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I took my car to my local chain repair shop last Saturday because the parking brake was nonfunctional -- the lever, when pressed, had no resistance, and was clearly not hooked up to anything. They diagnosed that the cable had snapped (which seemed reasonable given the symptom), but also that my front roters and pads and my back roters, pads, and calipers needed replacing. Since that was enough repairs to qualify for a payment plan, I threw in an oil change, coolant system flush, and transmission flush, figuring the cost was negligible when amortized over six months of payments and I have a road trip coming up.

When I got the car back, I drove it home and set the parking break, and since the lever had resistance to it, I figured it was fixed now. Yay! But Monday morning, forgetting I had set the brake, I put the car in reverse... and it started rolling a little (I live in a hilly region). Curious, I gave it a touch of gas, and it pulled right out of the parking space as though the brake wasn't set -- which it still was.

I brought it back to them Monday night, having to leave work early to get there before they closed (which represents a small but real loss of income), and they were very apologetic, saying it just needed tightening. I picked it up 4 minutes before they closed and took it home.

Today (Tuesday), when heading out, I went halfway up the sloped driveway to our parking lot and put it in neutral, setting the parking brake. Sure enough, when I let go of the normal brake, it rolled right down the hill. So the problem is still not fixed.

Given that they've failed to fix the problem twice now, should I bring it back to the same shop? If not, how can I get it fixed without sinking more money into it? And given that they didn't fix the parking brake, how can I be sure they did my normal brakes properly? The car stops when I apply the brake, but I don't know much about brakes beyond that. I'm going on a road trip in a few weeks, I'd hate to have my brakes suddenly fail in the mountains.

Edit to add: It's a 2004 Chevy Impala. I was hoping for some way I could verify that the brakes are functional independent of taking it back to the place that screwed up twice, which seems more on topic than my original inquiry.

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This question appears to be off-topic because it is about how to manage issues with mechanics, not on how to DIY –  Gabriel Mongeon Jul 23 '13 at 14:35
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"I took my car to my local chain repair shop" <- well, there's your problem right there. Chains are all about fleecing you for every cent you have. –  Juann Strauss Jul 23 '13 at 15:51
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Suggestion: provide the specifics on the vehicle so that we can make direct recommendations on what to do mechanically. That information may be useful when you talk to the shop. Also, rewrite the question title to something like "How do I fix my parking brake" rather than "the shop is full of jerks". Note: I know that you have the specifics in the other question. We'd like each question to stand on its own, though. –  Bob Cross Jul 23 '13 at 17:01
    
@BobCross I hope my edits have addressed your concerns, I tried to narrow the scope somewhat –  Yamikuronue Jul 23 '13 at 17:37
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@GabrielMongeon Re-focused question to focus on mechanical issues rather than social ones. –  Yamikuronue Jul 23 '13 at 17:37
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2 Answers

Addressing the purely mechanical problem:

It turns out that the Impala parking brake adjustment is straightforward. However, it appears that it's also easy to think you can turn one nut a couple of times and get the customer to go away.

Referring to the very nicely illustrated procedure here (that is essentially working through the service manual procedure for you), we can see a few critical components:

  1. The brake shoe and brake rotor need to be reset relative to each other (so that there's good contact all around when you pull the lever). This requires removing the wheels and brake rotors. This has to happen on both sides.

  2. The equalizer (that adjustable nut on the cable) needs to be adjusted after the shoe and rotor are reset on both sides.

Talking to the shop:

I suspect that all you'd have to say to a shop is that you think that previous techs have only adjusted the equalizer rather than resetting the shoes and rotors first. If they're reasonable, they're likely to agree that that's a likely scenario and take care of it for you. Personally, I like a shop that comes and gets me halfway through to show me what they're doing.

If not, go to another shop. Repeat until you feel comfortable. This is a solvable technical problem.

This is something that you could do yourself:

Well, maybe not you specifically but it is possible to do this in a home garage given the right tools. This isn't a crazy procedure. This is the kind of thing that could be done in a garage with a jack, jack stands, hand tools and safety gear. I wouldn't recommend it as the very first DIY task but it's certainly not out of reach of the interested amateur.

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I suggest that you take a stand on this one. You are in a position of complete control. Also you will remain within your rights as a consumer and if push comes to shove and the matter was brought to court, the shop would not stand a chance.

Let me explain:

When you left the vehicle with this shop you had a specific complaint. - Next, the mechanic working on it came to a quick conclusion that the cable must be replaced and it was easy to justify since either it was actually broken or it had just fell off it mounting spot either on the handle side or the e-brake side (either on the caliber itself or inside the rear rotors depending on vehicle).

The mechanic then proceeded to estimate all the brakes and included the rear calipers (this is where the red light turns on). Regardless of if the brake pads were excessively worn or not or if the rotors were actually out of spec or even warped is not the issue. The issue is that Your complaint was a braking system issue and they have now estimated 4/5ths of the braking system as a fix/up sell.

Then you added the fluid flushes. (they were not recommended.)

NOTE: The mechanic working on the vehicle _obviously_ did not check or mention anything about the condition of the fluids that you had decided to service.

When it was all said and done. You left with a payment plan for a laundry list of work and services that the vehicle most likely didn't need. I cannot say much about if the vehicle really required the replacement of the brake pads/rotors or of the fluids (obviously). But, I can say that the diagnosis was incorrect, it is possible that the cable was never actually replaced or broken at all. It could have just fell off the handle but, since you would never know the difference between a new cable and an old cable, they just found a way to connect it and stuck with their original story and never took the item off of the bill (and yes, this is quite common practice for a lot of shops).

This is where you got the upper hand. After all the so called "needed" repairs that the shop performed you're not only in debt to them for the next six months but the vehicle hasn't changed. The issue is still present. So were any of the repairs needed? Or were you cheated and robbed by a scumbag shop owner/chain manager?

have another shop look at the work that was performed. Take pictures (cell/camera) of all the work that was actually preformed. Make sure he looks to see if the cable was actually replaced, if everything was secured properly, the whole 9-yards. Make sure to get a full estimate of the costs of properly repairing the vehicle and say "Thank you" to the mechanic doing the inspection.

If they replaced the cable and the mechanic does not point out the fact that they used super-glue or "dumdum" or any other "Micky Mouse" method of repairing your vehicle; Then, with all that information in hand bring the vehicle back to the shop and let them know (as nice as possible) that once again they failed to address your original complaint) and ask to speak to the manager. Expect the weak attempt at an apology from the manager and him to preform the "song and dance" of getting mad at the employee. Let him know that you would like a refund on the work preformed since the vehicle was obviously ill-repaired or just misdiagnosed. He will refuse the repair and offer a free oil change for next time (or something equally as lame). This is where you need to stand your ground. This is where you inform him about having a shop look at the vehicle and that you're willing to take legal action unless your vehicle is repaired and you are given a refund.

If going this route gets you nowhere but thrown out of the shop then have a look on the receipt you were given from the original repair. By law, there should be a license number (in California it's the Bureau of Automotive Repair / Consumer Affairs). Give them a call explain the situation, send a copy of the receipt and they'll send an agent to the shop and they will get you your refund, your vehicle repaired, and put a mark on their Consumer Report.

I hope this helps.

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