Brake rotors make up an essential part of your vehicle’s brake system, allowing the pads to grip onto a hard surface, bringing your vehicle to a complete stop. Due to constant friction created between the brake pads and rotors, though, the sturdy metal plates can progressively warp and deteriorate to the point that they no longer work.
In short, the most common cause of a warped brake rotor is simply wear and tear, or improper installation. While the most common cause being vibrations in the steering wheel, brake pulsation, and brake pads wearing out too quickly. This problem is usually resolved by resurfacing, but if it is too late, you will most likely need to the brake rotors entirely.
If you’ve never dealt with a warped rotor, you may not realize how dangerous the problem can be. In this guide, we’ll discuss why rotors progressively deteriorate, explain how to identify a warped rotator, and share some tips on how to fix the problem before it leads to an accident. Rest assured that rotors are a fairly easy fix and, if caught early, are nothing to worry about.
What Do Brake Rotors Do?
Brake rotors are one of the most important parts of your vehicle’s braking system. The rotor is a large, metal disc that sits behind the wheel. When the brake pedal is depressed, the brake pads grip onto the rotor and slow the wheel down, eventually bringing the car to a complete stop.
Note: Brake rotors are also commonly referred to as brake discs, so don’t worry, they’re the same thing.
As the pads grip the rotor, they create friction. This process is what causes the rotors to heat up and eventually warp. Over time, the metal will slowly deform, causing an uneven surface. When this happens, the pads will no longer grip the rotor evenly, which can lead to a number of problems.
How And Why Do Rotors Warp?
There are two ways that brake rotors can warp. The first is due to the natural process of wear and tear. Every time the brakes are used, the pads grip onto the metal surface of the rotor, which creates friction and causes the rotors to temporarily heat up.
As the rotors heat up, they expand, and when they cool back down, they contract. This constant process of expansion and contraction eventually takes its toll on the metal, causing it to warp.
The second way that rotors can warp is if the brake pads are improperly installed. If placed at an angle, the pads will grip onto the metal plates unevenly, causing the rotor to bend and warp. This can also happen if the pads are not the same size or if they’ve become worn out and uneven.
For this reason, it’s important that you regularly check your brake pads and replace them if they’re no longer effective.
What Are the Signs of a Warped Rotor?
Leaving a warped rotor unrepaired can put you, and your vehicle at risk. Fortunately, the tell-tale signs of a worn-out rotor are easy to spot, as long as you know what to look for:
- Vibrations in the Steering Wheel: The most common symptom of a warped rotor is a vibrating steering wheel. As the rotors become warped, they begin to create an uneven surface. This, in turn, causes the pads to grip the rotor unevenly, which makes the steering wheel shake.
- Slow or Pulsating Brakes: If the rotors have become significantly warped, you may notice that it takes longer for your vehicle to come to a complete stop. In some cases, you may even feel a pulsation in the brake pedal.
- Brake Pads Wearing Out Quickly: If you find that you’re replacing your brake pads more frequently than usual, it may be a sign that your rotors have reached their limits. When the pads grip an uneven surface, they struggle to perform as intended and break down before their time.
- Signs of Physical Damage: Although most warping is very slight and almost invisible to the naked eye — down to thousands of an inch — it can still have a significant impact. And if you can visually see the how warped the brake rotor is, it is unsafe to drive and should be taken to a mechanic immediately.
If you notice any of these problems, take your vehicle in for an inspection as soon as possible. A rotor repair will only take around an hour and keep you safe while out on the road.
How to Fix Warped Rotors
If you suspect that your rotors have become warped, the best thing you can do is to take your vehicle to a professional mechanic and have them checked. The mechanic will determine whether your rotors need replacing or if they can be resurfaced. If the rotors are only slightly warped, the mechanic may be able to fix the problem by simply resurfacing the metal.
This is a process where the mechanic uses a machine to remove a thin layer from the outer face of the rotor. This evens out the surface and makes the rotor smooth again. However, if the rotors are severely warped, they may need to be replaced entirely. This is a more invasive and costly repair, but it’s often the only way to ensure that the problem is fixed.
On average, you can expect to spend around $25 per rotor to have them resurfaced and most auto part stores offer a comprehensive service. If your rotors need replacing, though, expect to spend upwards of $100 per part, as well as the costs of labor at your nearest repair shop.
How to Prevent Warped Rotors
For many drivers, the idea of replacing all four rotors sounds like a nightmare. Fortunately, though, there are a few things you can do to prevent your rotors from becoming warped in the first place:
- Check Your Brake Pads: One of the most important things you can do is to regularly check your brake pads and replace them when they’re worn out. This will help to prevent the pads from gripping the rotors unevenly and causing them to warp.
- Be Careful when Driving: If you know that your brakes are getting worn out, it’s important to be careful when driving. Avoid making sudden stops and give yourself plenty of time to come to a complete stop.
- Drive Slowly over Bumps: If you hit a pothole or go over a speed bump too quickly, it can cause the rotors to deform. To prevent this from happening, slow down and take it easy when you’re driving over bumps.
- Avoid Driving in the Rain: If possible, try to avoid driving in the rain. Wet conditions can cause the rotors to rust, which can lead to warping.
If you take these precautions and regularly check your brakes, you can help to prevent your rotors from becoming warped. In general, brake rotors have a lifespan of between 50,000 and 70,000 miles. As long as you properly care for them, you should be able to drive for years without worry.
Your vehicle’s braking system is nothing to mess around with. If you suspect that your vehicle’s brake rotors have become warped or damaged, have them checked immediately. By taking the time to have your rotors repaired or replaced, you can help to ensure the safety of yourself, your family, and other drivers on the road.