Please help me fix my ride without being taken for a ride!
January 12, 2010 8:22 AM   Subscribe

Does this automotive repair quote look normal and acceptable? I know little about cars and am trying to fix a noise coming from a front wheel while also ensuring our brakes are safe.

First of all, I've been meaning to replace the brake pads for a while. Can anyone give me advice on how one knows when exactly to replace them? (We have a baby on the way and I'm just trying to be safe and get it out of the way before the baby arrives). Last time I had my tires rotated, I had them check the brakes and they said they're "getting down there". Does the quote for brakes look normal, or are there any changes I should make?

Second, about a week ago my car started making a loud humming noise as I drive between 40-55 mph. The noise comes from the left wheel well and is really only noticeable when I steer to the left (i.e. changing lanes on the highway or going around a left curve). After speaking with Les Schwab, they said they believe it is a wheel bearing going out.

Again, I know very little about cars. I want to save as much money as possible, but am only familiar with changing my own oil/filters/flat tires/etc. No major repairs. Are these things that I can even attempt to do myself? I have exactly one set of basic sockets, some screw drivers, and a hammer :/

Thanks for your help!
posted by siclik to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think I'd get a quote from another shop:

Unless the car has an awful lot of miles on it, it seems odd that both front calipers would need replacing on a 5-year-old car.

Since over $300 of that estimate is related to the bearings, I'd want to be fairly sure that was really the problem before agreeing to the work; that "they believe" it isn't terribly reassuring.

There's no line item for the brake pads themselves so the bill may be higher still.

It may be feasible to do the brake work yourself, but probably not the bearing changes.

How many miles are on this vehicle?
posted by jon1270 at 8:43 AM on January 12, 2010

Response by poster: The car has bout 75,000 miles. Looking at Napa's website, the same hub assembly is only about $160 (in-stock) and new pads are cheaper, too.

Do I need to change the calipers, or can I just buy some new ceramic brake pads?

To be honest, I don't even know where to start looking around. I called the local Chevy dealer and they acted like they were too busy to even quote it but finally did (bearing work alone was over $500).

Am I better off just buying all new parts from Napa and having a local independent mechanic swap them out for me?

I don't mind spending $700, but I just want to get value for the price and if I'm better off buying better brakes/rotors and having someone else do that, then that's what I'd prefer.

Just south of Portland, OR if anyone has any specific recommendations.
posted by siclik at 8:53 AM on January 12, 2010

I would get another quote. Paying over $700 for only the front brakes seems high. I don't know much about cars either though. I had all four done on an Infiniti with similar mileage as your car for about $800. $700 for two seems high, but I'm in no way an expert.
posted by parakeetdog at 8:59 AM on January 12, 2010

Response by poster: The $700 includes replacing one of the front wheel hubs (and possible alignment due to that replacement).
posted by siclik at 9:01 AM on January 12, 2010

FYI, I work on my own cars but am not a professional. If Jon-O happens along, listen to him.

Calipers are typically replaced when they either leak fluid or if the piston sticks due to corrosion. Either of these failures seems unlikely at your car's age / mileage, but I don't know anything about Chevy Impalas in particular. If the calipers don't leak and their pistons aren't sticking, I don't know why you'd want to change them.

It's likely that you'll be able to find cheaper versions of most of those parts. Most garages avoid the cheapest parts suppliers (not worth the risk), and also markup the price. That said, I often buy cheap parts and rarely have a problem.

Definitely run this by a local independent mechanic. When I'm up against a repair I don't want to attempt myself, I go to a small local shop that lets me supply my own parts and whose labor prices are usually a fraction of what larger shops charge.
posted by jon1270 at 9:10 AM on January 12, 2010

Best answer: You might try a search of The Car Talk Mechanics Files.
posted by jon1270 at 9:12 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

By all means get a second quote but, in my experience, Les Schwab is a very honest and reliable company that stands behind their work. You might be able to do a little better on price, but you won't get better service. In short, I'd trust their estimate.
posted by maniactown at 9:20 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @jon1270: thank you thank you thank you! That is exactly what I needed; a good starting place to find mechanics who can diagnose and quote. Again, thank you!
posted by siclik at 9:21 AM on January 12, 2010

It's a quote from Les Schwab. Qualitatively, it's probably accurate, and the repair will likely be performed soundly. But your labor costs will always be higher at this kind of location, a chain repair shop. You could get an estimate from a small, independent repair shop that does good work, and the labor costs will likely be much lower. But they are harder to find, of course.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:22 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't want to comment on the hub work, but the brake part doesn't seem reasonable. If your problem is only worn pads, then there is no need to replace the calipers. I don't even seen pads on the quote (sometimes pads come on the calipers, but at $60 each that seems unlikely), but I do see $180 for the rotors. You may or may not need to replace the rotors, but it isn't a terrible idea. Rotors are generally cheap though and $180 seems like far too much.
posted by ssg at 9:23 AM on January 12, 2010

You're welcome. From the search I did, it looks like Reborn Automotive might be hard to beat.
posted by jon1270 at 9:24 AM on January 12, 2010

Many mechanics will charge more for the labor when you supply the parts. Mine does this and is up front and honest about it. I assume it is b/c he gets a discount from NAPA (or wherever) that he is not passing on but have never asked him about it. Or maybe he is sick of the 'tuner' set coming in with aftermarket parts for their Evos and what not.
I recently did new pads and rotors on my 99 Jeep myself, and it was ridiculously simple and cheap (less than $100). The car has 150K miles on it and it is the first time the rotors have been replaced, they probably would not have needed to be replaced but I let the pads go longer then I should have.
Based on estimates I got for parts on the Jeep (comparing apples to oranges here obviously, but...) the rotor price seems high, caliper price seems good. I would definitely get another opinion on the hubs and bearings, seems way too early.
IMHO, you are better off going to a local mechanic for this sort of work and building a relationship with them rather than going to a chain/franchise. Also, you may want to check out consumer review/opinion sites (not necessarily the one below, but it is the one I found first):
posted by evilelf at 9:35 AM on January 12, 2010

this is a little off-topic, but just so you know before you use the same method to try and actually black out something sensitive: I can still see the address and order number and all that just by using an old version of Adobe reader to view the file.
posted by 256 at 9:40 AM on January 12, 2010

The price seems reasonable-ish. There's no reason you can't do it yourself, though. Dumb, overconfident 16 year old boys do this stuff just fine ALL THE TIME.

Brake pads and rotors are among the easiest car repairs if you've got a jack and a set of jack stands AND a way to get to the hardware store when you realize you'll need a bigger pair of pliers. If you've got a weekend to kill, give it a shot. It'll save big money in the long run if you learn to do it, since the second time around it'll only take you an hour or two. You'll probably be able to find a clear writeup online for your car and/or an owners forum where people can talk you through it. Worst case, you make the tow of shame.

A hum definitely sounds like a wheel bearing but it theoretically _could_ be something else.

Wheel bearings are typically a bit more involved, and require either disassembling the suspension to install a whole new hub assembly or some sort of special press that can get the bearings out in situ (and still a lot of disassembling). It's still straightforward, but it'd be a bit more of a challenge. Again, if you've got two cars and a weekend to kill, it's not rocket science AND the internet is full of good info. If you can operate a computer and cook a cake from a recipe, you can do it. First time's a pain, second time's dead simple.

Seconding not touching the calipers if you don't need to. If you do it yourself, it'll be immediately apparent if the calipers need to be repaired. The pistons won't move, they'll be rusty or rubber boots will be torn, etc.
posted by paanta at 9:40 AM on January 12, 2010

Response by poster: After watching the video that paanta linked to, I'm pretty confident I shouldn't attempt this job. This is our only car, and I'm sure I'll be missing some tool or part and will be unable to drive to get one once I start.

I think I'll call a couple nearby smaller shops that were listed on the CarTalk site and see if I can get their opinions on it. Sounds like I might be able to get away with just a new hub assembly and new brake pads from NAPA, plus labor at a local shop? If that's the case, this could be under $400 (depending on labor).
posted by siclik at 9:55 AM on January 12, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks to jon1270's link, I was able to find and call a couple of reputable local mechanics. Talk about convenience: I was able to find a mechanic less than two blocks from work who will do all of the work for $100 in one morning. In addition, he'll order OEM parts through NAPA for me and pass his discount onto me (he doesn't mark up parts, he said).

Nicest and most informed mechanic I've ever spoken with. Let's hope my repair appointment on Friday goes just as smooth! (if his reputation on CarTalk is any indication, I have faith in his ability).

Thanks for all your help and advice. Months ago, in preparation for the brake job, I started budgeting $400 for car repairs. Even after the surprise wheel hub replacement, it looks like I may stay within budget thanks to my supportive mefites!
posted by siclik at 10:25 AM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

A side piece of advice, definitely do NOT ignore that hum - get it taken care of. I had what sounds like a similar hum in my truck a week or two ago.. ignored it... and now i have a whole bunch of wheel pieces welded to my axle. NOT a good time.
posted by frwagon at 3:57 PM on January 12, 2010

Sounds like you are on your way to being a satisfied customer.

That said, the Les Schwab prices aren't super out of line. Except the brake rotor price, which seems a little like double what it should be.

If the calipers need to be replaced, you are probably better off doing them both at once. But unless they are damaged, they aren't really a wear item at 5 years.
posted by gjc at 6:45 PM on January 12, 2010

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