Mechanic inspects brakes. Inspection breaks the brakes. Who pays?
April 2, 2013 5:54 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend brought her car in to fix an overheating problem. While there, the mechanic did a safety inspection. In doing so, the brakes, which may have had trouble coming, broke. Should she pay to repair? Photo inside.

Here's what I know happened. The car is an older Kia Sportage, somewhere between '00 and '02 I think.
  • Car is brought in last Friday to fix a problem with recurrent overheating.
  • Thermostat is replaced, car goes home the next day.
  • Car overheats again. It goes back to the shop.
  • The problem was the thermostat housing. It is a plastic part that had previously cracked/fractured, and someone (not the shop, they say) tried to JB-weld it back together.
  • Mechanic orders a new thermostat housing; it will be in on Friday.
  • In the meantime they do a safety inspection.
  • The drum is removed from one of the drum brakes, and the brake lining falls on the ground.
  • Now they are quoting $319 ($219 labor, $100 parts) to fix the brakes.
What I think happened:
  • While taking things apart for inspection, the tech hit the drum with a hammer, breaking a weak adhesive bond between the brake pad/lining and the surface it was attached to. This is the photo they sent me after disassembly. Here's a schematic of the thing that broke. The lining came off the shoe.
The mechanic says the car needs to be towed out if it's not fixed. My girlfriend doesn't know what to do, and I'm acting as the go-between. After some back-and-forth, the mechanic says he would come back with some lower numbers tomorrow.

The car was braking fine before she brought it in. But if a hammer whack was enough to pop loose the brake bad, it may not have been securely affixed to begin with. What's fair?
posted by compartment to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Did you or your gf request a safety inspection? That's pretty key info I think. If yes then hey he caught it. Call around for quotes to check prices. If you did NOT then that's a whole different banana.

I don't know what he's quoting to fix but $319 seems high for anything on one wheel....
posted by chasles at 6:02 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

$319 for drum brakes? That's absurd. They can cut that in half and still make money. The local brake shop near me regularly has brake jobs for $99/axle.

If you didn't specifically request the brake inspection, IMHO the shop is on the hook for it. Stand your ground, and in the last resort, call the cops and make a complaint, alleging extortion.
posted by pjern at 6:12 PM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

A couple of things to consider:
- Continue to document everything, and make sure you understand mechanics' liens in your state. Don't tow/drive the car off if you haven't sorted out the bill without at least understanding what may happen with a lien.
- Can she find the documentation for the last time she got new brakes and the last time they were checked?
- Has her brake warning light in the dashboard been coming on? For her make/model, would it, if there was a problem with the brake shoe? If it would, but it didn't, any mechanic can get a report showing exactly which warnings the car's computer displayed to her. So, if the light does notify of that problem, and the report shows no warning light, then there was no problem.
posted by Houstonian at 6:15 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

1) Three hundred bucks for a new set of brake shoes is absurd. They think you're a fool.

2) That doesn't look like a very worn brake shoe lining, even from that crummy pic. Guy got way over-enthusiastic with that sledgehammer. (I use a big leather mallet when removing my brake drums.)

3) If you didn't request the work, they are on the hook for fixing it, period, the end. Even if you did agree, raise a stink with the manager about their tech ruining your otherwise serviceable brakes with poor work.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:08 PM on April 2, 2013

Best answer: The shoe delaminated. It's rare but it is not unknown. It is a sign of shoddy components, not shoddy workmanship. It is very likely that the shop did nothing wrong at all from your description and the pictures. Sometimes that happens and it would be really really hard for them to hit the drum hard enough to delaminate the shoe without smashing the drum in half.

In short - they did not do this.

Having said that:

Now they are quoting $319 ($219 labor, $100 parts) to fix the brakes.

$100 in parts I believe. but $219 in labour to replace rear brakes? I don't think so. Again, having said that, if it took them a hell of a time getting that brake drum off because the shoe was jammed in the mechanism because it had come loose, then I can see it taking ages. But that's something that you gamble on as a shop with the law of averages by offering safety inspections - sometimes the garage wins, sometimes they lose. It isn't something that should be passed onto the customer, which is why they are prepared to come back to you with lower numbers.

But if a hammer whack was enough to pop loose the brake bad, it may not have been securely affixed to begin with. What's fair?

Exactly. The shoe was already pooched - no big deal, but it's not your problem it was harder than a standard brake job. They need to come back with the lower number. They did a safety inspection in the hopes of finding a brake job to do - that's fair. They found more than they were hoping for, that's one of those things. Pay the cost of a standard rear brake job on that car. Get quotes from two other local garages for back up if you can and if they offer close to that sum, you're good I think.
posted by Brockles at 7:27 PM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Did you or your gf request a safety inspection? That's pretty key info I think.

Actually that's a good point. If she did, then she still only owes them the cost of a standard brake job. If not, then they can shove it and need to fix the car. You can pay the parts (I think that'd be fair - they did find an issue after all) and they can pay the labour - if you didn't ask them to take it apart, you don't have to pay for them to put it back together. That's where I'd stand if the safety inspection was not explicitly requested.
posted by Brockles at 7:29 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

1- They shouldn't be using a metal hammer on the axle. That ruins bearings. They should be using a dead blow mallet, if anything.

2- 10 years on drum brakes is more than you can expect. So I have no doubt it was close to time for new parts.

3- If you consented to the inspection, then you're stuck. I would definitely bargain them down on the labor, since they broke it. If the shoe was delaminated when you came in, you wouldn't have been able to drive.

4- If the inspection was a "courtesy", then you owe them nothing. They need to restore the car to the condition it was in before they started messing around with it. A good compromise would be for you to pay for the new parts, and them to eat the labor.

5- A badly aimed hammer blow is definitely enough to ruin a perfectly good pad. They are designed to stay in place in the rotational axis, not the side to side axis. Also, a hammer blow is more g-force than anything it will experience in its life as a brake pad.

6- The correct way to pull the drum off is to use a brake shoe adjuster tool to back off the tension on the brakes so that the ridges on the drum will easily clear the shoe. I have personally never done this, of course, because it's a pain in the neck. But I'm not a mechanic working on other people's cars. If they are going to be tearing apart people's cars, they have to do it the right way or suffer the consequences.
posted by gjc at 3:11 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: 1- They shouldn't be using a metal hammer on the axle. That ruins bearings. They should be using a dead blow mallet, if anything.

The hammer is mostly needed to shake off the dust build up around and between the drum and the brake mechanism, though - not to overcome the shoes inside the lip. You have to hit a drum much harder with a deadblow mallet than you do with a steel hammer to get the same effect, so I'm not convinced bearing damage will come from the steel hammer and none from a dead blow. You need a few sharp taps from a steel hammer (a mallet like that you'd hardly need to swing to get the same effect - you could even hold it by the head and use it) and I've tried a dead blow but you have to belt the crap out of the drum to get the dust out. Personally I think it is more gentle on the components to use the steel shock effect.

If they are hammering the drum past the lip without backing the shoe off, then it could cause bearing damage either way. If you're having to properly swing a mallet that size to get the shoe off (which could cause damage) then that's more a sign that something is amiss anyway but yes, that is the point you risk damaging something, but I am not totally convinced the presence of that hammer in the picture means he was going all Thor-tastic on it necessarily. Hopefully I am not giving too much benefit of the doubt!
posted by Brockles at 5:04 AM on April 3, 2013

If you have the means to do so, I'd get the car towed to another shop and have them re-diagnose the overheating problem before you put any more $$ in brakes. I'd wager that problem is more serious than a thermostat housing -- e.g. head gasket, etc. -- and that repairing the brakes right now would be like putting a saddle on a dead horse.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 6:59 AM on April 3, 2013

Personally I think it is more gentle on the components to use the steel shock effect.

I've seen other shade-tree guys break shoe linings by going nuts with a steel hammer getting the drum off. Usually a lot more worn than that, tho, so they mostly didn't care, they had a new set already at hand.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:13 AM on April 3, 2013

It's not all too uncommon for the brake shoe lining to separate from the backing plate as pictured, and drums can and will be stubborn (I've had to use MUCH bigger implements than the pictured hammer to remove them -- without ill effect), so I wouldn't blame the mechanic for this damage.

$100 in parts sounds reasonable (both sides I presume??), but $219 for labor is high. Ask what their hourly rate is and how many hours the job takes (and experienced mechanic can do this work in 1 hour or less!). If they won't budge on the labor cost, call up your insurance company and ask them for a tow to the closest brake shop that charges $99/axle (i.e. Brakes Plus or Midas).
posted by mrrisotto at 8:08 AM on April 3, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, everybody.

I went into the shop and took a look at the brake pad. It's not really apparent from the photo, but it's all chipped up on one of the short sides, like it had been riding around loose inside the assembly for a while ... i.e., it may well have been broken when the car was brought in.

Turns out there was a miscommunication, and the quoted number was actually for new pads and cylinders. He also came way down on the price, and my girlfriend told me that he waived the initial diagnosis fee for the overheating, so I'm not convinced that he's trying to rip us off.

The car was supposed to be done by Friday, but they got the wrong part in at the shop. They sent her off with a loaner over the weekend. Life goes on.
posted by compartment at 10:42 AM on April 7, 2013

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