How to Tell if Brake Rotors Are Bad: Watch for These 5 Signs

How to Tell if Brake Rotors Are Bad: Watch for These 5 Signs

Are you wondering whether your brake rotors are starting to go bad? Watch for these five signs on how to tell if brake rotors are bad.

Every year, there are about 6 million auto accidents in the United States. Of those, about 5% are caused by faulty brakes. While 5% may not sound like much, it adds up to around 300,000 accidents annually.

Making sure your brakes are in good working order is crucial, not only for your safety but for every one you share the roads with. And knowing how to tell if brake rotors are bad is one of your most important responsibilities.

To better illustrate this importance, you should understand the important job brake rotors serve, why they fail, and what warning signs you should watch for.

What Are Brake Rotors?

Your car’s brakes are made of several key components, all of which are subject to wear and tear. For example, if you hear a squeaking or squealing noise when you apply your brakes, it usually means that your brake pads are at the end of their lifespan and need replacing. That’s a routine maintenance procedure that every car needs to undergo every 30,000 miles or so.

Wear and tear on the brake rotors, however, can be more serious.

The rotors are the large metal discs fixed to each wheel at the axle. When you apply your brakes, the brake pads are squeezed against the rotors, bringing your vehicle to a stop. Hence why they’re so important; without functional rotors, your brake pads don’t have a good surface to clamp down onto.

Like the pads, your rotors will wear down with use. When they’re brand new, your rotors should have smooth, even surfaces that allow for consistent brake performance. When they wear down, these surfaces lose their smooth finish.

This can result in increased stopping distances, reduced performance, or even brake failure.

How to Tell if Brake Rotors Are Bad

The rotors are the largest component of the brake assembly and are crucial to keeping your brakes in safe working order. Letting them wear down can lead to increased repair bills in the best case and a heightened risk of accidents in the worst.

To prevent that from happening, be on the lookout for these bad brake rotors signs.

1. Noisy Brakes

For many brake issues, loud screeches or squeals while braking will be the first warning sign. They should always serve as an immediate warning to take your vehicle in and have the brakes serviced.

As mentioned earlier, squealing brakes usually only means that your brake pads need to be replaced. This is because pins are installed under the cushioning that will start to scratch against your rotors as the pads wear down. This is actually an intentional design choice, as the squealing is supposed to warn you that your pads need replacing.

On a related note, even though squealing usually only signifies worn brake pads, you shouldn’t put off having your vehicle serviced. Not only is driving with worn pads dangerous but having those pins scratch against your rotors for extended periods will accelerate their wear and tear as well. So if you put off servicing for too long, you may end up having to pay for new rotors as well as new pads.

That said, noisy brakes can also be a sign of a more serious issue related to the rotors themselves. For example, warped rotors can make a very similar squealing sound to spent brake pads. And badly worn rotors can often make a loud scraping sound.

In any event, you should always treat noise while breaking as a serious warning sign.

2. The Brake Warning Light Comes On

An obvious cause for concern is when your brake system’s warning light comes on.

This can signal a variety of potential issues. In some vehicles, the warning light may come on automatically at predetermined periods to tell you that your brakes are due for an inspection. Or it could mean something as innocuous as your parking brake not being disengaged all the way.

But it can also signal a more serious problem, like damage to your rotors or other parts of the brake assembly. So it’s important always to take the warning light at face value and take your vehicle in for an inspection as soon as possible.

3. You Can Feel Vibrations While Braking

We noted earlier that rotors in prime condition have a smooth surface but become rough and uneven with wear. That’s why one of the most noticeable bad brake rotors signs is a vibrating sensation when you apply the brakes.

These occur when the rotors become coarse or warped from extensive use. In some cases, you can even feel the brakes vibrate or pulsate through the steering wheel. This can make it more difficult to maintain vehicle control when braking and should be treated as an immediate safety hazard.

4. Visible Grooves on the Rotors

This can be difficult for many drivers to detect, as the rotors are not always readily visible. On vehicles where it is possible, however, you can sometimes see visible marks and scouring before you notice any other symptoms.

These grooves will inevitably form over time and don’t always mean that your rotors need to be replaced immediately. But coupled with other signs like squealing, vibrating, or an active brake warning light, it tends to signify substantial wear and tear.

5. Rust on the Rotors

Rust on any part of your vehicle is never a good sign. But rust on any part of your brake system should be treated as a major cause for concern.

As with scratches and scoring, rust isn’t always readily visible. But rusted rotors will often cause a “sticky” sensation when you apply the brakes. Rust can also cause squealing or groaning sounds.

If you notice any of these warning signs, you should schedule a brake inspection.

Watching for These Bad Rotor Symptoms Can Prevent an Accident

Like all car parts, your rotors will wear down and eventually fail with regular use. Knowing how to tell if brake rotors are bad will allow you to remedy the problem before it becomes a major risk.

If you notice any of these signs of bad rotors, or if it’s been a while since you’ve had your car serviced, contact us to schedule an appointment for a full brake inspection and repair.