A faulty brake system is never good. While many drivers are clued into listening for a high-pitched squealing noise, indicating their brake pads have come to the end of their lives, it’s more difficult to pinpoint brake rotor problems. When brake rotors are bad, they have several distinctive ways of telling you they are in need of replacement.
What are brake rotors?
If you peer into your wheels, you’ll notice circular discs connected to each wheel. These are your brake rotors. Rotors are designed to turn motion into heat. They transfer kinetic energy into thermal energy to ensure safe braking. As you press down on the brake pedal, it sends a signal to the master cylinder, to the brake calipers, causing the brake pads to press together against the surface of the brake rotor. This friction resists the spinning wheel, which slows the rotation, eventually bringing the vehicle to a halt.
Different types of brake rotors
Just like there are different types of vehicles, so are there several different types of brake rotors. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all component. Check with your owner’s manual to determine what’s right for your vehicle.
Depending on what vehicle you drive, you’ll have one of four primary brake rotors on the market today.
Blank & Smooth – these are the most common rotors for passenger vehicles. They are simple in design and affordable. However, as automotive practices change, some of these rotors may be created from recycled materials, meaning they don’t perform as well or last as long as other rotors. Typically they have a longer life because of a thicker material and internal fins, which allow them to cool brake pads more efficiently. You’ll notice the smooth, blank metal surface area if it uses this rotor.
Drilled – drilled rotors have slots positioned around the exterior rotor surface instead of holes. These holes provide heat loss as well as allow dust and water to escape the rotor’s surface without clogging or blocking the entire braking system. Drilled rotors are more common in wet climates where they can aid drivers in keeping control over their vehicles on wet roads. They won’t last as long in high heat situations.
Slotted – slotted rotors have slots positioned around the exterior of the rotors. They are most often used in heavy-duty trucks and SUVs, as these vehicles typically require more stopping power. They may also be used on other vehicles that routinely tow heavy loads. The slots draw in extra air between the rotors and the brake pads. This gives the rotors better cooling and heat dissipation. Like drilled rotors, they wear down faster and won’t last as long.
Drilled and slotted – these rotors combine the best of both drilled and slotted rotors. They use both drilled holes and slots set in a spiral pattern to help with better heat dissipation and debris removal. You’ll find these on high-performance vehicles that require top-tier cooling and heat removal to achieve their performance. They are also at the top of the expense list.
What are the signs of bad rotors?
When brake rotors wear down, they produce a number of signs to warn you of a potential problem. Acting fast may reduce the repair work, and will also prevent further damage to the braking system.
A vibration in the steering wheel
This can’t be missed. As you press down on the brake pedal, a noticeable vibration occurs in the steering wheel. As you step on the brake, the brake pads press against the rotors, and the rotors gain heat quickly. This heat can cause the rotors to wear down unevenly, creating unevenness across the surface area. As the brake pad hits these wear marks, it causes the vibration to move up the braking system and into the steering wheel.
A screeching sound
You can’t miss a screeching sound. It’s caused when the brake pads engage with a rotor that has developed grooves over time. As the surface area of the pads connects with the rotor, it creates a high-pitched sound that’s hard to ignore. You won’t have to ask twice if your brakes need a little TLC. A mechanic can pinpoint the problem, whether it stems from the brake pads, brake rotors, or somewhere else in the system.
A blue color on the rotor surface
Excessive heat can quite literally change the color of the rotors. To check for blue spots on the rotor, kneel down and look beyond the wheels and wheel spokes. The rotor disc sets behind. If you notice a blue color anywhere on the surface, it’s worth a trip to the mechanics. If heat is compromising the brake rotor in any way, the damage could extend throughout the braking system. That puts you at risk every time you drive.
When a manufacturer designs every part on a vehicle, they set guidelines in place as to how it will perform under normal wear. That changes situation to situation. Your car may stay within the guidelines, or may move beyond depending on what you face each day. That’s why it’s a good idea to perform visual checks from time to time, as well as schedule regular maintenance visits to ensure everything is working well.
How to avoid rotor breakdown
While rotors are designed for a lifetime of use, not all rotors last the life of a car. Especially with today’s technology where cars can move 250,000 miles or more over the life of the car.
Just like brake pads, brake rotors are impacted just a little bit every time you take your vehicle out for a drive. The more miles you put on the vehicle, the greater chance of it wearing out over time.
The exact lifespan depends on:
- The quality of the rotor
- How efficiently the rotor dissipates heat
- The type of brake pad used
- How you drive
- Where you drive
- Exposure to elements like rock salt and mag-chloride
- How aggressively you brake
Looking for affordable brake repair service? We pride ourselves on being a family-operated repair business that can help you with all of your needs. Give us a call today.