Brakes - Finally!

Posted by murmini Sat, 05 Sep 2009 12:28:00 GMT

So with just over 81,000 on the clock, my front brake sensor finally checked in and declared that it was time for some new brakes. Yes these ARE the first brakes ever replaced on my 05 JCW. Having come from a country where automatics were less than 0.5% of cars on the road, I had learned to drive "the old fashioned way" SHIFT DOWN when approaching traffic lights, corners or any other hazard that may demand a slower speed and use breaks minimally and judiciously. Sure, there are plenty of times when one has to "chuck out the anchor" and stand on the STOP pedal, but in general, anticipation and smooth driving style in sync with rev-matching is better all around. Great article on rev matching here by the way.

So a couple of days ago when my brake warning light came on, I called my dear friend Chad Matthews in Charleston and discussed some new brakes. Chad has a long history with my JCW MINI. When I purchased it the JCW kit had not received full approval, due to California emissions paperwork, so I agreed to take delivery of the BRG MINI Cooper S and then come back a couple of months later to have the cylinder head, supercharger, exhaust system, cold air intake and other bits removed and replaced with the JCW stuff. This work was carried out by Chad at the Rick Hendrix, the MINI dealer in Charleston where I had bought the car. In the mean time I had run about 5,000 miles in the car as a stock MINI Cooper S. The dealer had been great and leant me an MC 40 for three or four days while the work was being carried out and I got to meet Chad Matthews. Chad not only worked at the dealer as a tech but was also the master technician who looked after the dealership's racing team's car. The MINI of Charleston Racing team was top of the SCCA winners list for SCCA and during the 2004 season, the team had had 3 top five finishes, including a 2nd at the Spring and Summer Nationals at Road Atlanta. Having worked at Merlyn Racing years before in England, I held racing master technicians in the highest regard. This was someone I wanted to be working on my car. So since then, it was always Chad I would have do any work on my infrequent trips to the dealer and he would always find time to talk about the car or any other aspects of auto engineering. A true petrol head!

I was very pleased to learn that Chad has established his own company Total MINI and BMW Services, just north of the City of Charleston and so I planned a trip to  7325 Cross County Rd, North Charleston.

I saw Chad's trademark British Racing Green Cooper parked outside and ventured into his workshop. Now this is where I feel I have to qualify some things. Most repair shops these days, dealers included, are places where service people diagnostically locate the faulty part, remove and replace it and thats about it.

Whether it is a washing machine, air conditioner or automobile, the concept is the same. Diagnose, remove, replace. The concept of actually stripping something down and servicing it is long gone, with the exception of a true auto service engineer.

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To my delight (and actually full expectation) I found a true engineering shop with orderly arranged benches and tools the type you find engineers using not parts-replacement service people.  On one bench a stripped MINI head prepared to have new valves ground-in, custom jigs for holding heads at the correct angle for porting work and all the sophisticated engineering lathes, drill presses and hand tools that differentiate a craftsman from a mechanic. Chad has a state-of-the-art lift in place and within minutes had my car up on it, wheels off and was measuring disk wear with his calipers, before I could settle in the comfortable lounge and some get some respite from the heat of late August in Charleston. The place is great! Smart office, comfortable customer lounge complete with Wi-Fii, extensive parts area and storage and 3 full bays for vehicles makes it really work well.

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Oh, back to my car. The front pads were the ones that had triggered the brake sensor and so we replaced front pads and disks. For some time now many manufacturers, especially BMW and subsequently MINI have produced their disk rotors from a much softer metal and share the wear between the rotor and the disk pad. While this provides greater friction control it can drive the cost of a brake job up considerably. I really couldn't complain having my first ever brake job in excess of 81,000 miles so I fully expected pads and rotors all round.

As it turned out, my rear disk rotors where between 20-21 mm and so Chad suggested pads only in the rear as they shoulder a much lower percentage of braking force than the fronts. So new Zimmermann disk rotors on new pads on the front and new pads on the rear. The brake pad wear sensors which are located on the front left brake and the right rear brake assembly must also be replaced with the pads. About three hours of work and it was all back together and ready to head home. By the way, Chad is offering special discounts to MINI Club members and to SCCA members.

It truly was a pleasure to see Chad again and to catch up on stuff. Chad, I love your shop and think you have an impressive facility. He is about to launch his new web site and I will post it as a link here when its up.

Total MINI and BMW Services is located at 7325 Cross Country Road in North Charleston, South Carolina and Chad can be reached at 843.552.5550.

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  1. Ian Cull said about 20 hours later:

    Great price – and great post (good to see you post something Murray, I guess you’re still very busy! Wonder what you’re doing week of Sep 20th …)

  2. Dr Obnxs said 10 days later:

    Cryo treating can increase the hardness of things like rotors, and is an inexpensive way to increase rotor life.

    Also, it’s good to see a competent mechanic get out and set up his own shop.


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    My father would always bitch that I would wear out the clutch cable with all my gearing down…

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