Three best brake rotors
Parts experts tell us that brake rotors can last between 30,000 and 70,000 miles. They're not a regular maintenance item, but when it comes time to change them, you want to find the best choices for your vehicle.
Going with factory-fit brake rotors is one option, but aftermarket alternatives can often save you money. What's more, the improved performance of an aftermarket alternative could make it worth your effort. The following buying guide looks at your alternatives in more detail. Our favorite rotor is actually a rotor/brake pad set and has a very loyal following thanks to its durability.
Considerations when choosing brake rotors
Signs your brake rotors need changing
A brake rotor is a substantial metal disk that sits just behind each wheel. It's not actually attached to the wheel, but it is attached directly to the axle. When you apply pressure to the brake pedal, a pair of brake pads clamp the disk from either side. The friction created slows the vehicle or brings it to a stop. It's a very efficient system, but that friction wears on the pads and rotor, and eventually, they need to be changed.
Problems your pads or rotors can manifest in an increase in braking distance or audible squealing or grinding. An intense vibration signifies that your rotors should be replaced immediately. If you have engineering calipers or a micrometer, you can measure the thickness of your rotors against the specification in your vehicle's handbook to determine what to do. You can also check visually: the surface of the rotor should be relatively smooth. If it is pitted or scored, it needs to be replaced.
Choosing the right brake rotors
During our research, we found hundreds of cases of the same customer complaint: the rotors purchased didn't fit. While there can be faults with manufacturing or distribution, it's absolutely vital to specify the correct make, model, and year of your car when choosing rotors. If an exact match is not available, don't be tempted into thinking a different model or year would suffice. Instead, choose another brand.
Most brake rotors are made from recycled steel and cast iron, which is very durable and dissipates heat well -- just what you want from your brake rotors. It's also quite affordable; prices can be as little as $60 per pair and seldom more than $120 per pair. However, they can show rust quite quickly. While it doesn't detract from performance, rust doesn't look good with open alloy wheels.
So, for visual purposes, rust-free aluminum and zinc coatings are used. To reduce weight and improve braking on performance vehicles, ceramics and carbon fiber are used. These materials cost more, and you can expect to pay between $150 and $250, depending on the make and model of your vehicle.
On many rotors, cooling fins are hidden between the two braking surfaces. Drilling through the disk is another feature of high-performance models, so heat loss is even faster. They might also have grooves cut in the surface (sometimes called slots). These are designed to throw debris and water clear of the rotor, allowing the largest possible contact area for the pads.
Most people expect brake rotors to be sold in pairs, but that's not always the case. It's very frustrating to receive a package with just one, so be sure to check when ordering.
Q. Do I have to change all four rotors at the same time?
A. No. Some vehicles wear their front brakes quicker, or vice versa. However, you do need to change both rotors on the same axle at the same time. It's a good idea to renew the pads while you're at it.
Q. Should I call a mechanic to change my rotors, or can I do it myself?
A. It depends on how confident you are with a wrench in your hands. If you've changed pads, you should be fine with rotors. It's not technically complex, but it will likely take you a couple of hours. However, your safety -- and that of other road users -- depends on getting it right. If you're in any doubt, contact a pro.
Brake rotors we recommend
Best of the best: Power Stop Z23 Evolution Drilled/Slotted Rotors and Ceramic Brake Pads
Our take: A high-performance kit for the enthusiastic driver.
What we like: Plated rotors look great and are drilled and vented for rapid cooling, even with the extra bite of ceramic pads. Many owners report improvements over stock.
What we dislike: Expensive (although pads are included).
Best bang for your buck: Raybestos Professional Grade Disc Brake Rotor
Our take: An extremely popular product that offers exceptional value.
What we like: Basic but effective. The majority of drivers don't need anything more. Remarkably high customer satisfaction.
What we dislike: Sold as singles. They rust quickly.
Our take: A quality mid-range option from one of the top brands.
What we like: A blend of factory configuration and precise engineering provides excellent heat dissipation and quiet operation. Bi-metal coating looks good through open-style wheels.
What we dislike: Sold as singles. Some experience higher-than-expected wear rates.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.