Brake rotors are an essential part of your vehicle’s braking system. They are what your vehicle’s brake pads clamp onto in order to stop the wheels from spinning when the brakes are applied. The friction created by the pads camping the rotors is what help slow down the vehicle.
Typically, brake rotors are constructed of metal. Just like other components of your vehicle such as the oil and spark plugs, brake rotors require maintenance and even replacement from time to time in order to keep your vehicle running in peak and safe condition.
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How Long Do Brake Rotors Last?
Generally speaking, brake rotors should last anywhere from 15,000 to 70,000 miles. Brake rotors are replaced in pairs (front and rear) in order to keep wear even. While many people replace their brake pads at the same time as their rotors, it’s not necessary.
Drilled and slotted brake rotors tend to wear out more quickly than their blank (or solid) counterparts. This is because the many holes through drilled rotors mean they can wear and crack more easily than a solid rotor would, while slotted rotors tend to wear down brake pads very quickly and need replacing more often.
If possible, look for rotors that have been plated with zinc or another material for longer wear. In addition, purchasing a thicker rotor will result in you being able to go longer between replacements.
What Wears Brake Rotors Out?
There are a few different things that will affect the speed at which your brake rotors wear over time, including driving style, brake pads, and vehicle.1
If you’re someone who does a lot of aggressive driving, then you’re likely to wear the rotors out faster than the more conservative drivers. You can extend their life some by easing up on your driving style.
The brake pads you use will also affect how quickly your rotors wear. Some people prefer organic and metallic brake pads due to their budget-friendly price points, however, ceramic brake pads definitely wear rotors slower. Though you should expect them to come with a heftier price tag.
You also shouldn’t discount the make and model of your car. Different vehicles wear through rotors at different rates, and that’s just the hard truth. You can adjust your driving style and be selective about replacement parts for your braking system, but some of the rotor life will ultimately be up to yourcar choice.
Signs of Bad Brake Rotors
There are a few telltale signs of bad brake rotors, including:
- Burning smell
- Longer stopping distance
- Excessive wear/length of service time
Your first indication that you have bad rotors is if you feel vibration or pulsing when you apply the brakes. You’ll feel the pulsing in the brake pedal and the vibration in the steering wheel because the heat created when braking has caused the rotors to become warped, worn, and uneven over time.
You may also notice a blue discoloration of the rotor surface. This discoloration is also caused by heat damage to the rotor. If you squat down and take a look at the rotor and it’s showing a blue tinge, it’s best to have your brakes inspected, as they could be compromised.
If your brakes make a screeching sound when you apply them, that’s another indicator that your rotors are bad. The screeching is a result of grooves developing on the rotors over time, which makes a loud, ear-piercing sound every time you apply the brakes.
Also, you should look for a burning smell when you apply the brakes — especially when applying sharp brakes on a steep road. The smell is caused by excessive friction leading to heat in the braking system, which can warp or damage your rotors.
With bad rotors, you may find it takes longer than typical to come to a stop. This is because groove marks on the rotor surface affect its ability to slow down the vehicle. You may also notice erratic behavior from the vehicle when trying to stop, such as pulling to one side.
The most obvious sign that your rotors are bad is simply that they have grooves and scoring over their surface. The easiest way to see this is to just bend down and take a look at the rotors yourself.
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How Long Can You Drive With Bad Rotors?
While you obviously want to replace your rotors as soon as you notice any trouble in order to avoid accidents you can still drive on bad rotors for a short period of time until you are able to have them replaced. This depends on a number of factors, including your driving style, the weight of your vehicle, and the quality of your vehicle’s brake material. However, bear in mind that bad brake rotors may affect vehicle handling and lead to accidents, so you’ll want to change them as soon as possible.2
How to Make Brake Rotors Last Longer
The easiest way to make your brake rotors last longer is to adjust your driving style. Try to avoid sharply engaging the brakes by not tailgating and looking ahead for hazards on the road. Another habit to check is whether or not you “ride the brake” — drive with the brakes engaged — and stopping, in order to make your rotors last longer.
Another way to make your rotors last longer is to opt for ceramic brake pads.3 When compared to organic and metallic brake pads, ceramic brake pads wear rotors more slowly. This is because they produce less dust and other particles over time as they wear down, and they provide a quieter ride, which means smoother stopping and less wear.
Ceramic brake pads are more expensive than organic and metallic brake pads, which may deter some vehicle owners from purchasing them, but are well worth the investment if you’re able to afford them. If that information is leading to your replacing your old brake pads, you should consider recycling them with your mechanic. 4
An essential part of your vehicle’s braking system, rotors help your vehicle stop when you apply the brakes, and should last anywhere from 15,000 to 70,000 miles.
Ride Digest uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
- WHY DO BRAKE ROTORS FAIL? Wagnerbrake.com. Accessed 23 Sept 2021.
- How Long Can You Drive With Bad Brake Rotors? Brakeexperts.com Updated 2021. Accessed 23 Sept 2021.
- Chan D, Stachowiak GW. Review of automotive brake friction materials. Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part D: Journal of Automobile Engineering. 2004;218(9):953-966. doi:10.1243/0954407041856773
- Lyu Y, Ma J, Åström AH, Wahlström J, Olofsson U. Recycling of worn out brake pads ‒ impact on tribology and environment. Sci Rep. 2020;10(1):8369. Published 2020 May 20. doi:10.1038/s41598-020-65265-w