Q: Brake pads, rotors, and maybe a scam?

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So I needed to take my car into the shop to replace the pads because I heard grinding, they told me I also need my rear rotors replaced because it was metal on metal, about $450. No big deal, I didn't have any problems. That is until they called back a little bit later and said that the mechanic was trying to replace the rotor but the emergency brake was falling apart, not because anything was wrong with it, but because they couldn't get the emergency brake to stay together. So they told me I needed to replace that too, and it would be an extra $300+. I feel like there's something up, so I told them no for now, wait to do anything until I say. Please help, am I being scammed?

My car has 65000 miles.
My car has an automatic transmission.

This is a classic situation that leads a customer to feel like they’re getting a raw deal.

The honest truth is most of the time a mechanic isn’t attempting to scam you. I have worked in the field for over two decades and I can’t recall a time where a shop was actually running a scam. They may lack customer service and communication skills, make mistakes they aren’t willing to pay for, or sell you a job without thoroughly inspecting everything involved. None of this is a scam – they simply need to do better. In the defense of automotive professionals everywhere, automotive repair and maintenance is a very complicated business and we can fall short of perfection. Having the integrity to face our mistakes is the best a mechanic can do on any given day.

You have rear disc brakes with a parking brake shoe system. We can’t see the parking brake components because they are hidden inside the drum disc. Your vehicle is fairly new and I wouldn’t expect, as I am sure they didn’t, to find a problem with your parking brake. This parking brake system should last at least ten years before it has any problems, unless it had been left on while driving or something else happened to damage it. Try doing a web search for a diagram of the components in the parking brake. That might help you get a better idea of how they work and what’s inside.

Because of the low mileage and newer year we wouldn’t expect to see a problem once we disassembled your brake. This frequently catches many mechanics off guard. We give estimates without completely disassembling and inspecting what is actually going on. In this case, it creates a lack of trust. You were told one thing, and now they are adding to that bill. They seemingly have you at their mercy, and it certainly can feel that way. Even I would feel that way in your position. But the case is, until we disassemble something, we can’t know everything the job will require. We will make a judgement call like this a hundred times without an issue with our initial estimate, but that doesn’t change this situation.

While I haven’t seen the issue personally, I would say you are probably NOT being scammed. The only way this could have been prevented is with a complete disassembly of your brakes before giving an estimate. That would have come in at a higher cost than another shop that didn’t completely disassemble to inspect your brakes. Now we have a car that is all apart, with broken parts we can’t put back together taking up space in the shop. Of course, someone else gave you a cheaper estimate and you don’t know who to trust. As we all do, you would likely go with the cheaper estimate and ask your car be put back together to take it to another shop. All this takes time that the shop isn’t getting paid for, and your car is broken. It will take extra time to assemble a car with broken parts on top of already disassembling it for an inspection.

So hopefully you can see the dilemma here. Cars are complicated and we don’t know everything until complete disassembly. We are constantly battling estimates from others that are low, but the truth is, a lower estimate is usually of lesser quality. This is simple business math. You use cheaper parts and cut corners you get a lesser product. We can estimate low and up sell when we find more things wrong on disassembly, or we can estimate high and push customers away because they perceive a better value. Keep in mind, YourMechanic has a different business model than a brick and mortar repair shop. Our pricing is lower for this reason. The monthly bills of a brick and mortar shop are immense. YourMechanic’s business model allows for these costs to be spread out among a large base of technicians across the country. For this reason we take a very different approach to customer service.

Personally I sell trust. I recommend having this shop show you all the broken pieces and judge them on the time they spend helping you feel they did the right thing for you. If they manage to retain your trust, stick with them. If not, book a mechanic from YourMechanic. One of our certified mobile technicians can come to you to provide a brake inspection.

It is one of my goals to educate customers about challenges such as this that create dissent among customers. I sincerely hope I have broadened your perspective.

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