Is brake skimming better than disc replacements?

According to the RAC brake faults account for up to 10 per cent of MOT failures although the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), places this much higher – as much as 17 per cent and replacing worn brake discs is now almost as much a service requirement as fitting new spark plugs.

In the majority of cases, replacement, as opposed to refacing existing components, is the default as well as the most cost-effective choice for run-of-the-mill cars and light commercials. Thanks to cut throat competition, a new axle set of discs can retail at well under £60 depending upon make, model and disc manufacturer.

In contrast, brake resurfacing costs between £120-£200; a price which makes the exercise illogical to most customers. Like our previous investigation into the UK tyre market, brake hard parts is also another heavily subscribed price dominated scene, with hundreds of different brands on offer worldwide.

Why look at brake skimming?

Apart from the obvious environmental attraction of recycling perfectly serviceable components, brake lathe manufacturer Tecalemit Garage Equipment says having a brake disc resurfaced on the hub ensures that the disc runs true to less than a hair’s thickness, compensating for both normal axle wear as well as misalignment caused by kerbing and pothole damage.

Before skim

“For some, it is seen as an old-fashioned practice, a relic of the days when mechanics would strip down parts, only replace damaged components”, so says Adam Hilton, sales and marketing director. “This attitude and the influx of cheap aftermarket replacement parts have changed the motor trade’s approach to fixing cars.

After skim

“If you take brake judder, one of the most common causes is disc thickness variation (DTV) which can easily be fixed by skimming, yet most brake disc manufacturers only suggest replacing the discs and pads as the remedy. Generally, discs last 2-3 times longer than pads, and when a workshop replaces only the pads, that is the ideal time to skim the discs as it can increase the revenue earned from the job”.

According to James Hallet CEO of EBC Brakes “Digging through the metal bin at most brake service providers we find a massive number of discs that are still well above manufacturers’ specifications and could have easily been resurfaced. The cost of collecting, shipping and recycling all this material is enormous when you consider that they could be resurfaced and kept in service instead”.

Added revenue for workshops

The amount of added revenue a workshop can generate is subjective as there’s so many variables to consider, not least labour rates. Hilton says the average job takes around 30 minutes, “and given an average labour rate of £80 per hour, a charge of £40 per axle should be very realistic. Considering that a Pro-Cut X9 on-car brake lathe typically costs just over £40 per week to lease, it’s easy to see how it can start paying for itself,” he enthuses.

However one advantage customers welcome with new discs is their warranties; three years in the case of febi bilstein [correct], for example. In contrast, guaranteeing a brake skim is very much down to the individual garage.

As far as skimming new discs is concerned, the main advantage is not so much to eliminate potential DTV but ensure the disc is matched to the hub, contends Adam Hilton, adding “Most discs are now mounted directly onto the hub but there can be variances within the hub. By skimming the discs on the car this variance can be removed without replacing the hub”. James Hallet argues that disc replacement on its own can prove only a short term fix “because a wobble of less than .003″ cannot be seen by the naked eye”.

Hallet further claims that regenerative braking on low mileage EVs can cause the brakes to develop certain pedal feel problems while warns that replacement aftermarket discs come in varying levels of quality. “Resurfacing the original removes the risk of installing inferior components”.

Will it work for me?

Whether skimming is a money spinner depends on the clientele of the workshop. Phillip Bird of PJ Bird, based in Billericay Essex, told CAT that initially his brake skimmer was paying for itself because a local high end prestige car dealer was having his stock’s brake discs routinely skimmed purely for cosmetic reasons. However with the dealer now gone, Bird admits now the equipment isn’t called upon much but it’s a service few other workshops in the locality provide. Some prestige dealers, says Pro-Cut (which has made brake lathes since 1999), have even gone so far as to purchase their own equipment to reduce pre-sale preparation costs because the need for brake resurfacing is becoming as essential as alloy wheel refurbishments.

“As a final thought”, says Hilton, “it’s worth remembering that motoring is undergoing one of the most significant changes ever seen as we move away from fossil fuels. While how we power vehicles will change, how they stop will likely remain the same. Brakes may be one of the few area’s garages can still service, so it’s essential that workshops up their game in what has perhaps become an overlooked source of income. Having the right skills and equipment will be crucial for a workshop’s survival”.

Alan Anderson

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