How Long Do Brake Rotors Last – And How to Make Them Last Longer

Brake rotors are one of the key components of the braking system in any vehicle, along with brake pads. Not only do these parts have to work together to stop your wheels from turning, they have to do so over and over again, every time you use your brakes.

Your brakes might be used hundreds of times each day, at both high and low speeds, so they’re especially at risk of wear and tear compared to other parts of your vehicle.

While many drivers know to check their brake pads on a regular basis, the brake rotors might need to be checked and replaced too. In this article, we’ll take a look at how long brake rotors typically last, and how cryogenic treatment can make them last longer.

How long do brake rotors last?

Before we tell you how long brake rotors last, it’s important to understand how brakes actually work, and to know the difference between the two main types of brakes.

These days, most new cars are made with disc brakes on the front wheels, and either disc brakes or drum brakes on the rear wheels.

Disc brakes have a thin, flat disc – or rotor – that turns along with the wheel. When you engage the brakes, the brake pads apply pressure against the disc, squeezing it until it slows down and the wheels stop spinning.

Drum brakes don’t use rotors. Instead, they have a round cylinder, shaped like a drum, with little “shoes” inside that push out against the edges of the drum until it stops.

In most cases, disc brakes are more effective and don’t wear down as easily. Because of their shape, they don’t heat up as quickly and can stay dry in wet conditions.

However, disc brakes are more expensive to manufacture than drum brakes, and they can’t be used as a parking brake, which is why drum brakes are still often used for the rear wheels of many vehicles.

We can further divide disc brakes into two additional categories, depending on what kind of rotors they have: drilled brake rotors and slotted brake rotors.

Drilled brake rotors have small holes drilled through them, which allows more heat to escape and prevents water and gas from building up on the rotors, all of which make it harder for the brake pads to get a good grip on them.

The disadvantage to drilled brake rotors is that rotors with holes in them are weaker. For everyday driving, this usually isn’t an issue, but for performance driving, they might not be strong enough and could be prone to cracking.

Slotted brake rotors use a different design to remove heat, gas, and water. They have slots instead of holes to carry these elements off of the surface.

The disadvantage to slotted brake rotors is that they can be harder on your brake pads, causing them to wear down more quickly.

So as you can see, there several different types of brake designs, all of which have their own strengths and weaknesses. On top of that, the quality of their construction and the way you handle your vehicle can impact how long your brake rotors last.

As a general rule, you can expect your rotors to last anywhere from 30,000 to 70,000 miles, at which point they’ll need to be replaced.

How often do brake rotors need to be replaced?

How often you need to replace your brake rotors depends on several factors, including what they’re made out of and how you drive. Cheap brake rotors are often made out of scrap iron, which will wear down more quickly than higher-quality materials.

Ideally, your brake rotors will strike a balance between being too hard, which will wear down your brake pads, and too soft, which will wear down the discs themselves.

You don’t need to replace brake rotors as frequently as brake pads, but you should still keep an eye on them and look out for any signs of wear. If you don’t know what to look out for, bring your car to a mechanic for a professional brake service.

When you do replace your brake rotors, you should do it in pairs. Rotors with minimal wear can be resurfaced, which means that they’re smoothed down to make them last longer, but this is only a short-term solution, and isn’t always a good option.

Signs that your brake rotors must be replaced

Even before you bring your car to a mechanic, there are several signs to look out for to see if you need new brake rotors. If any of these things occur while driving, it’s a good idea to get them checked right away because you may need to replace them.

Squealing noises usually mean that the brake pads are starting to wear down. If you don’t replace them promptly, they can do damage to your brake rotors.

Grinding noises mean that the brake pads are already worn down, and are scraping against the rotors. Be sure to address this right away.

If you feel vibrations when you brake, then it’s the rotors themselves that are wearing down. Look out for unusual “pulses” through the brake pedal or steering wheel.

When you bring your car to the mechanic, they’ll look for visible signs that your brake rotors need to be replaced, such as cracks, warping, or rusting.

Remember, if the issues are minor, then the rotors can be resurfaced, but any major cracks or grooves will require both pairs to be replaced.

How to make brake rotors last longer

Aside from investing in higher-quality brake rotors to begin with, there are several things you can do to increase their lifespan.

One approach is to develop better driving habits. After all, most of the stress applied to your brake rotors is the result of hard, sudden stops or too-frequent braking.

To reduce some of this wear and tear, you can:

  • Stay within the speed limit
  • Avoid tailgating and stop-and-go traffic
  • Use engine braking on steep hills
  • Don’t overload your vehicle

In addition to improving your driving technique, you can also perform maintenance on other parts of your car, especially the tires and brake pads.

If your tire treads are under 4/32”, then they’re not going to have much traction on the driving surface, resulting in more time and effort to brake.

Likewise, your brake pads are there to protect your rotors from the metal base beneath the pads, which can wear down your rotors if it rubs against them directly.

Cryogenic treatment of brake rotors – how does it work?

Another thing you can do is to cryogenically treat your brake rotors. Cryogenic treatment involves bringing a metal down to extremely low temperatures (such as under −300 °F), which changes the crystal structure of the metal and makes it more abrasive resistant and less susceptible to warping..

How does it work? Cryogenic treatment is a one-time process that’s done under tightly controlled conditions using a proprietary cryocooling system. A standard process might involve bringing the metal down to a very low temperature (−300 °F), heating them to a very high temperature (300 °F), and then returning them to room temperature.

Cryogenic treatment is often used on steel tools, but it can be applied to a wide range of metal devices, including brake rotors, transmissions, and other car parts.

While it might seem like a simple process, it has a very complex effect on the structure of the metal, turning into a stronger form of steel called martensite. When done right, it can increase the lifespan of the metal and reduce the risk of cracking or breaking .  

How effective is cryogenic treatment of brake rotors?

Cryogenic treatment can provide several benefits to brake rotors, including less warping and cracking, a reduced environmental impact, and an increased lifespan overall.

Independent labs have shown that cryogenic treatment results in a significantly longer lifespan – up to 300% – without reducing the effectiveness of the brakes.

Also, cryogenically treated brakes shed less metal, reducing the amount of copper that finds its way into waterways and sewer systems.

Finally, since treated brake rotors don’t need to be replaced as often, the process can save you money and cut down on your costs by up to one-third.

Be sure to treat your rotors when they are brand new, and not after they’ve been used, to avoid sealing in any micro-cracks or other irregularities.

We can make your brake rotors last

Cryogenic treatment is a one-time process that can add years to the life of your brake rotors. Whether you’re considering treatment for a single vehicle or an entire fleet, the team at CTP Cryogenics can provide you with a custom quote for your business.

We have over 30 years of experience providing controlled thermal processing services across a range of industries, with a proprietary process specific to each application. 

Plus, with four facilities located in the U.S., you won’t have to wait long to get your brake rotors treated at a facility close to you. Contact us today to find out more about how our treatment process works, and get a custom quote tailored to your industry.