Rust Problems With Your Brake Rotors

If you’ve noticed surface rust on your brake rotor, it’s most likely nothing of concern. Surface rust will be cleaned off with normal driving. However, if the rust has gone on to cause pitting in the rotor, you have a larger issue. This usually takes months of a car sitting. 

If you drive the car for a while and the friction surface (where the pads meet the rotor) looks corroded and pocked instead of smooth and shiny, the rotor will need to be turned or replaced.

Is Surface Rust on Rotors Bad?

Depending on the condition of your vehicle and the rust itself, rusty rotors could mean nothing at all or signal that there may be a larger problem.

First, the good news: Light surface rust caused by overnight moisture is usually cleaned off by simply engaging the brakes the next time you drive.

However, if your vehicle has been sitting out for a considerable amount of time, rust can eat away at the rotor, causing its originally smooth surface to become pocked and corroded.

Is It Normal to Have Rust on Brake Rotors?

Some types of braking system rust are normal, and no cause for alarm. For example, if a vehicle is parked outside during a rainstorm or heavy snowfall, a thin layer of rust may cover the surface of brake rotors. As moisture coats the brake rotor’s surface, a very thin film of rust is left behind. But don’t worry. Because the layer of rust is so thin and exists only at the surface of the rotor, it will be quickly rubbed off by the brake pads after a few moments of driving. Each time the brakes are applied, brake pads clean brake rotor surfaces of contaminants, including light surface rust.

How Do You Keep Rotors From Surface Rusting?

Want to prevent or reduce rust from building up on your brake rotors? Consider the following tips:

  • Drive your vehicle: One of the easiest ways to prevent your brake rotors from rusting is simply to drive your vehicle regularly, even if only for short distances. When surface rust is removed naturally by engaging your brakes, oxidation isn’t able to accumulate and cause damage.
  • Choose quality rotors: You should also make sure you have quality rotors in the first place. Brake rotors that are Zinc-Plated and Geomet(R) coated rotors offer maximum protection against rust and corrosion. 
  • Use a garage: Another way to minimize rust from forming on your brake rotors is to keep your car out of the elements, preferably in a garage or other covered structure. This will protect your vehicle from moisture buildup and reduce the likelihood of developing rust issues.
  • Keep your vehicle clean: Washing your car regularly is an effective way to maintain your vehicle because it removes dirt and other contaminants that get into places they shouldn’t. With routine cleanings, you can extend the overall working life of your vehicle.
  • Never lubricate squeaky brakes: Rusty rotors can cause brief squeaking that often disappears when the brake pads wipe them clean. No matter what is causing your squeaky brakes, never apply lubricant to the rotors or the friction side of the brake pads.

Do Rusty Brake Rotors Need to Be Replaced?

Brake rotors do not last forever. Every time you engage your brakes, rotors wear down incrementally. The rate at which rotors wear depends on several factors, including the quality of the rotors, the types of brake pads being used, how fast the rotors cool down, your driving style, and the amount of exposure your rotors have to moisture and road salt – elements that can create excessive rust and corrosion.

We recommend replacing or resurfacing rotors every time new pads are changed to properly bed the new pads and promote a fresh initial friction layer.

If your rusty rotors show visible signs of being worn out, you should replace them. Physical signs of worn-out brake rotors include:

  • Heavy rust: Brake rotors will rust. It’s usually just surface rust that wears off after a couple of miles of driving. If the rust is deep, however, to the point of pitting, it is possible that the rotors need to be replaced.
  • Scoring: When the frictional material on brake pads wears down severely, scoring usually occurs. This occurs because, without sufficient padding, the underlying metal scrapes against the rotor during deceleration. This can lead to deep grooves on the rotor’s surface over time.
  • Grooves: If you can see and feel noticeable grooves, it is time for new brake rotors. For vehicles with hub caps that do not expose the rotor, the wheel will need to be removed in order to inspect your brake rotors. On worn rotors, you can usually feel or see a noticeable lip if you follow the rotor to the edge.
  • Vibrations when braking: Warped or excessively worn rotors cause irregular vibrations that can be felt in the pedal, and occasionally through the vehicle’s chassis or steering wheel. Warped brake rotors can cause the brake pedal to feel as though it is pulsating when pressed.

Have a Question? PowerStop Can Help

At PowerStop, our mission is to provide top-quality performance brakes for every vehicle on the road. If you have questions regarding any of our products, contact us now online or toll-free at 888-863-4415. Our customer service team is available to answer your questions Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (CST). Se habla español.


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