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Botched brakes or self-inflicted damage?

I want to know if I’ve been a forgetful dolt or if I’m the victim of sloppy, sleazy service. All the dates are from this year. I have a 2006 Mazda 3 hatchback. This is a bit long, but I am very clear on the details and want to tell the whole story.

April 14: Bring car in for regular service, ask to check out rear brakes in particular because of noise. Needs rotors turned, and new pads. Also fails safety inspection because of worn front tires. I OK the work, and since they don’t have any tires in stock that I like I’ll get them done and return for re-inspection.

For the next couple of weeks, I notice a ticking and scraping noise from the rear when applying brakes. Procrastinate on replacing tires for re-inspection, but it happens eventually.

May 2: Having replaced tires, return for re-inspection. I ask them to look at the rear brakes because of the scraping noise, mechanic gives me my new inspection sticker and says the brakes are fine.

May 3-June 3: The ticking/scraping noise on braking continues, and eventually can be heard when brakes are not being applied.

June 7: I head off for Saturday errands and after 4 miles (according to Google Maps) of driving local roads, both rear brakes are now overheated and smoking. I call the service station, they send a mechanic down with tools to look at the car. I go to get a sandwich and after a few minutes he catches up with me and explains the problem is I’ve been driving with the parking brake on.

Now, maybe this was the case this one time. (But I always set the PB by pure reflex when I park and in general I would have noticed if I found it already on when I stopped the vehicle.)

I drive back to the shop, with the mechanics following me in their car. Now there is no more noise from the brakes at all. I also notice that the brake release button (this model has a pull-up handle) is not popping out as much as it used to when I set the brake, although it is still functional.

I point all this out to the mechanic and he tells me I’ve been driving around with the PB partially engaged for weeks now and that’s why I heard noise.

The last bit of the puzzle is that twice in recent days, drivers behind me have either flashed lights at me or honked at me, for no apparent reason, on local roads. Were they trying to call my attention to hot brakes?

Lastly, this morning I tested the parking brake by putting the car in gear, letting it idle forward, and gradually bringing it to a stop with the parking brake. I didn’t hear any sound like I had previously–I was listening for the same noises I had been hearing since the initial repair job.

So, regardless, I’ve got a weekend trip planned and I’m going to have someone else check out the brakes. But what I have to wonder is, did the shop botch the brake job the first time, find an obvious blunder, fix it on the spot, and then try to BS their way out of it instead of owning up? Could they have done something to the parking brake to make it engage increasingly on its own, even when I’m using it properly? Or is this all my own dam fault? I would like to keep going to back to these guys because they’re cheap and handy to home, but this whole sequence of events seems very fishy.

The brake light should have been lit in the dashboard if the parking brake was engaged.

That was my thought exactly. You never mentioned this item so I strongly suspect the warning light malfunction all this time. You may well have been driving around with the p-brake engaged, totally unaware.

So far I see no evidence of shop incompetency, and certainly no reason to suspect, nor any means of deliberate sabotage.

I agree with both of the comments given, but I normally do not trust a lot of the mechanic shops today. I am wondering if the mechanics adjusted the parking brake to tight and the mechanic that went to where the car was adjusted it again correctly. There is no way of proving this but that is my 2 cents on it all.

I’ve already verified the parking brake light is functioning properly.

That’s the sort of scenario I’ve been wondering about. In particular, is it plausible that an improperly adjusted brake would tighten over time?

I don’t think that would happen, if anything the brakes would loosen due to wear. I beleive if this was the case, the brakes were like from the time it left the shop.

I am going to guess that there was foreign material in the parking brake (perhaps metal cuttings from turning the rotor?) that was making the noise, and then cleared out when you drove with the parking brake on. There are also theories that involve mistakes on the shop’s part, but I don’t think we have compelling enough evidence of foul play to stop using that shop.

Shops never admit errors. Plus, were the brakes parts OEM or second-line cheaper? Brakes: pads/rotors/drums are often universal fit for different models of cars.Are the pads semi-metallic or ceramic? They work, but can create small problems. Mechanics who do this brake stuff every day should be certified by some auto mechanic school. Your life is riding on those brakes.