2001 Subaru Outback brake repair woes

Hi! I have an older car, a 2001 Subaru Outback with 165K miles on it. I take regular care of it and have had a lot of maintenance done on it over the years. The car is aging however and things are starting to deteriorate. Recently, the check engine light came on. I took it into the mechanic. I had recently filled up the gas tank before the engine light came on that morning. I also asked the mechanic to check the brakes.

The mechanic said the engine light is an error code, so that is not so bad unless it comes back after it is cleared. If it comes back it is probably related to the catalytic converter.

They said the brakes are horrible and makes the car unsafe to drive. They do feel bad, so I know they do need work. The mechanic says the rotors, pads, calipers and brake lines need fixed, and the whole thing needs flushed. To do this they say that it will cost $1300 if I just do the front and $1800 if I do front and back (recommended).

I have had the rotors resurfaced and replaced in the past, as well as having new brake pads put in twice. Those usually cost $500-600 for the whole job including labor and parts, but granted it was several years back and in a different state.

My first question is: Is this a reasonable cost? I am living in MD and honestly, I think this seems excessive for around here. I went onto a repair website and $1800 would be if the charge was at the top for everything for labor and parts. Can anybody else confirm or disagree with this?

My second question is this: Even if I take it somewhere else and get the brakes repaired for less, is it worth it because at some point I need to get the catalytic converter repaired if the engine light comes back on?

I’m trying to figure out if I should make the repairs or get a new car using the repair price as down payment on a new car.

I don’t have a lot of money laying around, so it makes it all the more harder. I have two kids so I don’t want to drive around in a car that is unsafe.

The mechanics say the engine of the car is sound and everything other than the brakes and the possible problem with the catalytic converter look ok.


It sounds as if the mechanic is trying to take advantage of you. I understand the rotors, pads, and hoses, but the calipers are probably not needed unless you ground through the pads. The hoses are good maintenance to replace at 13 years old. Flushing is a good idea to, because brake fluid is hygroscopic and absorbs water. I would check the “Mechanic Files” for a reputable mechanic in you area. The check engine light could have just been not putting on the gas cap tight when you filled up.

There’s no way to know if the price is fair without looking at the car. Yes, calipers, pads, rotors, and even brake hoses can be replaced for less than what you say you were quoted. But you also talk about brake lines, which are different than brake hoses. Lines are the steel tubes that run the length of the car and carry the brake fluid at very high pressure. If one or more of these lines is rusted through, the only safe and proper repair is to replace the lines, which can get quite costly. If you now or ever did live in an area where rust is a problem that may be what they’re referring to.

FWIW, it’s not unheard of in the rust belt for an otherwise serviceable car to be junked because of rotten brake lines. On a 12-15 year old car the cost to repair often exceeds the value of the car.

Normally I might say the price seems way high but seeing as how you live up north with rust being a problem and brake lines involved I agree fully with asemaster.

I’ve seen several rust state cars in Oklahoma with failed brake complaints and none were repaired due to the severity of the rust. This is due to the fact that everything had to be replaced as nothing was going to come apart without destroying it.

As to the converter, doesn’t Maryland have an emissions inspection program?

The mechanics say the engine is sound. Before wading into converter or brake repairs, where do you stand on a timing belt job?
One would hate to spend X dollars on those repairs only to have the belt break the following week; assuming the belt is past due of course.

I haven’t paid anyone to put brakes in for 50 years so don’t know about the cost. You need pads and new rotors for sure. Pads can be maybe $30 for each axle and rotors maybe $40-50 each. The question is whether you need both front and back. Normally the back ones don’t wear much. I think no need for calipers at all unless there is leakage. If a brake line needs to be replaced that can add up but depending on which one or ones is the question. Rust on the outside of a brake line is normal for snow country so just depends. Not enough clear information to list the work needed let alone a price.

The most important part of driving is stopping, so definitely get this fixed asap. The price seems in the ballpark but maybe a tad high, but it depends on exactly what needs to be done. If everything, pads, rotors, calipers all need replacement, on all four wheels, the parts cost will start to add up. And replacing brake line components so they don’t leak can be very time consuming. Esp if a lot of them need replacement. At $100/hour, all this adds up fast.

If $1800 will bring your brakes back to like new condition, then you should definitely consider doing that rather than buying a new car. $1800 won’t even cover 2 or 3 new car payments. You’ll be money ahead by just fixing the brakes. A 2001 isn’t that old. If it was a 1991 maybe, or an 1981, definitely, but no need to replace a 2001, even if you need a new cat, which you probably don’t.

You seem a little unsure of the quote. If so, the best way forward is to get a second opinion. Preferably from a local inde shop that comes well recommended by someone you know. Shop around, you may find a lower price is available. BTW, flushing and replacing with new fluid is done routinely on any brake job. Best of luck.

Thanks all. I appreciate the feedback and comments. I think Monday I will find another shop to take it too for a second opinion, or even to the dealer to see if they really think the brakes need to have everything replaced or not. It’s a hard call for me because I feel like I’m starting to spend more and more money on the car outside of the preventative maintenance. I’ll look into it some more. Thanks for each response, all very helpful!

Ask your friends, neighbors, coworkers for a reputable local independent garage. And ask them if they have had similar troubles with their cars relating to rust issues or brakes.

What kind of impression did you get from the first shop? You say the price they quoted put them at the top of the list for the area. That may be a good thing. I’ve worked at one of those “premier” shops. The prices were certainly high, but the level of service and quality of work exceeded that of most of the top end dealers in town. Sometimes being expensive is good.

On the other hand, the $1800 you were quoted won’t even pay the sales tax on a new car.

Interestingly, it turns out that the dealer was able to fix my brakes completely for less than $700. I called the original mechanic and said I was giving feedback about the price difference and the different assessment of the repairs that were needed from the mechanic versus the dealer and how usually mechanics will give better prices than the dealer. He said the dealer must be using substandard parts, but that has never been my experience with this particular dealer. Thanks for all the suggestions. I told the dealer to make the repairs so the car will be safe to drive and hopefully make it to 200K.

You should not think badly of the independent mechanic who quoted you a price that was vastly higher. It could be that the repair and what is needed was not looked at in the same manner.

Should it be assumed that the dealer also replaced calipers, rotors, brake lines, and so on? If so, that 700 sounds very skimpy.

As to dealer substandard parts, the odds of that are about zero.

I can do some repairs on a car, and have a Soobie outback 2002. I’ve recently changed the pads and found this model to be one of the easiest to change the pads on. So its worth concidering for any one thinking of doing this. Interesting you’ve had the discs changed twice. When I had a new set of tires I retorqued the wheel nuts. The shop (walmart) obviously just went round with the air tool clockwise tightening the bolts. This means the wheel is not bolted evenly which distorts the disc. Eventualy you get uneven wear which causes that steering wobble when braking heavly. It was the same problem I found when I bought the car. DIcs are easy to change and relativley cheep. the Flexible hydralic lines are more involved, and as mentioned before the solid lines take up a lot of time to change. I’ve done that before with a vehicle on axel stands. Not fun.

Whenever I have new tires installed on my Corolla, the first thing I do is take the car home, park it in the driveway, loosen, then retorque by hand all the lug nuts, in the correct sequence. Never had warped rotors in 20 years.