How and When to Replace Rotors?- 6 Signs & Ways to Fix

Maintaining a vehicle’s braking system is crucial for ensuring safety on the road. Among the essential components of a braking system, brake rotors play a pivotal role in stopping your vehicle efficiently. Over time, due to wear and tear, rotors can become worn, warped, or damaged, compromising their performance.

Knowing when and how to replace brake rotors is essential for maintaining optimal braking performance and ensuring the driver and passengers’ safety. In this guide, we will delve into the signs that indicate it’s time for rotor replacement, the types of rotors available, and the step-by-step process of replacing them. Understanding these key aspects lets you keep your vehicle’s braking system in top-notch condition and drive confidently.

Can You Drive With Worn Brake Rotors?

Can You Drive With Worn Brake Rotors?

It is not recommended to drive with worn or warped brake rotors. This can cause other brake system components not to function properly, leading to dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations on the road. Additionally, if the rotors get below a certain minimum thickness, they may crack under pressure and severely reduce braking ability.

Vehicle owners need to ensure their brakes are inspected regularly. Most shops recommend this at least once or twice a year as part of responsible car maintenance. Furthermore, whenever a vehicle is in for any service – even just regular oil changes – it is a good idea for technicians to take the time to inspect the brake system as well. By following these guidelines and keeping an eye on any potential signs of wear or damage, drivers can help safeguard their own safety while also taking precautions for fellow motorists on the road.

At what mm should rotors be replaced?

Disc brake rotors are often regarded as “fit and forget” components due to their extended lifespan. Nonetheless, manufacturers establish minimum thickness standards for these rotors. Shimano, for instance, suggests that their rotors, initially measuring 1.8mm in thickness, warrant replacement once the braking surface diminishes to 1.5mm.

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6 Most Common Signs Of Bad Rotors

1. Grinding

Grinding brakes is a tell-tale sign of worn-out brake pads and means you need to replace them as soon as possible. When pressing down on the brake, you might hear a distinct “CHRRRKKKK” noise from your brakes, which signifies that replacement is necessary. Don’t wait too long or risk serious damage to the rotors and calipers due to the metal-on-metal friction. Replacing brake pads won’t solve the problem if you hear this noise. They wear down quickly when in contact with the old rotor surface.

Any repairs or replacements caused by grinding brakes will only be temporary before you eventually return for more maintenance or repairs. Therefore, it is best to schedule an appointment with professional mechanics for regular checkups and maintenance, even if nothing needs fixing.

2. Pulsing

Pulsing the brakes while driving can be a common problem that many people will experience at some point or another. This isn’t just annoying; it can also be potentially dangerous if not addressed. The pulsing is caused when a rotor is warped and doesn’t allow for the brake pads to adhere to the rotor evenly, resulting in an inconsistent grab or grab-release pattern of the brake.

The fix may seem simple by turning one’s rotors, but this has an adverse effect as it reduces the heat dissipation ability of your rotors. Turning rotors will lead to quicker heat buildup, which causes rapid wear and tear on your brake pads. It would be wise to replace your rotors when this issue arises as it provides better safety results overall.

3. Vibrations

Vibrations while braking are another symptom of bad rotors. Several factors, such as faulty brake pads, warped rotors, or loose wheel bearings, can cause this. Vibration when braking is often accompanied by a feeling that the car is pulling to the left or right when applying the brakes.

If you experience this behavior, getting your vehicle checked out by a mechanic as soon as possible is wise. This could be due to warped rotors; replacing them would help reduce the vibration and improve the overall braking performance.

4. Scraping/Chirping Sound

If you hear scraping or chirping noises when stepping on the brakes, this means that there is metal-on-metal contact between the brake pads and rotors. This is usually caused by the rotors being excessively grooved or worn down. It’s important to replace your rotors when this happens, as driving with a scraping noise coming from your brakes is unsafe. If you ignore it, you could experience further damage due to the metal-on-metal friction.

5. Rusting

Excess rust on brake rotors is not only unsightly, it can be extremely dangerous. Rotors have high iron content, and when left exposed to moisture over long periods, they can develop dangerous levels of rust. This rust can build up and impair the brake’s ability to slow down or stop a vehicle safely. Some minor spots are common, but excessive rust should not be ignored; it’s an issue that should be addressed without delay.

6. Brake Fluid Leakage

Another major sign of bad rotors is a leak in your brake fluid system. If you notice any puddles on the ground while parked, this could be due to a broken seal between the rotor and caliper or a cracked rotor itself. When fluid escapes from these areas, it can cause problems with your brakes and may even lead to an accident. If you suspect your rotors are leaking fluid, have them inspected and replaced, if necessary, as soon as possible.

How and When to Replace Rotors

How to Replace Brake Rotors:

Replacing brake rotors is critical to ensure your vehicle’s braking system remains effective and safe. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to replace brake rotors:

Tools and Materials Needed:

Tools and Materials Needed
Jack and jack stands
Lug wrench
Socket and ratchet set
C-clamp or brake caliper tool
Torque wrench
New brake rotors
Brake pads
Brake cleaner
Anti-seize compound
Gloves and safety goggles


  1. Prepare Your Workspace: Park your vehicle on a flat, level surface. Engage the parking brake and put wheel chocks behind the wheels to prevent any accidental movement. Wear appropriate safety gear like gloves and safety goggles.
  2. Loosen Lug Nuts: Use a lug wrench to slightly loosen the lug nuts on the wheel of the brake rotor you’re replacing. Please do not remove them completely at this stage.
  3. Lift the Vehicle: Use a jack to lift the vehicle off the ground, then place the jack stands securely under the vehicle’s frame or designated points. Ensure the vehicle is stable before proceeding.
  4. Remove the Wheel: Finish removing the lug nuts and remove the wheel to expose the brake components.
  5. Remove the Brake Caliper: Locate the brake caliper, usually held in place by bolts or pins. Use a socket and ratchet to remove these bolts/pins. Hang the caliper using a wire or bungee cord to prevent strain on the brake hose.
  6. Remove the Brake Pads: Carefully slide out the old brake pads from the caliper bracket. Remember their orientation for reassembly.
  7. Remove the Brake Rotor: The brake rotor might be secured by a set screw or might be stuck due to rust. Remove any set screws and gently tap the rotor with a rubber mallet to loosen it. If it’s still stuck, you might need to apply penetrating oil and wait for a while before attempting to remove it.
  8. Clean the Area: Use brake cleaner to clean the caliper, bracket, and surrounding components. Make sure to remove any rust or debris.
  9. Install the New Brake Rotor: Place the new brake rotor onto the wheel hub. If provided, apply a thin layer of anti-seize compound to the hub surface before installing the rotor.
  10. Install the Brake Pads: Place the new brake pads into the caliper bracket, ensuring they match the orientation of the old ones.
  11. Compress the Caliper Piston: Compress the caliper piston back into its housing using a C-clamp or brake caliper tool. This step must accommodate the new brake pads and the rotor’s thickness.
  12. Reinstall the Caliper: Carefully position the caliper over the new brake pads and rotor. Secure it in place with the bolts or pins you removed earlier. Ensure the caliper is properly aligned and tightened to the manufacturer’s specifications.
  13. Reinstall the Wheel: Put the wheel back onto the wheel hub and hand-tighten the lug nuts.
  14. Lower the Vehicle: Carefully remove the jack stands and lower the vehicle back to the ground using the jack.
  15. Tighten Lug Nuts: Using a crisscross pattern, tighten the lug nuts in a sequence. Refer to your vehicle’s manual for the recommended torque specification.
  16. Test the Brakes: Before driving, pump the brake pedal a few times to ensure proper brake pad seating. Test the brakes at low speeds in a safe area before resuming regular driving.

It’s important to note that brake systems are crucial for your safety, so if you’re not confident in performing these steps yourself, it’s recommended to have a professional mechanic replace your brake rotors.

Why Should You Replace Your Brake Rotors Regularly?

Replacing your brake rotors regularly is essential for several important reasons that ensure your safety and the optimal performance of your vehicle’s braking system. Here’s why you should prioritize regular brake rotor replacement:

  1. Braking Efficiency: Brake rotors play a crucial role in helping your vehicle come to a stop. Over time, rotors can become worn, warped, or scored due to heat and friction. Replacing them regularly ensures smooth and consistent braking performance, allowing you to stop safely and effectively.
  2. Reduced Brake Fade: Brake fade occurs when excessive heat causes a temporary loss of braking power. Worn or damaged brake rotors can contribute to this issue. Replacing them reduces the risk of brake fades, maintaining reliable braking even during demanding situations like steep descents or prolonged braking.
  3. Even Brake Pad Wear: An uneven rotor surface can lead to uneven brake pad wear. If the rotors aren’t replaced, the uneven wear can compromise the overall braking efficiency and potentially lead to costly repairs. Regular rotor replacement helps ensure even wear on brake pads, maximizing their lifespan.
  4. Prevention of Warping: Brake rotors can warp due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures generated during braking. Warped rotors can cause pulsations or vibrations when braking, making the vehicle harder to control. Replacing rotors prevents this, providing a smoother and more controlled braking experience.
  5. Safety: Your safety and the safety of your passengers and others on the road depend on reliable braking. Worn or damaged rotors can significantly increase stopping distances, making it more difficult to avoid collisions. Regular rotor replacement maintains optimal stopping performance, reducing the risk of accidents.
  6. Cost-Effectiveness: While replacing brake rotors incurs an upfront cost, it can save you money in the long run. Neglecting rotor replacement can accelerate wear on other brake components, such as brake pads and calipers. Replacing rotors before they cause additional damage can help you avoid more expensive repairs.
  7. Smooth and Quiet Operation: Worn or damaged rotors can lead to noisy and squeaky braking. New rotors provide a smoother and quieter operation, enhancing your driving experience and minimizing unnecessary distractions.
  8. Compliance with Manufacturer Recommendations: Vehicle manufacturers provide guidelines for maintenance and replacement intervals, including brake rotors. Following these recommendations ensures that your vehicle complies with safety standards and maintains its optimal performance.
  9. Long-Term Vehicle Health: Regular maintenance, including brake rotor replacement, contributes to your vehicle’s overall health and longevity. Well-maintained braking components are less likely to cause issues that could lead to extensive repairs in the future.
  10. Peace of Mind: Knowing that your vehicle’s braking system is in excellent condition provides peace of mind while driving. You can confidently navigate various road conditions and emergencies, knowing that your brakes will perform as expected.

In conclusion, replacing your brake rotors regularly is not just a maintenance task; it’s a vital step in ensuring the safety and proper functioning of your vehicle’s braking system. By addressing worn or damaged rotors, you can enjoy the benefits of reliable braking and a safer driving experience.

How long do brake rotors last?

Most cars are equipped with Original Equipment brake rotors, which usually last between 20,000 – 70,000 miles before needing replacement. Manufacturers like GT BRAKES, Akebono, AIMCO, and more produce long-lasting brake rotors made to OEM specifications with improved metals that extend their lifespan. Whether you go with Original Equipment or aftermarket components, regularly inspect your brakes for any visible signs, such as discolored metal and grooves formed by stress from the pads that indicate the need for a rotor replacement. Making regular visits to mechanics when needed can

Frequently asked questions

1. How do I know when my rotors need to be replaced?

There are many ways to know if your rotors need to be replaced. The first sign is usually a cracky or scrappy noise you hear anytime you apply the car brakes. Other signs include deep grooves, brakes, vibrations or pulsations, and a burned appearance on the surface of the rotor.

2. How much does it cost to replace brake pads and rotors?

The average cost of replacing rotors and brake pads could be between $400 and $600. When you factor in labor costs, it could be up to $200. The cost of brake pads is in the range of $240 and $400. Therefore, total costs could be between $840 and $1200. However, taxes and fees are excluded.

3. How often do brake rotors need to be replaced?

Brake rotors usually last anywhere between 30,000 – 70,000 miles. Sometimes, it may be more, depending on the type of material used in making the surface of the rotor and the driving style. An expert mechanic will assess the condition of the rotors and proffer advice on whether you should replace them or not.

4. What happens if I don’t replace the brake rotors?

If you don’t relaxedly brake rotors, it will lead to more wear, pulsation, warping, and unevenness. Your Anti-Lock Brake system (ABS) could fail at any moment, so you are liable to get into a car accident. Replacing rotors is crucial and is never an option.

5. How long can I drive with a bad rotor?

It depends on the severity of the wear, the type of brake material, the driving style, and the recommended manufacturer’s mileage. You can drive on a rotor between 30,000 to 70,000 or even more if the signs of wear are not too severe. However, once you exceed the recommended mileage, you should consider replacing the rotor.


Maintaining and replacing brake rotors in a timely manner is a fundamental aspect of responsible vehicle ownership. While these components may endure for considerable durations, adhering to manufacturer guidelines and recommended minimum thicknesses ensures optimal braking performance and safety. Neglecting the condition of brake rotors can compromise braking efficiency, lead to uneven wear on other components, and even pose potential risks on the road.

John D. Archer

John D. Archer is a mechanical engineer and writer based on the area of automotive accessories at, A resident expert and professional, John is passionate about all things automotive and loves to share his knowledge. He has good experience in all kind of automotive accessories. He has worked as a chief mechanical engineer in some reputed automotive garage firm.

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