One of the most common repairs to any vehicle is a brake service, or “brake job.” If you keep your vehicle long enough, you will need to spend a few bucks on your vehicle’s brakes. Typically, the job involves the cost of replacing two main items and the labor costs associated with the work. Here is how much you can expect to pay for new brake pads and rotors.
What Are Brake Pads and Brake Rotors?
Brake pads are the consumable friction pads that press against the circular rotors, or brake discs, to slow your car when you push on the brake pedal. The part that translates your pedal pressure into squeezing the rotors is called a caliper. Generally, brake calipers are designed to last the life of the vehicle. However, in salty climates vehicle owners do sometimes find calipers need replacement after several years.(Check out our related guide: How Much Does It Cost to Replace Brake Calipers?) Some older vehicles used what were called brake shoes and drums. They worked in a similar way to pads and rotors, but they’ve largely been phased out in new cars due to the pads and rotors’ increased braking and cooling efficiency.
How Do I Know If I Need To Replace My Brake Pads and Rotors?
There are two main ways drivers can find out they need to replace their brake pads and rotors. First, automakers design brakes to squeak when they wear past a specific portion of their usable life. Second, your mechanic will look at your brakes any time you get your vehicle serviced. Perhaps an oil change or annual inspection if your state requires it. If the mechanic sees that the pads look thin, she will usually remove a wheel and measure the pads. You then get an accurate estimate of how long they will last before needing replacement. Brake pad thickness is measured in millimeters.
How Long Do Brake Pads and Rotors Last?Brake pads and rotors typically have a lifespan between 20,000 and 75,000 miles depending on your driving style . Unless a problem arises, they usually wear out equally on the front or rear axle. In other words, the front two front wheels’ brakes get replaced together or the rear wheels’ brakes get replaced together. While all four corners may need replacement at the same time, that’s not common.
There was a time when front brakes did most of the work, and brakes in the rear lasted longer. That is no longer true for many models. New technology and brake designs mean that the rear brakes may be the first to need service.Hybrid and electric vehicle owners enjoy extended brake pad and rotor life. These cars are equipped with a regenerative braking system that utilizes electric motors to slow the vehicle, reducing wear on the pads and rotors.
Why Do I Need Rotors as Well as Pads?Automakers once designed rotors thick and robust enough to last many brake pad changes. However, with an increasing emphasis on cost and weight reduction, rotors have changed. Today, rotors are often (though not always) replaced when the brake pads need servicing.
This is because rotors can become grooved and scored by the pads over time. In the old days, the mechanic would employ a machine (a lathe) which “turn” the rotor and resurface it. However, today’s rotors don’t come with enough extra thickness to be machined down to a flat surface once they’ve become scored (deeply scratched). When one factors in the mechanic’s cost of resurfacing the rotor vs. just replacing it, the pricing works about to be the same. We keep in contact with multiple auto repair shops at iSeeCars.com. One mechanic we spoke to told us he doesn’t even have a lathe anymore. Others told us they don’t bother to use the old lathe they still have, letting it gather dust in the shop.
Autozone says rotors cost between $30 and $75 each. Machining a rotor is labor-intensive and requires a special tool to be maintained by a mechanic who knows how to use one. That isn’t free. Hence the shift to a more straightforward approach that involves just replacing the rotors.
Why Can’t I Just Replace the Pads?Replacing just the pads has two problems according to mechanics. First, squeaking and squealing due to the old grooves left in the rotos from the first set of pads. Second, material is removed from the rotor due to contact with the pads, and it thins. The reduced mass can result in a brake rotor that warps and causes vibration, which reduces braking performance . To avoid all of these bad outcomes, the mechanics we maintain contact with will only do a brake job that replaces both rotors and pads together.
What Does It Cost To Replace Rotors and Pads?If you have a European performance vehicle like a BMW or Audi , expect to pay more for a brake job than a person driving an affordable commuter car. Also, the larger and heavier the vehicle, the bigger the brakes. So if you have a full-size sport-ute or pickup, you will pay a bit more than a person who drives a small sedan.
Based on our research and also our own experience, we found that the average price range for a brake service is $250 to $500 per end of the vehicle (front or back). Figure on average a brake pad and rotor replacement has an average cost of $350 for each end of the car (front or back).
What Can Cause A Brake Job To Be More Costly?One important maintenance item many vehicle owners forget is to change the brake fluid in their car. Most vehicles require this every 30,000 miles or so. This includes hybrids and electric vehicles. If your brake fluid has not been changed according to the vehicle’s maintenance schedule, a mechanic may suggest doing so when she services your brakes. This is not an upsell, just good practice. Brake fluid replacement can cost between $100 and $250 on top of the $350 average price per axle.
All of the components in a brake system are exposed to road salt, grime, snow, mud, and other harsh driving conditions. Also, the nature of their role in controlling your car (slowing it down repeatedly) means brake components constantly shift from being very hot to ambient temperature and back to hot again. Over the course of years and miles this can cause the calipers (where the pads are located) to lock up or leak fluid. Calipers are pricier than rotors and pads to replace, so be prepared for this extra cost if your vehicle is older and hasn’t had regular brake service. Another item your mechanic will check is the parking brake system. It is not uncommon for older vehicles to need parking brake service, in addition to the other items already discussed. Your mechanic may need to adjust the parking brake cables or free the parking brake if it’s locked up, and that can include replacing some parts.
Can You Change Your Own Rotors and Pads?If you are a backyard mechanic with a comprehensive set of tools, a jack, jack stands, and a history of doing your own repairs, you already know a brake job is within reach of experts who work on their own cars. If you don’t have the tools and prior experience, you probably shouldn’t be learning how to work on your car through brake jobs . This is one of your vehicle’s most important safety systems.
Disclaimer: These repair prices can also fluctuate based on geographic location, as well as the make and model of your vehicle; and that these numbers represent averages, not actual prices offered at any specific repair facilities and service centers.
John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. John's interest in EVs goes back to 1990 when he designed the thermal control system for an EV battery as part of an academic team. After earning his mechanical engineering degree, John completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers, in the semiconductor industry, and in biotech. In addition to being a regular iSeeCars.com contributor, John's work has appeared in dozens of mainstream media outlets and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on TikTok @Tokncars, and view his credentials at Linked In.