Your Rotors: Good News and Bad News

Almost all cars have disc brakes, at least on the front wheels. Some vehicles even have four-wheel disc brakes. Disc is a layperson’s term for rotor, which is the circular piece of metal that your break pads squeeze against to stop your car. Your rotors do wear out over time, but not as frequently as your brake pads. Fortunately, your vehicle lets you know when your rotors are going bad, so you can have them turned or replaced before more significant problems occur.

The Good News

Most damage to rotors is caused by brake pads that are left on a car too long. Fortunately, brake pads have a built-in system to warn you when they are close to the end of their useful life. A small piece of metal attached to the brake pad begins to squeal when you apply the breaks when the pads are nearly finished. This is a helpful warning that the pads need to be replaced soon.
Most brake jobs don’t involve replacing the rotors. Brake pads are cheaper than rotors and less labor intensive, so you’ll save money in the long run by changing your brake pads as recommended by the manufacturer. Because driving conditions and driving styles differ so much, the length of time your pads will last varies. If you hear squealing, your time is almost up. If you hear grinding noise from your brakes, it’s past time to have them repaired.
Even if your rotors do get scraped up because pads are left on too long, they don’t always need to be replaced. A good mechanic will turn your rotors rather than replacing them. Turning the rotors involves running them through a lathe to smooth out the surface and bring them back to like-new condition. This thins the rotors, so the process cannot be repeated too many times, but it does save money over replacing rotors.

The Bad News

If you don’t pay attention or don’t notice the squealing, the brake pads will wear out and the metal base of the pads will scrape against your rotors. The damage caused by this can require that you replace the rotors, as deep grooves make them unsuitable for use.
Occasionally, rocks or other foreign materials can work their way in between your rotors and brake pads. This can cause the rotor to develop deep grooves and become useless long before their time. Unfortunately, this requires replacement of the rotor.
Worn rotors can also be a sign of a bigger problem: malfunctioning calipers. Your car’s calipers hold the brake pads, and move in and out as you depress the brakes. If the calipers seize up, it can force the pads to constantly rub against the rotors, wearing both rotors and pads prematurely.

Your car likely has disc brakes, at least in the front, and your rotors are a central component of the braking system. Squealing and grinding sounds signal that your pads or rotors need to be replaced. Replacing your brake pads at regular intervals helps you avoid larger issues with your rotors and calipers, saving you money on repair bills. It becomes critical to listen for signals that your brakes are becoming worn and not put off repairs.