone is usually pretty straightforward.
On the other hand, the age and condition of your vehicle may increase the price you pay for what some might consider basic brake pad or brake rotor replacement. Of course, you might pay less than you expect, such as if it’s less expensive to resurface the brake rotors instead of replacing them.
Tips to Extend the Lives of Your Brake Pads and Disc Rotors
Whether you want to keep your current brakes safe as long as possible or you’ve just gotten your brake pads or brake rotors replaced, there are a few ways you can extend the life of your brake system. Basically, the idea is to use your brakes as lightly and as little as possible.
- Avoid aggressive driving – Hard acceleration followed by hard braking doesn’t save you any time and wears everything out faster, including your brakes.
- Stop high-speed braking – Simply coasting or downshifting can slow your vehicle without using the brakes. This keeps your brakes from heating excessively and wearing out prematurely.
- Anticipate stops – Coast or downshift to slow before engaging the brakes the last few seconds.
- Avoid stops – For example, if you know a certain area is just stop-and-go traffic, you can avoid it by choosing a different route or leaving before traffic congestion builds.
- Safe Following Distance – If stop-and-go traffic is unavoidable, use the transmission in L, 1, or 2 to keep a safe following distance between you and the next vehicle. This can help prevent the need to hard-brake if the vehicle ahead brakes suddenly.
- Lighten the load – The heavier your vehicle is, the harder it is to stop, wearing your brakes faster. Heavier loads also wear out the suspension and steering!
- Maintain the brake system – Regular inspections and brake system maintenance, such as cleaning or brake fluid replacement, can keep your disc brakes operating most efficiently. Brake fluid usually needs to be replaced every couple of years.
What are Brake Pads?
Have you ever wondered exactly what happens when you step on the brake pedal?
Brake pads are just one small part of your brake system and a critical part of many that activate when you step on the brake pedal to slow or stop your vehicle.
Brake pads are used in disc brake systems – brake shoes are used in drum brake systems. A single brake pad consists of a steel backing plate, to which is bonded a slab of friction material. The friction material’s composition can vary, depending on design and application.
Currently, there are four brake pad material types:
- on-Asbestos Organic (NAO) brake pads are made from organic materials, such as fiber glass, high-temperature resins, and other filler materials. They are soft and quiet, delivering exceptional braking. They also generate more dust and don’t last as long as other types.
- Low-Metallic NAO brake pads are similar to full NAO, but with added metals, 10% to 30% copper or steel. They tend to last longer than full NAO but can be noisy.
- Semi-Metallic brake pads are 30% to 65% metal, including steel wool and recycled wire. Semi-metallic pads last a lot longer and generate little dust, but they tend to be noisy and can accelerate brake rotor wear.
- Ceramic brake pads are made of ceramic fibers and other fillers and binders. They’re more expensive, but offer better braking performance, low dust generation, and quieter operation.
At each wheel, two brake pads are enclosed by a brake caliper. The brake rotor is attached to the wheel hub and spins with the wheel, while the disc portion floats between the brake pads.
When the brake pedal is pressed, brake fluid in the master cylinder is distributed to each of the brake calipers, squeezing the brake pads onto the brake rotor.
The friction generated, by your force on the pedal, power boosting, and the composition of the brake pad, is what stops your vehicle or keeps it from moving.
The resulting contact results in friction which stops the vehicle. The amount of pressure placed on the brake pedal determines how hard the brake pads push against the rotor.
What are Disc Rotors?
On most cars, you can look through a front wheel and see a shiny disc of heavy metal, the brake rotor.
The brake rotor is usually made of cast iron, but some are made of steel or even carbon fiber.
We mention the front wheel because some vehicles use drum brakes in the rear, which are less effective but more economical than disc brakes. Even so, if you look at a vehicle with four-wheel disc brakes, you’ll note the front brake rotors are heavier than the rear brake rotors. This is because of what happens when you use your brakes.
When you step on the brake pedal, the brake calipers squeeze the brake pads and brake rotors. The friction generates heat. The heavier you use your brakes; the hotter things get. Because the front brakes do about 70% of the braking, they generate a lot more heat, which is why you’ll usually note the front brake rotor to be made of heavier materials.
Also, vents and holes help to dissipate that heat when the brakes are not in use.
Here’s a video that shows how disc brakes work to slow and stop your vehicle:
Why Replace Brake Pads and Brake Rotors?
The next time you drive your car, think about how many times you press the brake pedal. On a typical drive, this could be hundreds of times.
Every time you use your brakes, the brake pads are forced into the brake rotors to slow down or stop your vehicle. Every time this happens, a small amount of brake pad friction material and brake rotor face gets scrubbed away. Brake rotors can also crack, overheat, or rust out.
Though disc brake components are built to take this kind of abuse, brake pads and brake rotors have a limited lifespan, no matter what materials they’re made of.
If you notice your vehicle not braking well, pulling to one side or another, or making unusual noises when braking, taking it to a trusted mechanic should be your first step in assessing the situation and restoring disc brake performance and safety.
A mechanic can tell you if your brake pads or brake rotors require replacement. After removal of the wheel, he’ll make some observations and take some measurements.
Cracked or overheated brake rotors must be replaced, but resurfacing might be an option for scored brake rotors if they are still thick enough.
Brake pads are usually recommended to be replaced when the friction material wears to 3 mm thickness or less.
When Should You Replace Brake Pads?
On most vehicles, the brake pads wear out faster than the brake rotors, and so are replaced more often, depending on the vehicle, brake pads may last anywhere from 25,000 miles to 75,000 miles.
The best way to keep tabs on brake pad wear is to have your vehicle inspected every 5,000 miles or 6 months. Otherwise, being observant will help you determine if you need brake pad replacement. Call your trusted auto repair center if you observe any of the following conditions:
- High-pitch squeal when braking. This is usually the brake pad wear indicator rubbing on the brake rotor when the brake pad’s friction material is getting thin.
- Warning light on the instrument cluster. Some vehicles have a brake pad wear sensor to alert the driver to brake pad condition. Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) or electronic stability control (ESC) systems might also warn you of braking problems.
- Grinding sound when braking. This usually indicates the brake pad has completely worn and is grinding into the brake rotor.
- Brake fluid leak. New brake fluid is a gold color, while old brake fluid is brown or black, but not quite like engine oil.
- Vehicle too hard to stop or engages ABS too quickly. This means something isn’t working right in the disc brake system.
- Brake pedal too hard or too soft. This usually means there’s air in the hydraulic system or that something is binding.
As you can see, your brake pads and brake rotors are a little more complex than you might have imagined, and they don’t last forever. If you notice unusual noises or inefficient braking, your first stop should be your trusted mechanic.
Risking driving with an impaired disc brake system is unsafe, but a competent brake technician can get you back on the road safely and surely.