What goes into a brake job?

Here's why you may have paid more for your last brake job than the price promised on TV.

Brian Cooley Editor at Large
Brian Cooley is CNET's Editor at large and has been with the brand since 1995. He currently focuses on electrification of vehicles but also follows the big trends in smart home, digital healthcare, 5G, the future of food, and augmented & virtual realities. Cooley is a sought after presenter by brands and their agencies when they want to understand how consumers react to new technologies. He has been a regular featured speaker at CES, Cannes Lions, Advertising Week and The PHM HealthFront™. He was born and raised in Silicon Valley when Apple's campus was mostly apricots.
Expertise Automotive technology, Smart home, Digital health Credentials
  • 5G Technician, ETA International
Brian Cooley
2 min read

Brake jobs seldom feel good. A lot of money goes out of your pocket and you often can't see or even feel a difference. But assuming we aren't arguing over the importance of stopping, here's the tech you need to know about next time you need a brake job. 

There are three main components that make up your brakes at the wheel:

  • Pads, which are the most common wear item.
  • Rotors, or the disc that the pads grind against.
  • Caliper, which presses the pads against the rotor.

Of these three, the pads and rotors are the ones you most commonly see on a brake job bill. 

Pad wear is affected by how you drive (a complex stew of factors) as well as the terrain on which you drive, the weight of your car and the formulation of the brake pads you choose. Rotor wear involves a similar batch of factors along with a unique one: Most rotors can be placed on a lathe and machined down to a fresh surface for another service cycle, though some carmakers are starting to use lighter rotors that don't have enough metal for that and must be replaced when out of spec instead.


The brake system parts that cost you money: Pads, rotors and, occasionally, the calipers.

Les Schwab

Brakes are evaluated not by mileage, like engine oil, but by material thickness. The pads and the rotor have a minimum amount of material parameters derived from aspects of mechanical design and heat dissipation. 
Finally, you may be asked to authorize a brake-system flush as brake fluid can absorb water from the environment or become contaminated with small particles of metal from corrosion in your hydraulic system. Satisfy yourself that this is not just a profit grab from the shop, and then have it done as a flush can prevent brake fade now or very expensive service in the longer term.