Brake rotors are a key component of your vehicle’s braking system, providing a hard surface for the brake pads to grip onto, forcing the wheels to a halt. Over time, though, brake rotors can become worn down or damaged, reducing their effectiveness and requiring replacement. However, if you catch the wear and tear early, you can resurface the rotors and avoid paying for an expensive replacement.
As long as they are only slightly warped or worn, brake rotors can be resurfaced up to three or four times before being replaced. This process involves sanding the outer face of the rotors to create a smooth, even surface. However, if the rotors are excessively worn or damaged, they will need to be replaced, which will generally be more expensive.
If you are unsure whether to resurface or replace your brake rotors, continue reading to learn more. This guide will explain everything you need to know, including what causes brake rotors to wear out, how to tell if your rotors are damaged, and when it’s best to replace the part entirely. Depending on your vehicle, you could save quite a bit of money by avoiding a full replacement.
How Do Brake Rotors Work and Why Do They Break Down?
If you’ve ever changed a tire, you’ve probably noticed the round metal plate with five outward spokes that hold the wheel in place. This is the brake rotor. It sits inside of the wheel and, whenever you press the brake pedal, the brake pads grip onto the metal plate, forcing the wheel to slow and eventually stop.
Brake pads are typically made of a composite metal and rubber material that easily grips onto the rotor but, over time, the pads lose traction and begin to rub against the plate. This constant chaffing eventually damages the rotor, causing it to warp and become uneven. Additionally, brake dust can clog the rotor and create deep scratches that impact performance.
How to Tell if Your Brake Rotors are Damaged?
If you’re driving around with damaged or worn-out brake rotors, they can greatly reduce your vehicle’s ability to come to a smooth stop. This can be incredibly dangerous, especially if you’re driving on a motorway or in heavy traffic. Rather than risk your health, learn the signs of a worn-out rotor and take the appropriate steps to protect yourself:
- Slow or Skidding Stops: If you notice that your vehicle is taking longer to stop than usual, it’s a sign that either your brake pads or brake rotors are worn-out and need to be replaced.
- Vibrating Steering Wheel: If you feel a pulsing sensation in the steering wheel while braking, it means that your rotors are no longer evenly balanced. This can cause a number of problems, including reduced braking power and longer stopping distances.
- Visible Wear and Tear: Take a look at your brake rotors the next time you’re changing or rotating your tires. If you see any rust, cracks, gouges, or other visible damage, it’s time to replace the rotor.
- Squealing or Grinding Noises: If you hear a high-pitched squealing noise whenever you press the brake pedal, it means that your brake pads are worn down and need to be replaced. However, if you hear a grinding noise, it’s a sign that your rotors are excessively worn and need to be replaced.
If you notice any of these issues, take your vehicle to the nearest auto repair shop and ask them to inspect your brake rotors. If the rotors are worn out, they should be able to turn the parts and get you back on the road within the hour.
Resurfacing Brake Rotors – When and How?
If your brake rotors are only slightly damaged, you may be able to get away with resurfacing the parts rather than replacing them entirely. This process involves sanding down the outer layer of the rotor to create a smooth, even surface. However, before resurfacing the rotor, the mechanic will need to inspect the part to ensure that it’s not excessively damaged.
If the rotor is severely warped or has deep scratches, it will need to be replaced. Additionally, resurfacing the rotor will only work if there is enough metal left to work with. If the rotor is too thin, resurfacing will not be possible and you will need to replace the part.
If your brake rotors can be resurfaced, the mechanic will use a machine to sand down the outer layer of the metal. This will remove any minor damage and restore the rotor to its original condition. Once the resurfacing is complete, the mechanic will test the parts to ensure that they are working properly.
Additionally, if you choose to have your brake rotors resurfaced, it’s important to have the parts checked regularly. Resurfacing can only be done a few times before the rotor becomes too thin and needs to be replaced.
Replacing Brake Rotors – When and How?
If your brake rotors are excessively damaged or worn out, resurfacing will not be an option and you will need to replace the parts. This process is similar to resurfacing but, rather than sanding down the outer layer of the rotor, the mechanic will remove the old parts and install new ones.
Replacing brake rotors is a bit more expensive than resurfacing but, if the parts are excessively damaged, it’s the only option. Additionally, replacing the parts will restore your vehicle’s braking performance, giving you peace of mind when driving.
If you need to have your brake rotors replaced, the mechanic will first remove the old parts and then clean the surrounding areas before installing new rotors. Once the new parts are in place, the mechanic will test the brakes to ensure that they are working properly.
If you have your brake rotors replaced, it’s important to have the parts inspected regularly. Depending on your driving habits, the new parts may last anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 miles. Throughout that life span, be sure to regularly inspect your brake pads as well.
Resurfacing vs Replacing – How Much Will It Cost?
The cost of resurfacing or replacing your brake rotors will vary depending on a number of factors, including the make and model of your vehicle, the severity of the damage, and the labor costs at your local auto repair shop. In general, though, resurfacing will be a cheaper option than replacing the parts.
If you chose to resurface your brake rotors, the mechanic will simply use a machine to sand down the outer layer, costing around $20 a part. On the other hand, if you choose to replace the rotors, you’ll have to buy brand-new parts, which could cost as much as $100 each, depending on the make and model of your vehicle.
Additionally, you’ll have to cover the cost of labor at your local auto repair shop. Many shops charge an hourly rate, while others charge a flat rate per service. This can raise the cost to roughly $500 in total so, if you’re concerned about prices, be sure to ask the mechanic for an estimate before having the work done.
Related: Brake Pad and Rotor Replacement Cost
The Bottom Line
Your vehicle’s brake rotors are directly responsible for keeping you safe while driving. If you notice that your vehicle is struggling to stop, have a mechanic check your rotors. If they are only slightly warped, have them resurfaced and you’ll be good to go. However, if they are severely worn out or damaged, you’ll have to pay to have the parts replaced.