The Best Brake Rotors: Slow Your Roll with These Top Picks
The best brake rotors to maximize your vehicle’s braking power and dependability.
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BY Corrina Murdoch / LAST UPDATED ON July 18, 2021
Though at first glance brake rotors look innocuous, they could not be more important to your car’s function. These circular discs connect to each wheel, and in the instant it takes to go from pressing the brake pedal to coming to a full stop, your rotors did an enormous amount of work. The pedal commanded the calipers to squeeze your brake pads against the rotors, and stop the wheel from turning. Without the friction caused by the abrasion between the pad and the rotor, you wouldn’t be able to stop reliably. That's why brake pads and rotors wear out so quickly.
Choosing the best brake rotors is more than a matter of convenience, it’s about safety. But choosing the right set can be a challenge. Do you go with steel or cast iron? Ceramic or carbon? What about slot placement and venting? To help you find the best fit for your ride, we’ve curated a list of the top selections available.
Effective and affordable, these rotors feature an OE-inspired design. Built to limit noise and install easily, these rotors can improve overall braking power.
- Features harmonic design to limit noise and vibration
- High-quality structure exceeds ISO standards
- Requires a brake cleaning agent to remove oils
- Non-directional finish breaks them in before you get a chance to do so
The best replacement rotors for budget-oriented drivers offer smooth and quiet stopping power for everyday driving.
- Spreads heat out efficiently
- Works quietly and with few vibrations
- Results in a smooth, even braking effect
- Won’t fit precisely with some models
- Wears down more quickly than similar rotors, requiring replacement sooner
Complete with a protective layer, these disc brake rotors are made to protect all parts of the braking system. The high-carbon design helps bring you to a smooth stop.
- Comes with all necessary hardware for installation
- Limits vibration and resulting noise
- Built to release heat quickly
- High-carbon material used may have uneven density across the rotor itself
- Limited openings to encourage airflow and heat control
Benefits of Brake Rotors
- Road safety. It’s no secret that braking is critical to road safety — there were 33,244 fatal motor vehicle accidents in the USA during 2019 alone. Proper brake rotors improve the responsiveness and efficiency of your brake system overall. This means you can stop quickly whenever necessary.
- Improved braking efficiency. When rotors wear down, then you will surely notice diminished braking performance. Whether it’s due to warping or compromised material thickness, you’ll feel it. That shaky steering wheel and car pedal pulse is your braking system demanding a new set of brake rotors so it can come to a halt efficiently.
- Less noise and vibration. A quality set of brake rotors is crafted to smoothly connect with your brake pads. When the force of friction is spread out more evenly, vibrations are minimal (both on a large and small scale). Since sound is just audible vibrations, it creates a quieter braking experience overall.
- Smooth yet quick stops. Your brakes must be responsive, and that means rotors that balance the clamping force with heat dispersion. A high-quality set of brake rotors will let you come to a rapid halt if a deer runs onto the road. They will also let you reduce speed seamlessly when you see a yellow light.
- Safer in trying road conditions. From rain to snow to windy conditions, ambient weather has a lot to do with how your vehicle performs. A good set of brake rotors improves your control over the vehicle, making it better at stopping on wet or icy ground. It also helps you control deceleration when driving in windy conditions.
- Modern rotors are more durable. Just because rotors are meant to eventually wear down, doesn’t make shelling out for a new set any more enjoyable. Thankfully, material science has come a long way. Modern brake pads use tough materials like carbon-dense rotors to remain working for longer.
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Types of Brake Rotors
This type of rotor is one of the most prevalent for passenger cars. Typical of an OEM part, smooth rotors — also called blank rotors — are the basic rotor starting point. As a result of the straightforward design, they are a cost-effective option. There are drawbacks, though. Smooth rotors give maximum surface area against the brake pads when they clamp down. It’s great because the friction works quickly and brings you to a fast stop. The downside is that this friction force has to go somewhere, and it turns into heat. All that heating up and cooling down can result in warping and premature wear and tear. Though you can get reasonable mileage out of them, these brakes are the quickest to break.
Known for its heat-dispersing design, drilled rotors are a popular option. Unlike smooth rotors, these incorporate drilled holes throughout the face of the rotor. By puncturing the disc in the proper pattern, the rotor ensures structural integrity and optimizes ventilation. Because of these holes, any dust, debris, or moisture can quickly escape, thus limiting the risk of corrosion. Particularly useful for those dealing with rough weather conditions, the drilled holes enable the flow of heat and moisture without compromising function. However, these are not invulnerable rotors. Weak against excess heat, they are only suitable for passenger vehicles.
Growing in popularity, slotted rotors incorporate multiple openings surrounding the outside of the rotor. Unlike models that rely on drilled holes, the slots are crafted to pull air between the brake pad and the rotor disc. This results in impressive stopping power and far more efficient heat dissipation. Ideal for towing heavy loads or for use on a large truck, this type comes into play when braking force is the predominant concern. Yes, they will wear the pads faster, but it will also open up a stopping force that may not otherwise be possible. Think of this type as rotors meant for commercial use, with passenger vehicle applications as more of a fringe benefit.
Drilled and Slotted
The final of the four types of brake rotors blends the features of the other three rotor models. Per the namesake, these rotors incorporate drilled holes, placed in a spiral pattern across the disc. They also incorporate slots to give that necessary air gap for added power and faster heat dissipation. Since all these adjustments could compromise the structural integrity of the rotor, manufacturing costs are higher. This trickles down to the consumer, making them the costliest of all types. However, given the high performance value, these are worthwhile for racing cars and other vehicles that need powerful brakes.
A brand held under the umbrella of General Motors, ACDelco is the dedicated supplier of factory parts for GM vehicles. It extends to aftermarket supplies for other vehicles, with options ranging from batteries to brake pads and rotors. Though you could find ACDelco products under one name or another since the mid-1900s, it only hit the market under its current title in 1995 with a branding overhaul. Since that time, it has continued to be a leading supplier of car parts on both the domestic and international market. A perfect example of its high-grade manufacturing is the ACDelco Advantage Non-Coated Front Disk Brake Rotor.
Owned and run by Advance Auto Parts, this subsidiary brand has solid traction in both the USA and Canada. It supplies all types of auto products, ranging from OEM parts to tools to finishes. Established in 1974, Carquest’s success grew in tandem with that of Advance Auto Parts. The business model is to integrate the vehicle component supply chain, reaching an impressive 3,400 stores by 2011. A testament to its quality (and affordability) is the Carquest Wearever Front Brake Rotor.
A high-end braking systems manufacturer, Brembo gears its products towards luxury vehicles and motorcycles. Though its items have a bit more of a price tag, it’s warranted for this company’s international reputation for innovation in the braking industry. By crafting specialized tools to enhance friction and control heat, it is a preferred brand for high-end rides ranging from BMWs to Porsches. Despite only opening in 1961, this Italian company quickly caught up to the competition and cornered the market for high-end braking supplies. Among its most popular selections is the Brembo Premium UV-Coated OE Replacement Disc Rotor.
With more than 35 years of experience under its belt, this large-scale manufacturer has two manufacturing plants. Based out of the United Kingdom and the United States, this company employs roughly 2,000 people. By focusing exclusively on brakes, this brand remains able to innovate pads and rotors, finding the best materials and designs for the job. It continues to adapt its product line to meet the changing needs of drivers. One of its best-reputed selections is the EBC Signature Brake Kit, equipped with pads, rotors, and hardware that make a fantastic brake system overhaul.
Operating from Bedford Park, Ill., Power Stop is an American manufacturer of high-performance brake components. Though the brand has only been in business since 1997, it’s garnered the accolades of car enthusiasts and racers everywhere thanks to its diversified line of brake pads, disc brake rotors, brake calipers, and more. A particularly popular product is the Power Stop Front Z23 Evolution Brake Rotor Kit.
Brake Rotor Pricing
- Under $30: Penny pinchers, rejoice — you’ll have many value-priced brake rotors to choose from. While many affordable rotors are well-built and long-lasting, there is no shortage of poorly-made rotors available today, so be sure to compare brake rotor quality before you buy inexpensive rotors.
- $30 to $90: The marketplace is flooded with high-quality brake rotors available in this price range. Shoppers can expect to find rotors from the best-known brands featuring a variety of finishes and materials.
- $90 and up: Some of the best replacement brake rotors are priced at over $90 per rotor. Consumers will find a wealth of high-performance and premium brake rotors in this price range, as well as complete brake rotor kits that include everything needed to replace old rotors.
As discussed above, there are four major types of brake rotors and each with advantages and disadvantages. Before you select your replacement brake rotors, consider your driving style, the age and style of your vehicle, and the environmental conditions you typically face when you’re out on the road.
Brake rotors are usually constructed from cast iron. This is an adequate material, but it's also the heaviest. Another material used is steel or layered steel. Steel rotors are lighter and dissipate heat better than cast iron. Aluminum is another material used for rotors, which is favored by motorcycles because it’s lightweight. Additionally, some rotors are constructed from carbon. Carbon rotors offer excellent heat dissipation and performance. Lastly, ceramic (and carbon-ceramic) rotors promise unbeatable cooling capacity and heat dissipation.
The brake rotors on your vehicle are subjected to a barrage of moisture, dirt, and debris every time you go for a drive. This may accelerate the spread of rust on your brake rotors, a particularly painful reality for those who see snow during their commutes. To protect brake rotors against rust and corrosion, some manufacturers coat their rotors with specialized protective chemicals. Coated rotors can reduce rust and corrosion, and ultimately extend their lifespan.
Most people choose replacement rotors like the ones that came with the car, so they purchase the same size rotors as their stock units. However, some drivers choose to purchase “big brake kits” to get beefed-up stopping power and a competitive edge on race tracks. These kits include larger rotors and other performance-built components. Bigger isn’t always better in terms of braking performance, though, so do your homework before buying one of these kits.
- Vehicle warranty. If your car is covered under a service contract, it likely bars you from using aftermarket brake rotors. Take a look at the underwriting on your warranty and ensure that you aren’t voiding your protection for the upgrade in braking efficiency. If you’re covered under an extended warranty, you may have to go through a mechanic to keep the service.
- Manufacturing warranty. Whether or not your car is under warranty, it helps if the rotor comes with extra protection. Ranging from one to two years in length, brake rotors that feature warranties tells you two things. First, it showcases that the manufacturer is confident in the product. Second, it gives you a good picture of the kind of durability you can expect.
- Installation. You’ll have to get the rotors into the car, and that can be seriously time-consuming. Look for brake rotors that come ready-to-use, without requiring any drilling or adjustments. Even when the rotors are set for install right out of the package, you’ll still need to wipe down the exterior using the proper chemicals.
- Where you’re driving. If you’re traveling predominantly on low-traffic highways, then your vehicle is likely to work well with smooth rotors. If you’re battling traffic and stopping frequently, then drilled rotors can offer a lot of benefits. Drilled and slotted rotors are best for those who drive on rougher roads. Planning to take your vehicle off-road? Look for rotors with a slotted design to give you that added stopping force.
Best Brake Rotors Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Use a micrometer to measure the wear on your brake rotor. Take five or six measurements around the rotor surface area where the brake pads made contact. Look in your vehicle’s owner manual for the original rotor thickness. If the rotor has worn down past the acceptable thickness level or if the wear is uneven, replacement is needed.
- Listen for a high-pitched whining or squealing noise during braking. When brake pads are completely worn down, you may hear a high-pitched sound from metal to metal contact. Additionally, a poorly-built or worn brake pad can cause grooves to appear in your rotor, which can cause a high-pitched noise.
- Take notice of any bad vibrations. If your ride shakes when you hit the brakes, then your brake rotor could be warped. This vibration means that your rotor has some wear on part of its surface and is no longer of consistent thickness.
- Know before you tow: Towing generates a massive amount of heat in your brake rotors and pads, increasing the risk of brake fade and failure. To sufficiently cope with this additional heat and stress, outfit your rig with cross-drilled, slotted, or drilled and slotted rotors.
- Treat your brakes well, and they’ll return the favor. Try to go the speed limit, do not tailgate, anticipate stops, and gradually slow down when you approach an intersection where you know you’ll have to stop. These simple measures can extend the life of your rotors and pads.
Q: How do you know if your rotors are bad?
It’s pretty easy to spot a damaged rotor. The first sign is a pulsation in your brake pedal and a shaky steering wheel when you’re coming to a stop. Rotors take on a lot of heat and aren’t meant to last forever, so routine checks on your brake system is important. Provided you find the best brake rotors for your vehicle, you can make them last a lot longer.
Q: Can you drive a car with bad rotors?
An effective braking system is critical to road safety. If you feel your rotors are damaged or that your brakes are otherwise compromised, park the car and ID the issue. It’s important to do this at the first sign of trouble; once the brake is warped, it’s all downhill. Faulty rotors can result in braking failure, and it simply isn’t worth the risk.
Q: Should I replace all four rotors?
Many car companies recommend replacing all four simultaneously. It makes sense, since the wear will be more even. However, provided it doesn’t impact your warranty, you can replace the front rotors first and rear ones later. Front rotors wear down faster, since braking forces your car’s weight in that direction.
Q: How do I “bed” my brake rotors?
The process to bed (break-in) your rotors varies, depending on the rotor manufacturer. It’s always a good idea to perform five gradual stops from 35 miles per hour, followed by four or five harder stops from 45 miles per hour. This process will remove any dirt or debris from the rotors and pads, as well as ensure that these components will wear evenly. We highly advise that you do this in an empty parking lot or on a back road.
Q: Should I change my brake pads along with my rotors?
While you can simply replace your rotors and leave the existing brake pads alone, we recommend you replace both components. Not only will you guarantee that both vital braking components will wear evenly, but it will also give your braking system the best performance and efficiency with these brand new parts. Brake pads are relatively inexpensive components, so you may as well replace them while you have access to the rotors.
Q: Should I change my brake fluid when I service my rotors?
Generally, most manufacturers recommend you change your brake fluid every 20,000 miles or two years, whichever comes first. If you can’t remember the last time you swapped out your brake fluid or if it looks filthier than the LA river, it’d be a wise idea to change it while you’re servicing your brake rotors and pads. Consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual for the type of brake fluid your ride needs.
Q: Should I resurface or replace my brake rotors?
If your rotors have worn unevenly, warped from heat, become damaged by worn brake pads, or are pitted from corrosion or rust, they may need to be resurfaced or replaced. Resurfacing restores a flat, smooth surface to your brake rotors. If your brake rotors cannot be resurfaced without becoming thinner than the manufacturer’s specifications, you’ll have to replace your rotors.
Q: How much does it cost to replace my rotors?
Though each individual shop will charge a different amount, you can generally expect to pay about $150 to $300 per wheel. If you’re a nifty DIY kind of guy or gal, you’ll only have to pay for the parts and any specialized tools needed to complete the job.
Q: How long will my brake rotors last?
The lifespan of brake rotors varies wildly from vehicle to vehicle. If you have aggressive brake pads in your ride, your rotors will wear down more quickly. If your brake rotors are made from poor-quality material, you can expect them to wear more quickly as well. Typically, brake rotors can last anywhere from 30,000 to 75,000 miles, but high-quality brake rotors can last even longer.
Now that you know exactly what to look for in the best brake rotors, you can find the perfect fit. It could be the Carquest Wearever Front Brake Rotor for its power and affordability. Or, if you’re looking to trim the budget, even more, the Bosch QuietCast Premium Front Disc Brake Rotor offers terrific value. The important thing is finding a set of brake pads that can safely bring your car to a stop, ensuring your safety on the road.
Chances are, you’ve got some brake rotor experience — so share your wisdom! Hit us up with your know-how in the comments below. Happy braking!