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When To Replace Brake Rotors? (2021 Guide)

March 24, 2021

When should you replace your brake rotors?

Brake rotors are essential components of your brake system. 

They make contact with your brake pads to create the friction that brings your vehicle to a stop.

But with all that friction, won’t they wear down?

And how long does it take for that to happen?

In this article, we’ll help you figure out when to replace brake rotors. We’ll show you how a rotor works, why it wears out, and how long it lasts. We’ll also show you an easy way to always keep your brake rotors in check

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Let’s jump in.

What Are Brake Rotors?

Brake rotors (also known as brake discs) are steel or carbon-ceramic discs connected to your car’s axles. Each axle has a brake rotor, and they turn along with the wheels – helping them slow down whenever you press down on the brake pedal.

How Do Brake Rotors Work?

When the brakes are applied, the brake calipers clamp down on the brake rotors. This causes the brake pads and rotors to rub against each other and create friction, ultimately slowing down your wheels.

Here’s how they fit into your entire braking process:

When you apply pressure on the brake pedal, it causes a plunger in the master cylinder to force brake fluid into your brake lines. The brake fluid then goes through the lines to your wheels and then to the brake caliper.

The brake fluid’s pressure pushes on the pistons in the caliper, which in turn presses against the brake pads. The brake pads then rub against the brake rotor, causing the vehicle to slow down due to the friction created.

How Long Do Brake Rotors Last?

Most steel and composite rotors are designed to last up to 70,000 miles, but rotor life can vary based on your driving habits.

Frequent hard braking, such as during stop-and-go traffic, can cause your brake disc set to wear out sooner than later. On the other hand, moderate driving and easing to a stop can help extend the life of your brake rotors.

Why?

Hard braking requires a lot of force, and stop-and-go traffic means you’ll continuously be pressing down on your brakes – wearing them out faster. 

On the other hand, occasional braking during slow driving requires a smaller force to bring your car to a halt. This puts less pressure on your rotors – extending their life. 

Additionally, if you’re using a carbon-ceramic disc brake system, your rotor set will last longer than steel ones – so you could expect them to last the entire lifetime of your car.

What Affects Brake Rotor Wear?

You now know what brake rotors are and how long they usually last.

But what affects brake rotor wear?

Here are several factors to keep in mind:

1.  The Type Of Brake Rotors Used

There are four types of brake rotors that can be used in your vehicle:

Most modern vehicles come with a blank and smooth brake disc set. If you’re not looking to race or aren’t driving a luxury car, a blank and smooth rotor on each wheel will do just fine. However, remember this rotor type tends to wear out more quickly as they’re not built for heavy use or high performance.

Drilled rotors have drilled-in holes that allow brake dust, heat, and water to dissipate from its surface quickly. Drilled rotors are great for drivers living in wetter areas since this type of rotor provides increased stopping power in wet conditions. 

Slotted brake rotors have cuts or slots on the rotor’s surface that help draw more air between the brake pad and the rotor surface. A slotted rotor set is great for SUVs and heavy vehicles, but they have a shorter lifespan than the other rotors.

Drilled and slotted brake rotors are designed for cars that need heavy braking performance with quick heat dispersion. They are the type of brake rotors that last the longest, but they’re also the most expensive.

2. The Quality Of Your Brake Pads

The quality of your brake pads can have a significant impact on the life of your brake rotors.

How?

Brake pads come in direct contact with your brake rotors all the time.

If you choose a low-quality new brake pad during your brake pad replacement, it can wear out much sooner than usual. Once the brake pads wear out, the metal backing plate rubs against the rotor, which causes increased rotor wear and damage.

3. Driving Style And Environment

Aggressive driving and frequent stop-and-go traffic can cause your brake rotors to wear out sooner than you’d expect, but that’s not all you have to worry about.

If you live somewhere with extreme temperatures (really hot or cold climates), your brake rotors will likely wear out sooner than a rotor in normal conditions.

This happens because your brakes have to work harder to bring your car to a stop on icy or snowy roads. On the other hand, hotter temperatures cause inefficient heat dissipation from your brake components; this results in your car also requiring more braking force.

4. Car Weight

If you drive a heavy vehicle like an SUV, expect a shorter brake rotor life than a lighter-weight vehicle.

The heavier a vehicle is, the greater the force needed to stop it. This can take a toll on your brake pads and rotors – and you’ll need to replace them more often.

5. Axle Positions

In most modern cars, the front axles usually carry a heavier load than the rear axles because the engine is mounted at the front and adds to the weight there.

Since the front axles are heavier, they require a greater braking force. So, the brake disc set and other brake components in the front of the car will usually wear out faster than those at the back of the vehicle.

When To Replace Brake Rotors: 4 Signs To Look Out For

Brake rotors can last a lot longer than brake pads if you take care of them, but how do you know when it’s finally time to change your rotors?

Here are few signs that tell you when it’s time to replace your rotor set:

1. Vibration In The Steering Wheel and Brake Pedal

Imagine you’re driving down the road and come across a red light. You hit the brakes to come to a halt, and you feel a tight vibration on the brake pedal and the steering wheel. 

This pedal pulsation can’t be good, right?

If your car vibrates when you brake (also known as brake pulsation), it may be a sign to replace your brake rotors. This happens because of accumulated brake pad deposits. These deposits are brake pad material that collects on the face of your brake rotors and creates uneven spots.

Brake pad deposits occur due to several factors – including a brake system subject to excessive heat, incorrectly fitted pads, and uneven clamping due to seized brake pistons.

2. Loud Grinding Noise When Braking

Do you hear heavy metallic grinding noises when you’re applying the brakes?

Chances are, your brakes are heavily corroded.

When brake system components corrode, they tend to grind against each other – causing those loud brake noises.

Modern brake pads come equipped with a “brake wear indicator” that causes a brake squeal to tell you when to change your brake pads. If you ignore this indicator and your brake pads wear off completely, you’ll start hearing grinding noises as the backing plate rubs against the rotors.

The best way to prevent grinding noises is to pay attention to your brake wear indicator and replace your worn brake pads. You can also check whether an old rotor needs replacing when you’re putting in a new brake pad set.

Note: The next two signs aren’t easy for everyday drivers to spot. Instead of trying to inspect your brake rotors yourself, we recommend taking your vehicle to a certified mechanic and have them run a routine brake inspection to see what’s wrong.

3. Cracks On The Brake Rotor

Brake rotors are constantly subjected to heavy heat, which can cause their surfaces to crack. There are two types of cracks that can occur on rotors:

The first, known as heat checking, produces small hairline cracks on the rotor’s friction surface. This type of cracking is expected, especially in high-performance scenarios, and doesn’t warrant a rotor replacement.

The second type of crack is a crack to the edge – and is an indication that the brake rotor is at the end of its life. You’ll have to immediately switch out your brake rotors to avoid further damage to your vehicle from the bad rotor.

4. Damaged or Grooved Brake Rotor

If you notice extensive damage or grooves on your brake rotor, it may be time to switch them out for a new rotor set.

When your brake pads wear out heavily, the metal backing plate and rotors come into contact – damaging the rotor surface. You should also watch out for road debris, rust, and corrosion that can damage your brake rotors.

Remember, even if only one rotor is damaged, it’s better to change out all the front and rear brake pads and brake rotors to get an even braking experience.       

Note: A grooved rotor is not the same as a warped rotor

A warped rotor is an extremely rare occurrence.

How Much Does A Brake Rotor Replacement Cost?

So, how much is a brake rotor replacement going to cost you?

Your final amount will depend on your car’s make and model – but on average, you should expect to spend above $250 per axle for the brake job.

Sure, you can choose to save a few hundred dollars on your brake rotors, but they’ll wear out much sooner than you expect – so you’ll have to spend even more at your next brake service to get a proper set of replacement rotors.

That’s why it’s always a good idea to make sure you get a thorough brake rotor replacement done – even if it’s one of the more expensive repairs you’ll have to pay for. 

The Easiest Way To Keep Your Brake Rotors In Check 

A brake replacement isn’t something that you should try and do yourself. It’s a complicated procedure that requires specialized equipment.

Ideally, take your car to a qualified technician so they can check and replace your brake rotors if needed.

When searching for a mechanic, always ensure that they:

And there’s an easy way to find technicians just like this!

RepairSmith is an automotive repair and maintenance solution that’s convenient and affordable.

With RepairSmith:

Wondering how much a brake rotor replacement will cost with RepairSmith?

Just fill out this online form for a free quotation.

Wrapping Up

While most brake rotors last around 70,000 miles – there’s no exact number that you can fall back on. It depends on various factors such as the way you drive, where you drive, and the quality of your rotors.

However, remember to stay alert for signs of wear that tell you when it’s time to replace your brake rotors – and always invest in a high-quality set of brake rotors.

And if you don’t want to go through the hassle of finding a qualified technician and taking your car to the shop for repairs – give RepairSmith a try!

You can rest assured that their ASE-certified technicians will always carry out high-quality repairs at the convenience of your own driveway.