Dear Car Talk: I have a 2010 Chrysler Town and Country minivan with four-wheel disc brakes. It has 25,000 miles on it. It is not driven much and is babied a lot. I paid a visit to my local dealer for an oil change, and he said that I needed rear brakes. The pads were worn down to almost nothing and were rubbing on the rotors and making a mark. I asked them how the rear brakes could be worn lower than the front brakes, since I have always heard that the rear brakes last three times as long as the front (because the front brakes do most of the stopping). Their answer was that they don’t know why but that it just happens this way. “It’s the nature of the beast,” they said. So, I took it to a tire center and asked for a second opinion. They also said that the rear brakes were worn down to almost nothing and were making a mark on the rotors. I asked them why, and they said that front and rear wear fairly evenly. When I asked if they wear evenly, why are the front at 80 percent and the rear down to nothing, they said that the manufacturer chooses to put very thick pads on the front and relatively thin pads on the rear. Is this true? This whole thing confuses me. Can you help shed some light on this? – Gary
A: You’re not the only one complaining about the brakes on this vehicle, Gary, but I wouldn’t have advised waiting for an answer from Car Talk before fixing it. If your pads are down to the metal and already scoring the rotors, you’ll soon ruin the rotors, too. Then you’ll need pads and rotors.
You’re right that the front brakes do most of the stopping. So most manufacturers do put smaller, thinner pads on the rear wheels. But something obviously went wrong in this case. My guess is that Chrysler just cheaped-out too much and grossly underdesigned the brakes on this car. They went too far in “de-contenting” (i.e., saving money).
I’ve heard that Chrysler has extended the warranty for the front brakes on this vehicle. But customers have complained that this “warranty” repair is not free and that dealers charge a “deductible,” which varies according to your mileage. Apparently, in what seems to be a pretty clear admission of a design mistake, they beefed up the brakes in later years.
It’s also possible that there could be something that’s causing the brakes to “stay on” even when not in use. It could be a caliper issue, a faulty brake master cylinder, a bad power-brake booster or even a proportioning problem. I’d lean toward the “underdesigned” diagnosis.
My advice would be to talk with your Chrysler dealer. Ask if your van can be retrofitted with the upgraded brakes, and ask Chrysler to help you with the cost of the repair and upgrade. If it was an engineering mistake, the cost should be borne by them.
If you can do the retrofit, that would be my first choice. Otherwise, you’re likely to keep having these problems. If your car can’t be retrofitted, go ahead and replace the pads. And do it right away, before you ruin the rotors, too.
If you’re happy with the price and how they treat you at the dealership, do the pads there. If not, go to an independent shop. And then be grateful that, so far, your front brakes are working well. Not every 2010 Town and Country owner is so lucky.