Brake rotors are critical to your vehicle’s overall braking system. They’re attached to your wheels and provide brake calipers with a smooth surface to press against. But, unfortunately, they can also become warped and undermine your vehicle’s ability to slow down or stop, especially at crucial moments.
There are 4 signs that your brake rotors are warped. They are squealing sounds when braking, vibrations at the steering wheel and brake pedal, and the vehicle pulling to one side of the road when you apply the brakes. Besides that, an up-close inspection will also show that the warped rotor’s surface isn’t perfectly even as it should be.
As you read through this guide, you’ll begin by learning what it means for a brake rotor to be ‘warped’. Then, you’ll dive deep into the 4 signs that you might have a warped brake rotor and what you can do to fix the problem.
Let’s get started.
What Happens If Rotors Are Warped?
Brake rotors must be perfectly flat, with a smooth and even surface. That way, the brake calipers can make firm contact against that surface whenever you press your foot down on the brake pedal.
That flatness is critical because it ensures that the whole surface of each brake pad can press against the rotor. When that happens, it’ll generate enough friction to slow the vehicle down and bring it to a complete halt.
However, a warped brake rotor undermines your brake system’s ability to function correctly, especially when you need it the most.
Any warping on a brake rotor will prevent the calipers from generating consistent friction to slow the wheel down. So, not only will the car struggle to slow down but there will be plenty of turbulence that you’ll feel in the steering wheel and brake pedal.
More importantly, your inability to slow the car down on short notice puts you in harm’s way, as you’ll be unable to stop it from hitting whatever danger is in front of you on the road.
What Are The Signs Of A Warped Brake Rotor?
The brake rotors are concealed behind your vehicle’s wheels, making it impossible to notice any warping from afar. On top of that, there are no warning lights or indicators on the instrument panel to inform you that the brake rotors are compromised.
Thankfully, though, there are 4 clear signs that you can look for to know if one or more of your brake rotors are warped.
Those signs are the following:
#1 Squealing While Braking
The first symptom of a warped brake rotor is a sound. More specifically, it’s a squealing sound that you’ll hear when applying the brakes on your vehicle.
That sound happens due to the brake calipers applying pressure to the warped surface of the brake rotor. So, even if the car slows down as it should, the warping will cause unusual friction that makes a squealing noise.
Naturally, it can be quite challenging to hear any brake squealing when driving on busy and noisy roads.
So, a quick and easy way to test your rotors is to drive somewhere quiet where you can apply the brakes repeatedly. For example, you can test your rotors in an empty parking lot or a quiet street where there is no traffic.
#2 Vibrating Steering Wheel And Brake Pedal
Vibrations are another sign that you have a warped brake rotor in your car. You’ll feel them with your hands as you hold the steering wheel and your foot as it presses down on the brake pedal.
The steering wheel and brake pedal vibrate because warped rotors cause plenty of shaking in the affected wheel. Again, that’s because the brake caliper presses against the uneven surface of the brake rotor.
You can also test this by driving in a safe area and applying the brakes at different levels. If the vibrations happen even when you only press the brake pedal lightly, your rotors are severely warped.
#3 Vehicle Pulls To One Side
The brake rotors on your car don’t necessarily become warped at the same time or even at the same severity. That’s why another common sign of warping is when your vehicle pulls to one side or the other during braking.
The reason that happens is pretty straightforward. Suppose the right-side rotors are warped, but the left-side ones are still fine. In that case, the brake calipers on the right side will generate less stopping power.
As a result, one side of your car brakes more than the other and pulls to that side.
When braking causes your car to pull to one side, that’s also a clear sign that the affected rotors are severely warped.
#4 Brake Rotor Surface Is Uneven
The first 3 signs discussed above are enough to confirm that your brake rotor is warped. However, nothing beats an up-close inspection of the affected rotors themselves.
When you remove the rotor and check it on a work surface, particularly under clear lighting, you’ll see that its surface is very uneven.
That lack of an even surface means the rotor is warped, even if only by a little.
What Do You Do When Brake Rotors Are Warped?
Continuing to drive with warped rotors is not an option. Instead, you must make one of two choices on what to do next.
Your options are:
- Machine the warped rotors: Your first option is to have someone machine the warped rotor and make its surface even again. However, the damage is already done, and the rotor will eventually return to its warped shape.
- Replace the warped rotors: The long-term but pricey solution is to replace the warped rotor entirely. While that does hurt your wallet, it also gives you the assurance that your car will have the braking ability it needs when you’re out on the road.
It’s crucial that you get your warped rotors sorted out as soon as possible. But not all warped rotors are the same, so it’s best to consult with your preferred mechanic first.
They’ll be able to inspect the affected rotor and tell you what the best solution is moving forward.
Is It Okay To Drive On Warped Rotors?
No, it’s not okay to drive on warped rotors. That’s because they undermine your ability to slow your car down or bring it to a stop, especially when you need to the most.
So, you should only drive on warped rotors if it’s to bring your car to a mechanic. Even then, you should drive at low speeds to reduce your risk of getting into an accident.
Stressing brake rotors that are already warped, like with high speeds and aggressive braking, can also cause the rotor to break apart completely.
As such, the bottom line is clear: do not drive your car on warped rotors, except slowly to the workshop to get them replaced.
Many drivers aren’t aware that their brake rotors are warped simply because they don’t know what signs to look out for. Unfortunately, that puts their vehicles at risk.
So, if you know that yours aren’t in excellent condition, get them fixed as soon as possible. They’re a critical part of your car’s braking system which affects your safety and comfort on the road, so they must always be in the best shape possible.