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Did Sears Auto Center Break my Car?

If only that little Boston garage were closer… but unfortunately I had to take my 1998 Grand AM (130,000 miles) to Sears Auto Center. I just finished a 650 mile drive across the midwest and wanted to have my brakes looked at to see if they needed pad replacement (they were two years old). When I left the shop and drove just six miles across town I smelled smoke. The back wheel was locked up and extremely hot! Their “brake calibration” was a little too much and caused my rear wheel brake to stay on while I drove 70mph across town. This caused the rotor to go out, the wheel bearing, the brake pad, and all else. Sears refused to admit blame for the damage and charged me $200 for the repair, swearing that the wheel bearing going out after their guys worked on it was just coincidence. I’m not buying it. What do you think?

Did they report the wheel bearing problem before you left with the car? If not why not? I take it there was no indication of needing brake work?

A mechanic will typically take the car out for a spin after they repair something to make sure that it is OK to return to the customer. They should have noticed this. I think that I’d press it a bit further. Did you talk to the auto shop manager? If not, do so. If you did, talk to the store manager. Make sure that you area as calm and adult as you are in explaining this to us. You need an explanation of how they could have missed this in the test drive.

There is no such thing as "brake calibration’ or adjustment for disk brakes. Sounds like they screwed up.

No question, they screwed it up. Anyone would have to look at it to see what went wrong, but you should be able to drive across town with a new brake job and not have a dragging pad burn the axle down. You’re lucky it didn’t set the vehicle on fire, that can happen with the kind of heat a stuck brake pad can create.

I would be having a discussion with the store manager, they owe for a repair.


It’s difficult for me to express an opinion on this matter because I don’t know what a 200 dollar brake calibration is; nor have I ever heard of one.

Exactly what was done to the car; both front and/or rear?

The wheel bearing is part of the rear hub assembly and any brake work should not have had an affect on the bearing.
Any chance that the park brake was set on the car when you picked it up? If the park brake cable has not been used this millenium (like most of them), it’s possible that when the brake handle was released the park brake cable did not release. This in turn will cause excessive heat due to the rear pads not releasing and will eat up pads/rotors PDQ.

Without a doubt.

They did not report the wheel bearing problem and I sincerely don’t believe it existed. I noticed no problems after driving over 650 miles across the Midwest. I thought I was hearing grinding when I gently pressed the brakes when the car was not running and in neutral (totally silent, rolling down a driveway) and I slowed it with the breaks I could hear what I thought was bad noise, but apparently it is just the noise that brake pads on rotors makes. Just a rubbing noise. No problem with the bearings before I took the car in. No indication it needed brake work, just a checkup.

I did talk with the shop manager and Sears Corporate offices in Chicago. Neither party would admit any fault and stuck by that it must be a freak coincidence. They were originally set to charge me $550 for the job, but said they’d cut me a deal and charge me for “parts only”… hmmm… I wonder why they were so willing to help? It all smells rotten to me, but I’m not a mechanic, so I can’t prove anything!

They said they “calibrated” the brakes and charged me $25 for the initial service, declared the car road-ready and sent me on my way across town.

They’re refusing the repair refund. Corporate offices know about this as well as a syndicated investigative newspaper journalist who has been helping me communicate with Sears. All that has come of it is Sears referring back to that shop manager who is still claiming it was a freak coincidence. I am not a mechanic, so I am having a hard time arguing, but common sense sounds like they messed up. They originally wanted $550 for the damage, but quickly dropped it to $200 for “parts only” cost when I doubted that it wasn’t their fault. They are sticking by the fact they believe it was just coincidence.

What was done is the brakes were simply looked at and “Calibrated” for $25. After this service I went 6 miles across town to discover my back wheel practically on fire. Front and rear brakes were “inspected and calibrated” Because the car is a manual shift, I use the parking break several times daily and it works fine. I even routinely adjust city parking jobs by moving the small, lightweight car by hand to adjust it a few inches into the parking spot. So… I thereby know that the parking break releases fully or else I couldn’t move the car by hand so easily.

There is no “calibration” on the brakes so I have no idea what, if anything could have been done.
The point could be made that they adjusted the park brake cable too tightly and this could cause the brakes to drag even with the handle released.
The other side to that argument is that if the brakes were dragging that badly then you should have noticed it before even leaving the lot.

Yup. They broke your car.