CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Went in for an oil change, left with a $2000 estimate to replace my tires and brakes

Today I went into my local Mazda dealership to have my oil changed when I was informed that I needed all new tires, new brake pads for the front and back, new rotors - the whole nine yards basically. Their estimate came out to around $1900 with parts and labor included. Needless to say this routine oil change turned out to be anything but. I told them that I would hold off on doing anything until I can make an informed decision, which is why I find myself here.

Now, some important details. I bought this car two years ago and it had 14k miles on it at the time. Currently it’s at 26k, so it’s not like it’s gotten a ton of use since I bought it. Most of the places I drive to including my work are close by. I should also point out that I drive carefully and responsibly. I’m easy on my brakes and never slam on them unnecessarily or do anything that would cause excess wear and tear. Of course I can’t speak to the first 14k miles as I was not the owner at the time, but I can say that I haven’t had any issues with the brakes and even now don’t see any signs of worn down brake pad or rotors. There is no audible sound that emits when I brake nor have I had any problems braking in general. Nothing at all.

From what I’ve read brake pads should only be replaced around every 30-60k miles, and the front pads get worn down much faster than the back. Yet here I am at 26k miles with no apparent issues and they’re saying that both the front and back need to be replaced together, along with the rotors which are supposed to last over 70,000 miles. Does this not warrant a little bit of skepticism? They also said my tires need to be replaced soon, and according to most estimates I should get another 15k miles or so before even having them checked.

When I pressed the guy (who isn’t a mechanic as far as I can tell, he just works at the service desk) on why I would need to have all of this work done so quickly, he mentioned something about how they’ve been putting stuff on the road which could be causing everything to corrode faster, but he didn’t elaborate beyond that.

So I find myself in a pretty strange position and in need of some guidance. I’m not handy with cars in the slightest and defer to the experts, however nothing about this seems to add up and I don’t want to get taken to the woodshed over this if I can help it. At the same time these are my brakes / tires we’re talking about here, and I don’t want to brush off their claims as nothing if there is in fact an issue that needs to be addressed.

Right now my plan is to take it to a few shops and get estimates. I’m unsure of how to approach them, though. I don’t want to hand over my dealership’s estimates because I want to see if they arrive at the same conclusion on their own. Chances are if a couple of them take a look at it and tell me I just need the front brake pads replaced then my dealership wasn’t being completely honest with me or overestimated the need to have them down now. What’s the best thing I can say when I come in to get them to look at my car objectively knowing what I do now?

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks guys.

Edit: Before anybody asks, I do not live in the city where I’m stopping constantly. I drive mostly on the highway, though they are the kind with lights where I am stopping occasionally (this is NJ where jughandles are present). But again, I’m not a driver that is harsh on their breaks when they drive, so I don’t think that I am somebody who would contribute to excess wear and tear there.

We can’t see your car from here.
Could you park it closer to the computer?

;-))

Seriously, however, relying on ballpark estimates of how long tires, or brake pads, or any other component should last are not really helpful unless every person drive in the exact same manner, under the exact same conditions, with the same make & model of tires…and so on…

So, I think that your idea of taking the car to one or two independent shops (NOT chains like Sears, Midas, Meineke, Monro, Pep Boys or…God forbid…AAMCO) is a good one. Don’t ask “Do I need tires and brakes?”. Instead ask them to do a “safety inspection”, which will include those two items, as well as the front-end components.

All of that being said, it is not unusual for the tires that come on new cars to need replacement in less than 30k miles. And, depending on how (and where) the first owner drove the car, it is entirely possible that you are due for brakes very soon. Only an inspection will tell the story.

And, regarding tires, you should bear in mind that tires are not as good as new until they get to a certain amount of tread wear. Instead, their traction decreases on a continuum as they age, so insisting on getting the last possible mile out of a set of tires may not make good economic sense if you wind up getting into an accident as a result of compromised traction.

Also, there is really no reason to go to the dealership for whatever work might be needed. An indy mechanic can almost always beat a dealer’s prices for maintenance and repair.

Yes, you need a second opinion. And, I would ball park a reasonable cost at about half what they quoted, if it were actually needed.

You can find shops in your area using the “Mechanics Files” link at the top of this page. It’s worked for me a few times.

As said above, no ‘rule of thumb’ estimates are accurate for any of this. But it’s easy for a mechanic to determine, one just has to look (and be honest).

As for your tires, 2/32 is the minimum depth required by law in most states, less than 4/32 is marginal for hydroplaning and driving in any snow. From the top of Lincoln;s head on a penny to the edge is 2/32, from the top of Washington’s on a quarter is 4/32.
Rear brakes used to last two or even 3 times as long as front brakes when we had drum brakes.
Now that most cars have rear disc brakes, they are much more likely to be corroded if you live in an area with road salt. They are also adding more corrosive chemicals to stretch the salt, which is what the dealer was talking about.

My son had a 2006 Hyundai Sonata that needed rear brakes at 16000 miles at a year and a half old. My 2012 Camry needed rear brakes at 20000 miles at 2 1/2 years old. We both lived in Western NY State. This was not up selling by the dealer, I thanked them for the information and did my own rear brakes.

To be fail, both dealers recommend cleaning and lubing the rear brakes yearly in our area for about $100, which is less than it cost me to do the brakes with Toyota Pads.

Getting to be a regular customer with a good, local, independent mechanic will save you money, time and will be better for your safety. He or she will tell you things that will save you repairs in the future, like changing your transmission fluid and coolant, and direct you to good places to get things done that they don’t do, such as wheel alignments, transmission repairs or collision work.

Thanks for the replies so far.

VDC, you make good points about not being able to pinpoint exactly when your brakes or anything else goes bad. As you said, there are many variables which can influence that. However given my own driving habits, the general timeline for when these parts tend to need replacing, and the lack of any of the general warning signs like screeching or squealing brakes, or in the case of the rotors vibration or jarring movement while braking, I find it highly implausible that all of this work is necessary. If I’m wrong, either the person who drove before me was a maniac or I’m just about the unluckiest guy on the planet to have all of these parts fail me so early on.

It’s interesting you mention AAMCO as a place to avoid. I was just about to run up there after seeing that they perform a free comprehensive brake check. All of their google reviews were excellent, almost too good to be true, even, and most / all of the accounts leaving these 5 star reviews had no other activity on their pages. Needless to say a few red flags went off. Anways, how common is it for local repair shops to do these safety inspections, and are they free? I’d really like to have a reputable shop look at it without charging me first, as the seriousness of the claims of my dealership lead me to believe I’m going to want to ask around a bit first, and it kinda defeats the purpose to shell out a couple hundred bucks in inspection fees if that is indeed the norm among most shops to charge for it.

Tires and brakes are very straightforward. They either have worn down to a point that they need replacing, or they haven’t. And like the weather, they are what they are–not what they were forecast to be. That brakes and tires are “supposed to” last a set number of miles is irrelevant…they need to be measured and the thickness compared to standards required where you live. (Where I live, the legal minimums are 2/32" for both brakes and tread, though you may choose to replace sooner.)

“Yet here I am at 26k miles with no apparent issues”: Brake pads are like the bonded eraser on a #2 pencil…they work just fine until the softer pad wears down to nothing, at which point they gouge the rotor. That they work just fine, right now, has no bearing.

Now, getting a brake pad measurement is a bit tricky–you have to get the car up, remove a wheel, and measure–but the tires are RIGHT THERE. Moreover, they mold wear bars that run across the tire into 'em…neatly enough, right at the 2/32" condemnation limit. While you car is parked (with the parking brake set!) look at 'em and see if they have worn flush with the wear bars. (Also, any auto parts store sells a tire tread gauge, which costs less than $5 and requires no skill to use. Stick it in the grooves of the tire, and read the tread depth that way.)

Take the car to a tire chain and have them inspect tires and brakes. They WILL do this for free, as they hope to sell you something! If they say you need either, have them escort you to your car and SHOW you the worn tread and/or pads! Also, $2,000 seems excessive for everything even though–as you did not tell us the year and model–we cannot know how expensive the parts themselves are by lookup on the internet. I’ll bet the tire shop can come in way under the prior estimate!

“'I’m not handy with cars in the slightest and defer to the experts”: this can be a VERY expensive choice!

oldtimer thanks for sharing your expertise. I live in Jersey and last winter hit us pretty hard so salt was constantly out on the roadways. I assumed that’s indeed what he meant I just didn’t think it could do that much damage so quickly. You mentioned replacing the brake pads, but shouldn’t the rotors still be okay? From what I’ve heard a lot of places, in particular dealerships, tend to try to get the rotors replaced with the brake pads, so I don’t know if they truly need replacing or if it’s one of their standard practices to get more money out of you.

Best way to find out if it is free is to call them ahead of time. I’d expect them to be able to tell you about the need for brakes & tires for free. If they think you want an inspection comparable to what they would do for someone considering purchasing a used vehicle then I would expect them to charge for that more thorough examination.

If a shop is honest, what’s wrong with going in and saying ‘I need a second opinion - dealer says this car needs new tires, rotors & brakes, but I have not experienced any symptoms of a problem’?

Salt might cause your calipers to corrode and stick, but it wouldn’t have any direct effect on the pad life (unless, as stated, the caliper got stuck).

Madzas tend to be sportier, so you might (ahem, you didn’t tell us model and year) own a vehicle with softer “performance” tires that trade tread life for superior dry pavement grip.

Again, you should be replacing on condition, not “hunches.” How many 32nds tread/pads are left? Are the tires flush with the wear bars? This info MIGHT be on your oil change work order.

You mentioned replacing the brake pads, but shouldn't the rotors still be okay? From what I've heard a lot of places, in particular dealerships, tend to try to get the rotors replaced with the brake pads, so I don't know if they truly need replacing or if it's one of their standard practices to get more money out of you.

The RIGHT way to do the job is to machine or replace the rotors. You can get away with just slapping on pads a lot of the time. I usually do that, myself, because I know that I can easily and cheaply re-do the job if there’s an issue. Given that you can’t easily do a brake job, I’d advise new rotors.

Wait, is this a Miata? Was it raced? SCCA folks probably go through brakes & tires faster.

Somehow I doubt OP was running around in a convertible in the NJ winter…(though I suppose it’s possible.)

Every time the local Mazda dealer told my mom her car needed something she would have the independent shop she found after getting padded estimates for the 30K service from the dealers. The independent shop would either say that it was needed but they could do the same service for much less or to just keep driving and we’ll take a look in a few months. The dealer was more convenient for oil changes but the other shop was her go to for everything else. Been going to the same place since 1993. Find a local Mazda or Import specialist and you should get a better idea of what’s going on.

My bad, should’ve mentioned that I own a 2010 Mazda 6.

Get a second opinion. I find that first opinions from dealerships are usually bogus. They factor in “top shelf” products and their repair rates are astronomical as it is. Don’t be afraid to get a third opinion if you think it’s warranted.

In 40 years I’ve never replaced rotors if the brakes weren’t shuddering.

The shops that push free inspections count on finding problems. Shops that charge a reasonable rate for inspections don’t need to find problems to pay for their time.

Did they rotate your tires along with that oil change? If they did not rotate the tires, then I doubt they even looked at your brakes. It would not be unreasonable for the tires and brakes to both wear out about the same time, so if your tires are in fact worn down below 4/32", then it is quite possible that you need brakes as well, but if the tires are not worn down that far, I would doubt the brakes are either.

Yeah you need to get a second opinion. You should always get a second opinion on something like this. Local, independent mechanics are best for maintenance that is unrelated to to a recall, TSB, or warranty otherwise. The Honda dealer by me has an excellent service department that I will use occasionally because it is convenient, but it is almost always less $ to use the local mechanic on the other side of town that I have been taking my cars to for nearly 10 years now.
Another poster said in so many words that becoming a regular customer at an independent place (i.e. establish a relationship with) will save you a headache in the long run, and that has been my experience. I have even gotten some freebies over the years : ]

Accordion

We had pitted rotors at 14k, Dealer replaced them for free though usally there is onlya 12k warranty for brakes. These days rotors and pads go hand in hand, and I am thinking that was explaining part of the cost.