Changing your car brake pads and possibly rotors


I am writing this, angrily, while sitting in a car shop having my Audi’s brake pads and rotors replaced.  I’ll explain why I’m angry (not with the shop, but by my failed oversight and gamble.)  Yesterday, I told you about how I got some new tires installed for my Audi, and while installing them, I found out my car needed new brake pads.


Brake pads vs Brake pads AND Rotors

The guy who installed my tires told me I would need new rotors too due to a ‘lip’ in the rotors.  The rotors for my car were about $400 online for some slotted rotors, and the brake pads I bought were about $150.

Usually, when your brakes start to squeal, that means you need to replace them ASAP.  If you don’t drive them too hard, you may not need to replace your rotors.  However, if you wait too long and now your brake pads are grinding up against your rotors, your rotors could warp and now you need to replace the rotors too.  You DO NOT want to do that due to the cost of the rotors.

So I did what every millennial does these days – I looked on the Audi forums to see if I really needed new rotors.  The consensus was – if your rotors aren’t vibrating and don’t look too damaged, you can get by with just replacing the pads.  COOL!  So I bought some fancy brake pads online.


“We don’t install customer parts”

Now that I had the brake pads in hand, I needed someone to install them.  Some people were able to do it themselves online, which I considered.  However, due to my Audi, I’d need a special tool to withdraw the rear brake calipers, which at that point, was just too much for me to DIY.  I then called up some local shops that had high Yelp ratings, and 1 of them said they don’t install customer parts.  I emailed quotes from 2 other guys, but they were pretty expensive (around $400 to install the pads).  My frame of reference was my tire-guy, who said he could install both pads and rotors for $270.  However, I was hesitant in asking him for a quote on just pads-only, since he had told me he’d only replace BOTH pads and rotors.

Audi wanted something like $1200 to install both pads and rotors and for sure, I couldn’t bring in my own parts.  Eventually, I found a high performance shop here in Seattle called Achtung that had good reviews from the Audi forums.  I called them up and they told me it’d cost $285 to replace the brake pads.  DONE!  I had to schedule 3 weeks out though, but it was fine.


“You’ll need new rotors”

The day came for me to install my brake pads.  After signing some paper work, I went to sit down.  You know how in oil shops, you wait for your oil change, and you DREAD when the mechanic tells you to come out and take a look at your car because he’s trying to upsell you on something?  Well, sure enough, it happened here.  It wasn’t that the shop was trying to upsell me.  It was that I didn’t realize the lip in the rotor meant it needed to be replaced.  See, if there is a lip in the rotor, that means the rotor has worn enough to the point that it should be replaced.  

I then asked him how much it would cost to replace the rotors with the additional labor cost.  It went from $270 up to $900, an increase of $630.  All in all, I wasn’t mad at the labor price.  I was mad that I could have bought better and cheaper rotors online if I had done it in the first place.  And now here I am angry at myself for not having bought those rotors.  I could have saved $300 PLUS gotten better and cooler looking slotted rotors.  What I should have done was just bought the rotors online and paid the return shipping fee if I didn’t need them. By the way, regardless of where I bought the pads and rotors, in my case, I still would have taken it to Achtung instead of the tire-guy.  I felt the tire-guy wouldn’t know the intricacies of the Audi S5 and the rear brake caliper issue, so I was more than willing to pay more to Achtung since they work on Audi cars all the time.   I may be frugal, but I also appreciate paying more for reliable service.


Lessons Learned

  • When your brakes start to squeal, go check your brakes and your brake pads!
  • You may or may not need to replace your rotors.  Some people can get up to 75K miles with the original rotors.  Check your car’s forum online
  • If you do need to replace your pads and/or rotors, to save on money, order them online and call around locally to see who could install them for you.  Stress that you bought name brand ones and not cheapo ones.
  • When buying a used car with 30K miles, expect you’ll have to replace the tires, pads and rotors, which could run an extra $1-2K depending on the car
  • Unholy Impetuous Ritual Plague

    I got tired of being robbed by car shops, it’s far easier to replace the pads at $50 and install them myself. It’s pretty easy to do and i won’t take it to a shop for that. If by any chance a shop did say i needed new rotors, i’d tell them, the brakes work solid (unless of course it isn’t then i would just do the job myself).

  • shonuffharlem

    Uh don’t buy friggin super expensive to maintain AUDI’s and BMW’s is the true solution. Never buying a BMW again so many issues, so expensive to repair. You people who keep going for these cars are like guys who date Hot Crazy girls. Look great – but oh the price and pain.

    • Miles per Day

      I don’t have a problem with the repair costs or my Audi. If you don’t want to buy BMW again, then that’s fine. Different strokes for different folks.

  • billy d

    If you’re a frugal dude (which i think you are; me too!) you really should learn how to do your own brakes. It’s a huge money saver. You can get the needed tool for about $30 on amazon. And it’s super easy to do. Did my wifes hyundai SUV for under $300 when the local shop (not dealer) quoted $1100. I do my VW Passat whenever needed for about $75 per axle, pads AND rotors. I’ve saved many thousand of dollars doing my own brakes. If you the slightest bit mechanically inclined, you should too.

    • Miles per Day

      If this was on my Hyundai, I would have done it, or even if it was just the 2 front brakes yes, but I didn’t want to screw up my calipers on the rears in the Audi S5. I’d have to buy a VAG-COM ($200+) to help retract the calipers. Some people said they used alternative methods like using a battery to short some wires. That was where I drew the line. I figure the money from the VAG-COM plus probably 4-6 hours for me to do it, my time was worth paying the shop to do it.

      • billy d

        Ahh, gotcha. didn’t know about the vag-com for the S5’s.

  • Wesley Murray

    Remember when I told you Brakes on an Audi weren’t fun on the wallet? 🙂 Lipped up rotors are no good, must of had an aggressive pad on it. You can cut the lip out of a rotor but if they are close to the service limit then yes, just replace them. The type of rotor on your car isn’t really “soft”. It is more a function of the pad. Hard compound pads (IE ceramics and metallic) will have longer pad life but will eat the rotors faster. Softer compound pads such as organics and hybrids will have more brake dust and less pad life but more rotor life. When you hit the brakes you are grinding the 2 surfaces together. Something is going to wear, just how it works. Also, the tip on not slamming on the brakes to a stop is a good one. One thing I try to do is if I come to a sudden stop from a high speed I try to let off the brake at the last second, below 5MPH or so, and then ease back on to the brake to hold the car. That will help keep you from transferring pad material. Having ceramics will also help that as they can take a lot of heat without issue. The down side of ceramics is they are usually noisier, at least until you get them hot.

    • Miles per Day

      Thanks for all the car tips Wesley. What are you going to do now that I’ve stopped posting about cars? 😉

      • Wesley Murray

        Continue to read the blog and be quiet because the commentors on the other posts are way better at whatever it may be you are talking about than me 🙂

  • Ken

    Psst, brakes are the entire system. The word you’re looking for is pads. Pads and rotors are the usual user-replaceable parts in a braking system, in addition to calipers which are what clamp the pads on the rotor. Every time I read “brakes and rotors” I cringed a little lol.

    Also, there’s no problem when there’s a visible “lip” in the rotor. Rotors, just like pads, are wear items. If you have a manual transmission your clutch and flywheel are basically giant brake pads with a giant rotor. Rotors need to be replaced when there’s visible abnormalities in the rotor’s surface. I routinely have rotors lasting over 100k miles with mild brake pads and 50k miles with aggressive metallic pads that I use on my WRX.

    FWIW, slotted rotors don’t really have any benefit over solid rotors, and in fact I’d choose a solid rotor over slotted every time. And I’d never get drilled rotors unless the holes were cast into the rotor. Drilling removes material and reduces the heat capacity of the rotors, and you don’t want that. They also weaken the rotors due to there being less material in general.

    The more you know 🙂 BTW, an S5 is an amazing car. I’ve wanted an old A6 wagon with the old S4 twin turbo V6 drivetrain for some time now. Not so great on gas, but they’re tons of fun to drive.

    • Miles per Day

      Entire post edited. I can’t have people cringing while reading my posts. Clearly I’m not a car guy Ken. 😉

      From what Achtung told me, the lip meant I had used more than 1mm on my rotors. A new rotor has 22mm, and the legal driving(?) is 20mm. I think my fronts were just around 20mm and backs were about 20.7mm or so, so I figured I’d replace all 4 rotors. Now the question remains – could I have driven around with the new pads and old rotors? My guess is NO due to how much rotor was left.

      The tire guy told me the slotted rotors would help the most with the brake dust issue. The Achtung guys told me the pads would help the most. I believe the Achtung guys. I asked if there was any performance increase with the slotted rotors, and Achtung told me not really (they just look cooler, that’s it).

      • Ken

        No worries, I know most people aren’t car guys so it’s all good.

        Yes, if you’ve worn enough of the rotor down and you’re nearing the service limit it’s best to replace rotors at the same time as pads. You can usually get away with resurfacing the rotors once and then replacing them next pad change.

        Brake dust is a function of the pads and has nothing to do with the rotors. They will give off dust as they wear if you have solid, slotted, drilled, or any combination of those. Think about how a pencil eraser leaves rubber dust as you use it, it’s the same premise behind car brakes. Does that help? I always try to explain things to friends so that they can understand since nobody I know is into cars.

        Oh, and a tip. If you’re ever really hard on the brakes and then come to a stop, put it in neutral and use the e-brake if possible. This is the main cause of vibrations when braking. What happens is when your pads/rotors are very hot and you come to a stop and are pressing the brake pedal a small amount of the pad transfers to the rotor and stays there. So every time you brake after that point the pads hit that tiny amount of pad transfer and you feel it through the car. The only way to get rid of it is to resurface the rotor, replace them, or you can sometimes do a series of repeated stops from highway speeds to almost stopping. Cheap pads will do this, so don’t cheap out on pads 😉 Or be mindful while driving. Or both.

        Wow, sorry for the long post. If you ever want to chat you can send me an email so I don’t clog up your posts.

        • Miles per Day

          Ken, I think these posts are really helpful, especially for other non-car people who read this site. The tire guy told me he couldn’t resurface my rotors due to the big lip (I guess with a minor one, he could have done it). Achtung told me Audi just uses soft rotors and that’s why they get worn so fast. I told him I had read that the rule of thumb I read on the Audi forums was – for 2 pad changes, then replace 1 rotor. The Achtung guy gave me a stink face, meaning he doesn’t think that’s possible due to the perceived softness of the rotors.

          Btw, I did go with some Akebono ceramic brake pads. This was the most recommended brake pad that caused the least brake dust. So far so good. The OEM pads would tarnish my rims within a week (no exaggeration.)

          Lastly I don’t really drive the car that hard to need to hit that brakes that hard. I’m hoping these new seats of brakes will last me to 100K miles, assuming I’ll still have the car by then.

          • Ken

            Yup on the lip and resurfacing. If the lip is large enough it’s due to the rotor being worn so much that resurfacing is not possible and new rotors would then be required.

            An S5 is very heavy, but it also has very good brakes. So you shouldn’t really have a problem with the better pads provided you’re not driving like a maniac from stop to stop which it sounds like you aren’t.

            I don’t see any set of pads lasting 100k miles, and Audi rotors are made out of the same metal that non-Audi rotors are. They likely just use more aggressive pads which dust more and wear the rotors more. Nothing at all wrong with that, but like you most people would prefer pads that don’t turn their pretty wheels black in a week.

            I would actually prefer changing my brakes more often if it would mean better performance, but I don’t mind doing the work myself. Nothing is more important than being able to stop.