Advice and information about maintaining the brakes on my Jeep, please.
August 27, 2014 10:36 AM   Subscribe

My 2-wheel drive 2005 Jeep Liberty needs brakes and I need some advice, please.

Dear Hive Mind,

My 2-wheel drive 2005 Jeep Liberty needs brakes but the mechanic I last dealt with is an ass.

Through direct personal experience I have a deep and unwavering mistrust of mechanics.
I am the original and only owner of said Jeep. I bought the Jeep at the same dealership where I take it for it's regular service intervals and repairs. On only two occasions have I taken the Jeep to another garage for service (smog checks).

The last time I took the Jeep to the dealership, I had the most unpleasant experience of a very condescending mechanic who, after putting himself out to leave the bay to come talk to me, simultaneously scolded me like a child for waiting too long to bring the Jeep in for the service interval, then tried some pretty lame scare tactics to straight-arm me to agree to a "complete replacement" of the brake system. Clearly he thought he'd invented this approach, and that this was my very first time talking to a mechanic about my 10 year old Jeep. I didn't buy the bullshit and told him to do only the work I originally authorized.

Despite my experiences with the idiot at the dealership, I am starting to suspect that the brake system itself may legitimately need repair given the age of the vehicle. Is this true? Apart from the brake pads, how long does the rest of the brake system last before the major parts (rotors, calipers, solenoid, etc.) need to be replaced? What is a good indicator that these parts need replacement? In the past, the break pads have been replaced promptly when they give the usual signs of wear. The Jeep has approximately 81K miles.

TL;DR - I would just like to operate my Jeep safely without getting ripped off for "complete replacement" type repairs and replacements I don't need by asshole mechanics who think women are easily manipulated.

Thank you in advance for any and all information you can offer.
posted by Cookbooks and Chaos to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
I just recently replaced the rotors on my 2004 grand Cherokee and was told that it wasn't totally out of the ordinary but was a little on the early side. Are you noticing any actual symptoms? There are plenty of smaller things that can be done to improve braking short of totally replacing them
posted by brilliantine at 10:51 AM on August 27, 2014

Find another mechanic. There is no need to take it to the dealer for maintenance and repairs when you're out-of-warranty. Both (the Mechanics Files) and Yelp are pretty useful for finding trustworthy neighborhood mechanics. My understanding is that a lot of the service people at the dealerships work at least partly on commission, which is why they frequently try to get you to buy a bunch of expensive service that the manufacturer doesn't require and that you don't need.

Please be aware that there is a difference between the manufacturer's maintenance schedule (which is what you should be following) and what the dealership "recommends," which usually goes far above and beyond what's required--the infamous "throttle body cleaning," "fuel injection service," that kind of stuff. Don't buy it.

Did he indicate WHY he thought the brake system needed to be replaced? Have you noticed any issues with the brakes? Any squealing? Steering wheel shake when you apply the brakes generally means that the rotors need to be replaced, or at least resurfaced. Was the brake fluid discolored? Leaking? Pedal sinking to the floor when you step on the pedal? If none of that stuff is happening, then components probably don't need to be replaced.

Things like the rotors, calipers, master cylinder, brake lines, etc. aren't on any kind of set schedule for replacement. You replace them when they're broken or worn out.

That said, along with all the other fluids that need to be replaced, you need to replace the brake fluid when the manufacturer tells you to. Over time, it can collect water that can rust components of the brake system. So if you haven't changed the brake fluid already, do it now.

But find yourself a decent mechanic first. And also, get yourself a copy of the maintenance schedule for the car and follow it to the letter. If it's not available online, ask your dealer for it or call Jeep.
posted by Leatherstocking at 10:59 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, if you still have the owner's manual, the maintenance schedule should be in there, or in a separate service and maintenance pamphlet.
posted by Leatherstocking at 11:02 AM on August 27, 2014

Gotta agree with Leatherstocking: find another mechanic. Ask your friends/family/coworkers where they take their cars and how they feel about their mechanics. I'm on the wrong coast to give you recommendations other than to say avoid places like Jiffy-Lube et. al.

(And damn, how I hate that kind of supercilious "me he-man mechanic/you brainless woman" crap.)
posted by easily confused at 11:27 AM on August 27, 2014

I work at a small auto repair shop.
First off: beyond the "free oil changes" they sometimes give you when you buy a new car, re-flashing the computer, and a few things specific to German cars, the dealer is just a great way to spend 1.5 to 2 times as much money on a repair. Especially something like brakes.

That said, brakes just wear out over time. Pads, anyway. Used to be, you got the pads swapped out and got the rotors turned down to fresh material, but most rotors are cast at the bare minimum today so you can't get more than one turning out of them. That, coupled with the price and difficulty of rotors coming down so much in the past 25 years, brings us to recommend replacement of rotors when the pads are swapped out. (in fact, we derisively refer to a pads-only change as a "pad slap" and a sign that the car has been cheaped out on.)

So: if the pads are determined to need replacement--either by visual inspection, the "chirrup, chirrup" of the wear indicators, or pulsation in the brake pedal or steering wheel-- rotors need to be replaced as well. When retracting the calipers to admit new, thicker pads, it may be determined that the caliper piston is locked up, in which case it should be replaced. Generally, we recommend if one dies, we replace both on that axle. They tend to die in pairs, and the additional labor to replace the other while it's on the rack is negligible compared to replacing a caliper on a separate visit. If the hoses leading to each caliper are even slightly suspect, we replace those as well.

When pads and rotors are replaced, the mechanic should be cleaning all the rust and road gunk off the pad slides and guide pins, and lubricating them. Often, uneven pad wear is caused by a stuck pin, not a stuck caliper piston.

Note that all of this is on a per-axle basis. Front brakes, taking most of the load, wear out every 40-70k miles. Rear brakes about 60-100k. I've had maybe 20% of cars that come in for brake jobs need both axles at the same time--usually it's, "Hey, your back brakes are down to the nubs, but you can probably get away with leaving the fronts until the fall," or vice versa.

Other parts of the brake system - lines (rarely), ABS (almost never) master cylinder (here and there) fail almost completely independently of the components on the corners.

Regarding the other maintenance: change your fucking oil. Pardon me, change your oil, please. Number one thing you can do to keep your car on the road. Modern vehicles may not need oil changes as often as yesteryear, what with better oil (mostly semi-synthetic) and better manufacturing processes, but at the very least, it gets the car in to your mechanic every so often so he can tell you what other issues to look out for. The other fluids have much longer life spans, but change them on cue, too. Most people drive in a manner that the manufacturers would consider "severe duty" cycles.
posted by notsnot at 11:31 AM on August 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

That mechanic was an ass.

At the age of your Jeep, it's possible that, in addition to the usual new pads, you might need new discs. However, given that you only have 81,000 miles on the Jeep, it's not very probable. I have no experience with Jeeps of that vintage, or the quality of their brake discs.

Are you noticing any problems when braking? Soft pedal? Takes longer to stop? Shuddering of the front end under braking? If "yes" to any of these, you probably need a little work done. But, if you're not experiencing any problems, just keep driving.

I'd ask around and get the name of a good, independent mechanic and take it there to have the brakes looked at when you feel the need. FWIW, I've actually had a fantastic experience with my local Midas shop.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:41 AM on August 27, 2014

Wait, two wheel drive Jeep? Those exist?

Don't take your car to the dealership once it's out of warranty. Dealerships tend to overcharge, and do more work than is necessary. Ask around locally for recommendations for a mechanic.

I haven't had to do any brake work on my wife's 2006 Grand Cherokee aside from replacing the pads and rotors, which I want to say I had done at ~65k miles, I think. And that was at a point where the car was taking a much longer amount of time to stop than normal.
posted by tckma at 12:14 PM on August 27, 2014

I have a 2003 Jeep Liberty Renegade, with about 150,000 miles on it, and just last month had the pads and rotors replaced by my wonderful mechanic. NOT the Jeep dealership. I had had the pads replaced once before iirc.

A good mechanic will not talk down to you, he/she will take the time to explain what needs to be done, and show you what the problem is (as in, physically point to the brake pads and tell why they need replacing). They do not scold, straight-arm, or use any other obnoxious tactics to browbeat you into compliance with their wishes.

To find a good mechanic is not easy - keep your eyes open for other Liberty owners in your area, and if you get the opportunity (like in the grocery store parking lot) just ask if they have someone they like and recommend. People generally like to talk about their cars, and IME, if the know a good mechanic will usually be thrilled to tell you!
posted by PlantGoddess at 7:39 AM on August 28, 2014

THANKS to everyone who has responded so far! i appreciate all the information!
To clarify a few things:
1) I managed to find a good mechanic using the local Jeep forums and Yelp, and Jeep is at the shop now for oil change and inspection. Mechanic says brakes are 60% on the front and 90% on the back. No problems with the Master or Calipers.

2) The Jeep is slow to brake, and feels "spongy" when I try to stop quickly. They just don't feel tight like when they're new, and I'm concerned I will not be able to stop fast if necessary.
No shaking or squeaking when I brake, just "soft pedal" as someone above described.

Thanks again for all the great help!
posted by Cookbooks and Chaos at 11:23 AM on August 28, 2014

Hmmmm... I'm a little confused by this. The mechanic says all is fine, but the brakes feel spongy to you? Even when a car is nine years old, the brakes shouldn't feel any different than they did when the car was new. If the brakes are spongy, there is an underlying issue that needs to be resolved.

Did you tell the mechanic about the spongy pedal? This car shouldn't be on the road if you don't have complete confidence in the brakes working as they should.
posted by Leatherstocking at 8:15 PM on August 28, 2014

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