Can I Drive With Warped Brake Rotors?

March 28, 2017

What Are Brake Rotors and How Do They Work?

Brake rotors are what give ‘disc brakes’ their name. They rotate with the wheel, and, when you press the brakes, they are squeezed from both sides by brake pads, forcing the wheel to stop.

As you can imagine, there is a lot of heat that builds up as the rotor is pinched between the pads, and that can lead to some issues that should not be ignored.

The heat generated through braking the vehicle is most evident in the front rotors since they provide most of the braking power for the vehicle. The rear rotors can warp as well, but, most often, the front will be to blame.

warped rotors

How Long Do Brake Rotors Last?

Under normal driving conditions, most brakes can withstand the heat, pressure and repeated use that is expected of them, but when operating conditions are more strenuous for braking components a couple of things begin to happen:

  • While holding the brake pedal, you may notice the brakes need to be pressed harder and harder to achieve the same amount of braking power. This is known as brake fade, and results from the brake rotors and pads becoming so hot they can no longer provide the same amount of friction. If this occurs, driving without pressing the brakes will cool them very quickly.

  • The brake rotors will begin to turn a shiny blue color, as a result of being overheated. This is clearly visible when looking at the entire surface of the rotor, and is expected after brake fade occurs. If this is noticed, braking power will be lessened as the rotors have developed ‘glazing’, and are now slippery.  If this occurs, the rotors should be changed or machined, and high speeds should be avoided.

  • A shaking steering wheel, quickly pulsating brake pedal, and generally poor braking performance are fairly certain indicators that the brake rotors are warped, and need to be replaced.

Can I Drive My Car With Warped Brake Rotors?

Driving with warped rotors is not considered safe, and the brake rotors can eventually crack or break, leaving the vehicle at an extreme loss of braking power.

When brake rotors become warped, the amount of force moving the steering wheel back and forth may be violent, and enough to lose control of the steering wheel. Braking power becomes much more diminished as the brake pads are only contacting part of the rotor, and the parts they touch are severely overheated. The hot spots on the rotor further contribute to brake fade and warpage. Additionally, the violent shaking at the wheels is causing undue stress and wear on suspension components.

How Often Should I Replace My Brakes?

Your brakes should be inspected at least once a year. If you're using your brakes heavily (Hey, San Franciscans!), up that to twice a year. Depending on your car and driving style, how often your brakes need to be replaced can vary.

Remember, the brakes are the most important safety feature on passenger vehicles, and if something seems wrong with the brakes, the vehicle should be inspected by a professional technician immediately. Figure out how much it will cost for you to replace the rotors on your vehicle, or find a trustworthy shop nearby that will do the replacement at a fair price. 

About the Author

Kimberlea Buczeke is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

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