NuBrakes Blog What Are Brake Rotors And How Do They Work? Image

What Are Brake Rotors And How Do They Work?

If you are like most American drivers, you will apply your brakes around 200 times a day. That is 200 times you entrust your safety to 40+ components to bring you to a stop. Some of the main components in the stopping effectiveness of your vehicle are your rotors, which work to dissipate heat created from your brake pads.

What Are Rotors?

Brake rotors are the circular discs that are connected to each wheel (two in the front and two in the back). Rotors are designed to turn motion (kinetic energy) into thermal energy (heat).  When you press down on the brake pedal, it sends a signal via the master brake cylinder to your calipers to squeeze your brake pads together against the rotors’ large surface area. This friction created by the pads pressing up against the rotors resists the spin of the wheel, which slows its rotation and halts the movement of the car.  

What Are The Different Types of Brake Rotors?

When it comes time to replace your rotors, keep in mind that not all rotors are made the same. In fact, there are four different types to choose from, so before replacing your vehicle's rotors, make sure you're choosing the right one for your needs. The four different rotor types are: 

  • Blank & Smooth - Blank and smooth rotors are what you'll find on most passenger vehicles and feature a smooth, blank metal surface all the way around the rotor
  • Drilled - Drilled rotors feature drilled holes around the metal surface
  • Slotted - Slotted rotors feature long "slots" or lines in the metal surface
  • Drilled & Slotted - Drilled and slotted rotors combine the drilled holes and slots for enhanced performance

Luckily, choosing the right rotor for your vehicle is as simple as viewing the existing rotors on your vehicle. Another thing to keep in mind when replacing your vehicle's rotors is that the rotors on your family sedan probably won't work on your pickup truck, and vice versa. Now, let's take a look at the different rotors, what they look like, and their respective applications.

Blank & Smooth (Original Equipment-Specific)


As stated above, blank and smooth rotors are what you'll commonly find on most new passenger vehicles. Keep in mind that oe-specific rotors have a basic and premium option, and it all has to do with how they're manufactured. Unless you're a super aggressive driver or you're driving a luxury vehicle, blank rotors are a great choice for your vehicle. 

Basic oe-specific rotors are traditionally made from recycled steel and a lot of times don't perform as well as your original equipment manufacturer (OEM) rotors due to thicker internal fins, which in turn impact the cooling abilities of your rotors. If you're going to use premium ceramic brake pads with your new rotors, don't pair them with a basic set of rotors. Basic rotors will also end up reducing the life of your new pads, as they'll wear down quicker due to the increased heat.

Drilled Rotors


As the name suggests, drilled rotors have holes drilled throughout the surface.  These holes allow water, dust, and heat to easily dissipate off the surface of the rotor. Drilled rotors are a great choice for drivers that live in wetter climates as they'll help increase stopping power in wet, rainy conditions. If you're looking at drilled rotors for a performance vehicle, you'll want to stay away. Drilled rotors don't work well under high-heat and can fail pretty quickly in a race-type driving scenario.

Slotted Rotors


As mentioned before, slotted rotors feature slots around the exterior surface of the rotor. They're a great choice for heavy-duty trucks and SUVs, especially those that need improved stopping power when towing or hauling. The slots are designed to draw more air in between the pad and rotor surface, which improves cooling and heat dispersion. They're also designed to help remove excess brake debris and pad glaze that can occur at higher temperatures. While they are more efficient in a few ways, they come with the downside of not lasting as long, which also affects the life of your pads.

Drilled & Slotted Rotors


Lastly, drilled and slotted rotors are primarily designed for performance vehicles, like sports cars, that need enhanced cooling and heat dispersion. This type of rotor was designed to improve braking at high speeds during racing or track days. Where there is friction there is heat. Over time, the continual force and heat with off road or track driving can sacrifice the integrity of your rotors.

To minimize the negative effects of high performance driving, drilled and slotted rotors have both tiny holes and small trenches etched into the surface, acting as gutters for water and heat. 

While great at dissipating heat, these performance rotors also have some setbacks, the largest being durability. Because material has been removed from the surface, the edges can wear away brake pads faster than traditional smooth surfaces.  The removed material also decreases the heartiness of the rotor, making them more prone to cracks.  

When Do You Need To Replace Your Rotors?

Just like brake pads, brake rotors wear down a bit every time you apply the brakes. On average, rotors can last anywhere from 30,000 to 80,000 miles. Their exact lifespan depends on a few different variables:

  • The quality and durability of the rotor
  • How efficiently the rotor dissipates heat
  • The type of brake pad used
  • Driving conditions (i.e. city vs. highway)
  • Climate and exposure to elements like road salt
  • How aggressively you brake

While brake rotors used to be designed to last through two or three brake pad replacements, newer models can wear out just as quickly as your brake pads. Therefore, it may make sense to change them at the same time that you replace your brake pads. Common indications that you need new brake rotors include:

  • A grinding noise when braking
  • Pulsating or shaking while stopping
  • Grooves or ridges that you can feel on the surface of the rotor
  • Visibility rusted or thinned out rotors
  • Decreased brake performance

Additional signs that you need brake service, which may or may not have to do with the rotors, include squeaking or squealing coming from the brakes, a brake system indicator light coming on, veering to one side when braking, or decreased brake performance that results in taking longer to stop. These symptoms might originate with your brake pads, brake fluid, master cylinder, or caliper. If you notice anything out of the ordinary with your brakes, it’s safest to have them checked out by a mechanic as soon as possible.

Brake problems? Get a fast, upfront pricing estimate on mobile brake repair in your area. 

How Much Do Brake Rotors Cost?

If you're experiencing brake issues, it's common for your mechanic to take a look at both your brake pads and your rotors. Your brake mechanic will look for deformations, etched-in ware patterns, and other signs of distress, before recommending new rotors. If you need new rotors, you'll want to find a brake pad and rotor set that fits your budget. 

That being said, while there are several different rotor options, choosing one solely based off price isn't always the best way to go about it. Spending more on a premium brake setup can actually save you more money in the long run as higher-grade rotors and pads will wear better and last longer. The average rotor replacement cost is between $300 and $600 depending on your vehicle and the work involved.

The price variation can be attributed to a number of factors, including: 

  • The type, make, and model of your vehicle
  • What’s included in the brake service package and accompanying warranty
  • Fluctuations in part and labor costs
  • Variations in taxes, surcharges, and shop fees

Below are the average estimated costs for brake pad and rotor replacement from a few different authorities around the web.  It can be assumed that these ranges are for vehicles commonly found on the road. Luxury and performance vehicles will usually see higher price tags on brake replacement.



Estimate Total Cost (per axle)


Pads: $35-$150

Rotors: $60-$210

Pads: $80-$120

Rotors: $150-$200



Pads: $143-$164

Rotors: $168-$233

Pads: $87-$110

Rotors: $136-$171


Kelly Blue Book

Pads: $96 - $113

Rotors: $110 - $217

Pads: $118 - $140

Rotors: $91 - $145


Additional repair costs* commonly associated with rotor replacement include:

  • Brake fluid flush: $80-$120
  • Brake caliper replacement: $166-$251 per caliper
  • Brake line replacement: $156-$192
  • Master cylinder replacement: $397-501

*Sources: and

Looking for an affordable, convenient brake repair service?

At NuBrakes we pride ourselves on our transparency, convenience and affordability. If you're experiencing issues like grinding with your brakes, it may be time to replace your rotors. Let our experienced mobile brake specialists provide an on-site inspection at your home, apartment, or office. Here's what you can expect with NuBrakes: 

  • See a detailed pricing estimate before scheduling your repair
  • Get an honest assessment of what needs to replaced and what doesn't
  • We install only premium brake parts from brands we trust for our own vehicles
  • Have the peace of mind that your brakes are backed by our 2-year/ 24,000 mile warranty
  • Appointments available 7 days a week

Get a free estimate on mobile brake repair, and let our technicians come to you>>

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