Home » The Amount Of Money You Can Save By Fixing A Lexus Yourself Instead Of Taking It To A Dealer Is Absurd

The Amount Of Money You Can Save By Fixing A Lexus Yourself Instead Of Taking It To A Dealer Is Absurd

Brake Job Ts
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I’ve never taken my car to a dealership, and the only time I even go to a mechanic is to get a wheel alignment or to have tires installed (since these require precision machines — yes, the tape-measure method for tire alignment works, too, but it ain’t precise). I do everything else myself. As a result, when people ask me for shop recommendations, I cannot help them, and when they ask me if something is a “fair price,” I once again have little to offer. In my world, vehicle service prices come from the junkyard, car-parts store, or Rockauto.com, and not from a service manager. So when my friend told me she was at the Lexus dealership, and I asked her to show me the service-quote, what I saw made me immediately respond: “Forget that! I’ll do it! Just let me fix your car!” It took a little convincing, but I did some wrenching yesterday on a 2017 Lexus RX350, and it was actually a pleasant experience.

I know, I know. A Lexus RX350; it’s not an enthusiast’s car, sure, but after driving it I’ve come to appreciate it solely because of its “performance of intended function.” The car is nice inside, it rides well, it’s reliable, and it’s actually quicker than you think. My friend loves her car, and I bet most other RX350 owners do, too, so I have to appreciate Lexus’s ability to nail the “comfortable, sensible, no-bullshit luxury SUV” formula. Anyway, this isn’t about the car, really, it’s about the situation. Let’s talk about the service quote:

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That’s $563.58 for the front brakes and $557.20 for the rears. Together that’s $1,120.78 plus tax, so about $1,200 all-in. For a brake job!

I’m not the only one who’s a bit sour about this whole thing. Multiple Autopian writers have been feeling the pain of brake jobs recently. Here are some receipts from Matt Hardigree, who opted for the warranty so he won’t have to pay for this all again:

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That’s $1,100 after tax with a brake flush, so about $450 an axle (plux tax) including the warranties you see above. That’s cheaper than my friend’s $560-ish quote, which really seems to be about the standard. Here’s a quote from the Bishop, who also recently got taken to the cleaners by bad brakes:

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And here’s Mercedes’ wife Sheryl, who had both axles done on her rusty-but-trusty BMW 5 Series wagon:

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Also $567 per axle!

Anyway, I couldn’t let my friend pay more than a Postal Jeep to replace four pads and two discs. Just out of principle. So I bought some of Advance Auto Parts’ best pads and discs for a total of about $380. Add in brake caliper grease and blue thread sealant (which I like to use on the brake bracket bolts), and we’re basically in $400 in parts.

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Then I got to wrenching. The front discs, which are all I’ve done so far, were a joy to do. I have to hand it to Toyota for including a threaded hole in the brake disc “hat.” This allows you to thread in a bolt and us it to press the discs off. This is a big deal for me, as I recently had to WHALE on some Jeep discs to get them off, ruining them in the process.

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Look at this cleverness:

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The pads include a pair of springs, which I assume are there to keep them pressed up against the calipers. I’d never seen these before:

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The calipers were dual-piston units; since I only have a C-Clamp and no special caliper tool, to press the pistons back in I just shoved an old pad against both pistons and cranked down on the clamp. It was all so easy, especially since this vehicle has been in California its whole life. The bolts threaded out like butter! I haven’t used my MAPP gas torch in months!

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Honestly, the job was a joy! It took me probably three hours to do the front right, since I took my time and researched all the torque specs, and was very careful. The front left took me only one hour, roughly.

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The rears include an electric park brake, so that requires a little bit of wizardry for the electric motor to all the piston to retract. I’ll finish that off soon:

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My friend wasn’t thrilled that I came in with so much grime on my hands on behind my fingernails. I have to admit: This is the first time this has ever been a problem. For basically a decade, grimy hands have been nothing but respectable among my peers. A sign that I’d been wrenching hard. But now I have to figure out how to clean them? Please advise.

Anyway, I saved her $400 so far for something I enjoy doing anyway, and another $400 in savings will be had tomorrow. Absolutely worthwhile for what I anticipate will be about a total of six or seven hours of work. Of course, if this were michigan, that might be 12-13 hours of work, mostly breaking bolts, drilling them out, re-threading them — and don’t forget the requisite 30 minutes for cursing. Those are important.

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Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
7 months ago

“My friend wasn’t thrilled that I came in with so much grime on my hands on behind my fingernails. I have to admit: This is the first time this has ever been a problem. For basically a decade, grimy hands have been nothing but respectable among my peers. A sign that I’d been wrenching hard. But now I have to figure out how to clean them? Please advise”

Something I WISH I had discovered decades ago:

I will start by saying I naturally have very dry skin thanks to a family legacy of ichthyosis vulgaris. I am very prone to excema especially as I age. Soap, even “moisturizing” soap is horrible to my skin. Soap is very drying at best and can trigger contact dermatitis at the worst. Cleaning up after wrenching was especially a nightmare, sometimes I’d have flare ups that lasted MONTHS! Pumice soap was the worst. It rubbed my skin RAW! Whatever petroleum smelling additives were in there made it worse.

A few years ago I (re)discovered to my absolute delight a cheap and easy solution: Cooking oil! Canola, vegetable, olive, it really doesn’t matter. Whereas soap aggravated my skin oil does the opposite, it CALMS my skin and stops my excema flareups. Now I use a combination of soap and oil to wash my hands and I haven’t had a flare up since! I now keep a liquid soap dispenser filled with oil at my sink.

A pump (or three) of oil will dissolve most tough and dirty car grease. Use an old dulled knife or credit card card as a strigil (skin scraper). An open pair of small scissors can be used for fine scraping work and fingernails.

If I need do do stuff as my hands soak I pump a bit of oil into the fingers of a pair of cheap nitrile gloves and put them on. The movement distributes the oil around my skin without getting it on everything I touch. After 10-15 minutes I remove the gloves and use a bit of table salt or sugar as an abrasive, it will not dissolve in the oil. It actually works as well as pumice. Then I wash and scrape my hands with a combination of soap and oil till they are clean. Once they are clean and dry I rub a drop or two of fresh oil into them to keep them hydrated.

If you are concerned about the potential “fatbergs” that might build up in the drain lines just periodically dump some industrial strength live enzyme cleaner down there. It will colonize and eat up the adhered fats. Draino will also dissolve them. Since I started using oil I’ve never had a problem with my drains.

Try it, you’ll love it!!

FYI using cooking oil to clean skin has a LONG history extending back throughout… well throughout ALL of human history. If it was good enough for thousands of years of living gods, Greek olympians, Roman emperors, gladiators and centurions it’s good enough for me. They used sand as an abrasive. I prefer sugar which was unavailable to them as it cleans up easier.

Pappa P
Pappa P
9 months ago

Well done David, but don’t pop the champagne until after a successful road test.
As others have said, gloves are your best bet. I use nitrile as I get them for free and they allow good finger dexterity.
Of course keep your nails trimmed.
If you don’t have abrasive cleaner handy, use a few drops of dish soap and scrub your nails thoroughly in the palm of your hand.
Finally, apply moisturizer.
Friends really appreciate soft moisturized hands.

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
9 months ago

As many others have mentioned the best way to get your hands clean is to not get them dirty in the first place by using gloves. Pretty much any time a tool other than a tire pressure gauge or scan tool come out so do the gloves. I have some different ones from the thin Costco ones to the thicker textured ones and pick which box to pull them from based on the job at hand.

Now of course gloves do fail so for those times the best hand cleaner I’ve ever used is Tarkelp. As the name implies it is made from tar, pine tar and kelp, the seaweed. Like most decent hand cleaners it contains pumice too. It does an excelent job is easy to rinse w/o residue and leaves no smell on your hands in the original version. I used to be able to get it at Napa but there are several places you can buy it online. If you don’t mind an orange scent or you want to try a small container first apparently they sell a small tube of the orange version at Harbor Freight though I can’t vouch that it does as well as the original formula since I’ve never used it.

Aaron C
Aaron C
9 months ago

I have never done my own brakes, but after getting a $1600 quote from the local Subaru stealership for pads/rotors all-around, you better believe I spent $300 at an online retailer for quality parts, watched some YouTube videos (including info on how to carefully retract the electronic parking brake), and picked up a couple tools from Harbor Freight that I’d need to complete the job. Got it done in a few hours on a weekend. Best thing is the OEM warped rotors are no more (I properly bedded this set, which I hope helps down the road) and I have tools to do the job on my Wrangler when it needs the same.

ProfessorOfUselessFacts
ProfessorOfUselessFacts
9 months ago

David,

I just got a quote $350 per axle for brakes on my 2011 CR-V. Parts on Rock Auto are around $150 or so, plus shipping, so lets call it $170. My time is expensive, tool rentals are expensive as well. As an IT engineer, my billable rate to my clients is around $275/hour. Even if it only took me one hour to change the rear brakes myself, it would have cost me more than me taking it to the shop to have it done.

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
9 months ago

I see a lot of people who fall for the fallacy that every waking hour is worth what they earn at their job. Now if doing the brakes prevented you from earning money in your job then yes it would have cost you more to do them yourself. However most people don’t have so much work that they can bill for every waking hour of every day. Fact is you don’t earn $275/hr when you are doing whatever it is you enjoy doing when you aren’t working. The other thing you aren’t factoring in is the time required to drop the vehicle off at the shop and then pick it up when it is done. That is a non-zero number and since most shops are open during regular business hours, it is possible that the process of dropping it off and picking it up could cost you billable hours.

Of course there are other factors at play like having the proper tools and equipment to do the job. But if you did do the brakes and it took you 3hrs to do the work then you would have “made” over $100/hr doing the brakes vs spending 3hrs doing something that earns you $0/hr, and could even cost you money.

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