Just like your brake pads, your brake rotors wear down over time. The heat and friction generated when you bring your 1,500+kg vehicle down from 100 km/h to a stop thousands of times over eventually wears away at even the toughest metal.
Replacing your rotors is something you should do once every 110,000 km or so. It’s a job an experienced DIY wrencher can do at home, but even if you do use a mechanic there’s value in buying your parts upfront. That’s because mechanics and dealers will charge a mark-up on parts they sell to you. It also guarantees you have the parts when you need them, and your car or truck won’t be waiting in the dealership after they realize they don’t have your size in stock after all.
Rotors come in all sorts of styles though and choosing the best brake rotor for your ride can be confusing. Read on for a guide to the pros and cons of drilled, slotted, or smooth rotors; and why that debate isn’t likely to matter to most drivers. In the meantime, here are our favourite brake rotors according to your driving needs and style.
Brembo Sport line slotted rotors are the go-to brake rotor for any car lover who wants performance, good looks, and street cred from their brake upgrade. Brembo’s lineup is an OEM fit replacement for most cars on the market today, and the Sport series is aimed at the street driver who takes their car out for the occasional track day.
Brembo brakes feature their PVT (pillar venting technology) which has a much bigger effect on heat dissipation in real-world driving conditions and track conditions than the sweet-looking slots do. This brand is known for high-quality rotors that perform consistently even under extreme conditions.
The Sport line also features a cross-drilled variant, but it’s the slotted ones that are the better buy for 99 per cent of drivers.
There’s a style component to these that car enthusiasts adore, and the outer rim is coated in a protective UV film to help it maintain that visual appeal for miles to come.
The QuietCast range of brake products from Bosch offers affordable OEM spec fit and performance for regular use. Bosch’s aluminium brake rotors are durable and coated in zinc to protect from rust.
The company is well regarded in automotive communities for its automotive electronic products but is less known among consumers for other parts. Nonetheless, the QuietCast rotor is a quality unit albeit built to a consumer-level price point. They’re not fancy, but they do the job well and do it consistently for a long time, making them a good option for your daily driver.
At this price point, you can rest assured you’re not skimping on quality while still leaving plenty of room for a decent meal while you wait for your service. If you’re a DIYer, you’ll find this rotor comes ready to install. You do have to buy each rotor separately, which is surprising because Bosch rightly recommends that you change your rotors in pairs each time.
If you work your truck hard and tow heavy loads on a regular basis you’ll appreciate the performance and resilience of the Power Stop Z36 brake kit. Towing is one of the few times you’ll actually benefit from the cross-drilled and slotted style rotors on the roads, and Power Stop backs up those features with a robust zinc-plated disc.
The package is a surprisingly quiet and dust-free option given the performance level, and owners appreciate the durability of the set-up.
This Power Stop kit is at other end of the spectrum when compared to the Bosch units above that are only sold in singles: these are only sold by in kits that come-by-the-axle, or more commonly as a whole-vehicle kit. Both versions come with rotors, pads, and hardware for a full brake replacement. That means a hefty sticker-shock up front, and even when you factor out the per-wheel cost and everything involved this is still on the higher end of the price bracket. That said, if you regularly tow a trailer — especially in the upper reaches of your truck’s towing capacity, you’ll need the heat dissipation and power these premium heavy-duty brakes afford.
For a no-fuss ready-matched OEM-fit upgrade for your truck you can’t go past the Power Stop Z36 brake kit.
Wagner’s Premium E-Shield rotor is an affordable, fuss-free rotor designed for basic use in mainstream vehicles that offers a stylish upgrade. The “E-Shield” electro coating Wagner applies to its brake rotor is merely a form of powder coating, but it does give the rotors a stark visual presence in the wheel well, while also protecting them from rust protection.
While other sets on this list come coated in a thin film of oil to prevent them from forming surface rust during shipping, Wagner ships its units in a vapour-proof plastic bag. It’s a cheap and easy solution to the ever-present surface rust that forms quickly on all rotors. If you’ve ever left your car for a week you’ll know what we mean. The benefit of this shipping method to you, is that you don’t need to apply brake cleaner and wipe the rotor down before installing. In fact, Wagner says not to use brake cleaner during the installation of their discs — most likely because it will erode the powder coat.
The rotors come turned and machined so there is no break-in period, which means you can be on the road and stopping safer, sooner. As a budget offering, there’s no slots or drilled holes here, just a smooth-face and an affordable replacement for your older, worn brakes on a budget.
AC Delco is a supplier to General Motors and produces OE parts for Chevy, Cadillac, GMC, and Buick. Their brake rotors can fit other makes and models, but this hub and rotor assembly will only work on select GM products.
The reason it’s in this list is for two reasons: one, it offers genuine OEM-spec fitment and quality, and two, to point out that some vehicles combine the brake rotor and hub into one pressed-in assembly. In those cases you can often separate them, but it is generally easier and just as cost effective to replace the whole unit at once. These assemblies include the hub, wheel bearings and ABS speed ring — the jagged ring that helps your ABS sensor measure wheel speed.
You’ll find a hub and rotor assembly especially useful on older vehicles with high mileage, where trying to pry apart the hub and rotor is too difficult.
EBC Brakes is a performance-oriented brand that produces drilled and slotted rotors at an affordable price point for the car lover with sporting intentions. We delve deeper into the virtues and perceived virtues of drilled and slotted rotors on street vehicles below, but for sheer presence and curb appeal: there’s nothing better.
These floating rotors from EBC back up the style with at least enough substance to keep the occasional track-day driver happy. If you have big wheels and an open spoke pattern, you’ll appreciate the visual impact of this set up peaking out from your wheel well. Pair them with a vibrant coloured brake caliper for extra effect.
As a performance upgrade these pads will undoubtably boost stopping power vs OEM units on any mainstream car, but you’re unlikely to approach the braking thresholds that benefit most from this technology on the street. Still, they look cool as all get out and stop traffic both figuratively, and literally.
Over the course of this guide, we highlighted drilled, slotted, and smooth rotors. There are benefits to all three, but here’s the real, honest, truth: Unless you’re on a track the main benefit of drilled and slotted rotors is their looks. They look cool and sporty. At road speeds (or at least the speeds you should travel at on the roads) the positives are minimal. A quick brake [get it?] down:
Smooth rotors offer great value, longevity, and consistent performance in most conditions. Modern rotors can easily handle the ardours of even the odd track day here and there without issue.
Slotted rotors offer sporty looks, better water and heat dissipation, and a tiny, tiny bit more braking “bite” in the initial phase. That’s because the leading edges of the slots actually generate a higher coefficient of friction than a smooth surface – despite having less contact surface overall. If it’s very wet and you’re a heavy brake who drives in a “spirited” way – slotted rotors will help. There aren’t a lot of downsides, except that they cost more and are a little noisier than smooth ones.
Drilled rotors offer supercar looks, phenomenal heat dissipation, and decent water dissipation. They’ll give you more bite in the first phase of braking, but they could cause the pads to wear unevenly. Cheaper cross-drilled rotors also have a habit of cracking more often than other rotors, especially under abuse. Quality cross-drilled rotors like the Sport line from Brembo don’t have that issue.
Floating rotors allow a modest amount of movement of the braking ring, which allows it to contact the brake pad surface more evenly and also reduces pedal travel. You can often replace the outer ring of a floating rotor without replacing the whole unit, and also, they usually weigh less. Which is good if you race. If you just drive on the street, they’re an expensive piece of automotive jewelry.
You have probably heard folks talk about honing, machining, or skimming rotors. The plan is to get them back to smooth and even, so they provide the original amount of braking force through consistent friction.
These days the bulk of the cost of a brake rotor replacement is in the labour, which you’ll pay even more of if you’re honing the rotor. Modern discs are thin to begin with but are also designed to wear consistently and avoid warping – which negates the need for machining. A pair of rotors is affordable, and gives you piece of mind for the future.
While you’re at it, remember to change your pads and even brake fluid at the same time as your rotors. Not only is it simple to do while the brakes are apart anyway, but the best brake rotors are nothing without the best brake pads to match.