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Brake inspections

In recent years, our routine has been to take our vehicles to the chain garage for oil changes and tire rotations every 6 months. For repairs, we use an independent garage - trustworthy guy, fair prices. My question is this: at the big chain garage, they say they are inspecting the brakes at each tire rotation. Is this probably an adequate inspection? Or should we takethe vehicles to our trusted mechanic once a year, specifically for him to check the brakes?

The only thing chain shops are guaranteed to be good at inspecting is the profit margin.

They’re far more likely to tell you to replace brakes that have years of service left in them than they are to miss brakes that should be replaced immediately, but I personally wouldn’t take the chance.

I would also encourage you to take the vehicle to your trusted mechanic for fluid changes and tire rotations as well. A quick jaunt through Google will bring up loads of horror stories about how the lubemonkeys at chain shops did massive damage to vehicles, and while you’d probably eventually be made whole, you might have to take them to court in order to do it – and that’s assuming it’s very obvious the damage is their fault. If they can blame it on something else, they will, and you might have to eat it.

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+1 to @shadowfax The guys that change your oil are barely competent to do that, let alone do tire rotations or brake inspections. We’ve had quite a few posts on this forum similar to the line below;

“I took my car to SpeedyGrease and my engine blew up 10 blocks later. They say THEY didn’t do anything wrong, what should I do?”

Let your regular independent do the oil changes and tire rotations. It may cost a little bit more but they will inspect things the SpeedyGrease guys can’t even identify. Since you are a regular customer, you will get better service because of your loyalty.

My shop when in for an oil change inspect the thickness of the pads, visual inspection of brake lines and brake fluid level, I get all my stuff done at my regular spot, last check all pads were at 10mm, except 1 inner rear at 6mm, probably a sticking slide they say, but when it gets down, then service, pads and rotor resurface for the rear.

I am willing to learn what the pros here do differently.

However, I would modify your statement…
I took my car to Speedy Grease, and (choose one or more of the following):
My engine blew-up 10 blocks later
My transmission became inoperable 10 blocks later
My differential made loud grinding noises 10 blocks later
My engine overheated 10 blocks later

As one of our old (now departed?) forum members used to advise…
Don’t go to a chain-run oil change place for anything. Not even for directions!


For disc brakes you can get a pretty good brake mechanical inspection just by removing the wheels and looking about how much pad is left. Sometime you can only see one of the pads, but that’s usually enough for a quick inspection, assuming there are no brake problems noticed by the driver. They’d check the brake fluid level in the plastic bottle as part of that presumably, something even the owner can do themselves if they want to be bothered.

If you have any drum brakes, inspecting them isn’t quite so easy. For that, probably all they do is check the brake fluid level. And drum brakes should really be visually inspected once a year by pulling at least one drum.

Whether you should use your inde mechanic to do this for you depends on who does it better, the inde mechanic or the chain shop. I have friends who have used chain shops for oil changes for years with not problem. And friends who’ve had problems with inde mechanics not being able to handle simple problems. So what works best, it just depends.

Let me ask you this. If you wanted to have the best health care results, would you go to CVS and ask the physician assistant on staff there to do your family’s routine health care? And only go to an MD when you had more serious problems? Or would you go to an MD all the time for you health care needs? Same with car care, either way might well work. But I’d agree with the others above, you will usually get better results letting your inde shop handle it all. Tjhis presumes your inde shop is a good one, well recommended. Doing it that way, they’ll have all the records on file. Changing the oil gives them some time while the oil drains for looking here and there for problems that might be occurring soon, oiling the door hinges, checking the other fluids, etc. If you want to farm something out for your car care to a chain shop – presuming that’s done gratis b/c you purchased the tires there — the tire rotations are fairly low risk. No entirely without risk even for that though.

Skip the chain shop.
Use your regular mechanic for everything.
Develop a good relationship with an honest mechanic and it’ll serve you well forever. And you’ll never have to wonder in the event of a problem which shop was the last to touch it.

George…there is nothing wrong with seeing an APP (Advanced Practice Practitioner aka CRNP and PA-C) instead of an MD/DO. They have a collaborating physician that is watching their work and can step in if the need arises. Frankly, an APP is often times easier to approach about a problem than a doctor is for a lot of patients. (Also, unless the CVS has a Minute Clinic, there is no APP on site anyway. There is a Pharmacist, who does carry a Doctorate of Pharmacy, but most states do not allow Pharmacists much, if any, prescribing power)

I gotta agree. I’ve had good luck with PAs. I’d always go to the Minute Clinic for shots and sinus infections. I also went to an MD and the only difference was I also had my head examined that told me what I knew anyway. I can honestly say I have had my head examined though if anyone suggests it. If you want relief on Sunday afternoon, a walk-in clinic is a good bet. They go to med school the same as MDs but just not as long and they have people on call. And I have an MD in the family and drives a newer car than me. I try to remind him who’s money made it all possible but on deaf ears.

I tend to not trust when someone says they inspected my brakes, because when I inspect my brakes, I’ve found that peering at the pads while they’re still mounted is inadequate. On my car, I can only see the outer pad when the pads are mounted, and I’ve found my pads don’t wear evenly on both sides of the rotor. When I do a brake inspection, I pull the pads out to look at them, which is basically 33-50% of the labor to do a brake job, far more than most mechanics are willing to do when they inspect your brakes for free.

No complaints, I concur. But I doubt that method is what would produce the best overall health care results. If only b/c your family MD has no record of those visits to the PA, so is missing information in your file which might be important should a perplexing problem emerge later. But that said, I’ve visited a PA at a chain drugstore in the past for minor problems and always got satisfactory results. I had the sense however that the PA preferred to prescribe expensive brand name medications. I’d have to point out that generics were available before he’s prescribe the less expensive alternatives. The PA wouldn’t volunteer that information.

It depends on where you go, actually. There are Urgent Cares around me that are affiliated with my Primary Care Physician so he sees everything that was worked up at Urgent Care, and the providers at Urgent Care can see my entire history. It’s actually a very efficient system. Random Quick Cares or CVS’ Minute Clinic may or may not be able to see your history (it depends on what electronic health record they use; if they use the same system as your primary care physician they will be able to see your records).

(full disclosure, I am employed by the major hospital in said health system, so I may be somewhat biased too)

As far as medications go, in Pennsylvania, unless the provider writes on the prescription Brand Medically Necessary or the patient requests the brand name medication, the pharmacist is automatically allowed to dispense the generic, not sure if California has the same law or not. And as far as brand bias goes, I’ve seen that more from doctors than APP’s, though I certainly wouldn’t rule out CVS putting pressure to push certain brand name medications if possible (another full disclosure, I used to work as a Pharmacy Technician for CVS and have little good to say about the state of that company since Larry Merlow took over as CEO)

Getting back to the original question…
Chain lube shops have a business model prone to problems. They hire barely-qualified (if at all) lube jockeys, give them some basic instruction, stick them in the pit, and give them inadequate time to do jobs that they may have never done before. They usually lack an in depth understanding of lubricants, use generics out of 55 gallon drums, and are pressed to “upsell” work that they shouldn’t even be doing. This forum routinely gets horror stories from quickie lubes, and I’ve personally witness things that scared the bejesus out of me.

You’d be much better served to use a trusted shop for all your work, including your oil changes. He’ll not only keep track of the car, he’ll also be able to spot things that a quickie-lube place might not even be familiar with. And he’ll stand behind his work.


I always take everything they say with a grain of salt unless they actually take me to the shop and show me. When my Pontiac was in for a recall they said my rear brakes were really bad. I thanked them and ordered new pads. When I put them on, the old ones really weren’t that bad. Same thing with my non-existent oil leaks that were severe. I might be getting old but not stupid.