A Beginners Guide to Brakes, Rotors, & Pads

Daniel McDonald
Daniel McDonald10 min read
A Beginners Guide to Brakes, Rotors, & Pads

The brake system comprises of various components that play an integral role in stopping our cars. These components take on the heat to ensure your vehicle slows down and stops, keeping you and others safe on the road.

Some of the essential components include brake pads and rotors. These parts absorb the pressure and heat when you hit the brake pedal. Therefore, you must ensure proper maintenance for optimal brake performance. As a driver, you must understand how these parts operate to ensure proper care and maintenance.

When we talk about ensuring your brakes are in optimal condition, you must watch out for a few signs. These will indicate a problem with your vehicle that needs your immediate attention. We will discuss the common signs that tell you there might be a problem with your car's brakes.

Also, we'll let you know how you can maintain and take proper care of your brake pads and rotors. But before that, let's look at what these essential components are and how important they are for your car's overall brake system.

What Are Brake Pads?

The brake pads are an integral part of your car, and you will find these flat discs in the hydraulic clamp (also called calipers). When pressing the brakes, the master cylinder will exert pressure on the calipers, which will push the brake pads into the rotor.

The brake pads will bear the entire heat and pressure while braking. Manufacturers use multiple materials to make brake pads. But regardless of the material they use, they all serve the same purpose, which is to increase the friction on the flat discs.

Since the friction transforms the kinetic energy into heat to slow and stop the car, your braking system needs to maximize friction. Brake pads are subject to wear and tear and require a change from time to time. So when you are facing issues driving your car, there is a chance you need to get a replacement brake.

Standard Options for Brake Pads

Drivers have a wide range of options that they can choose from for their brake pads, and let's go over some of them.

Ceramic Brake Pads

The ceramic is an ideal choice for high-performance cars. Some of the features that make the ceramic brake pads an ideal choice for these cars are their durability, ability to endure high levels of heat, and long lifespan.

Organic Brake Pads

If you are concerned about the environment and want to use eco-friendly parts, organic brake pads are the right choice. These brake pads consist of glass, rubber, and a robust synthetic fiber called Kevlar.

However, the drawback of organic brake pads is that they don't have better durability and a longer lifespan. Therefore, they are a good option for lightweight, small, and eco-friendly cars.

The friction in your tires makes them wear down, which can greatly affect the overall performance of your vehicles. So, it is vital to ensure you keep them in proper condition. If it needs replacing, you should do it quickly to ensure your car can stop when you need to.

Semi-metallic Brake Pads

The semi-metallic brake pad is a popular choice for many new automobiles. This pad is made from the following elements that bond with each other with resin:

  • Brass

  • Copper

  • Graphite shavings

  • Steel

The best thing about this pad is that they are budget-friendly and have a good lifespan. However, the semi-metallic pads can decrease your fuel efficiency. The metal part will also wear down the other elements in the braking component of your car.

The semi-metallic brake pads also take more time to warm up than other pad types. Consequently, it can cause a drop in your car's response time if you drive in colder weather.

What is a Brake Rotor?

Besides the brake pad, the rotor also plays a crucial role in stopping your car. When you put your foot down on your brake pedal, the pad will compress against the rotor. Thus, it causes your car to slow down and eventually stop. The rotors have two iron discs that are linked via ribs.

These ribs make the heat dissipation possible, causing the rotor to cool down. Rotors can wear down after some time, and they won't be able to dissipate heat as they did before. Therefore, you need to replace the rotor to ensure they work properly.

Different Types of Brake Rotors

Just like the pad, you will find different types of Brake rotors. You can choose any one of them as per your driving style. Different performance rotors will help you enjoy a better drive. Let's go over them to help you make a better decision.

Drilled Brake Rotors

The drilled rotors have holes that allow the air, gas, and fluids to pass through. Though the holes can let these things pass through the drilled brake rotor, it will decrease the surface area available for the bad pad to apply pressure.

As a result, there won't be much surface area left for it to press against. Moreover, the drawback of the drilled rotors is that they are sensitive and might even crack.

Slotted Brake Rotors

Unlike the drilled brake rotors, the slotted rotors have oblique ridges. These ridges are on their surface, allowing the water, air, and gas to pass through. While these rotors offer much better durability than their drilled counterparts, they can wear down the pad surface much faster.

How Do You Know if There is A Problem with Your Brake Pad or Rotor?

Ensuring the pad and rotor are in perfect working condition is vital for your car to perform better. If they are not functioning as before, it is time to get replacement brake pads and new rotors. There are plenty of signs that your pad and rotors need to be replaced.

If you replace the pads and rotors in your vehicle on time, you will be able to keep yourself and others on the road safe. Therefore, you need to pay special attention to these signs and let a professional mechanic take a look at them. These experts will run tests and then let you know if they need to replace these parts.

Screeching and Squealing Noise

If you notice an odd brake noise, it's a sign that there is a problem with your pads or rotors. The brake will not work correctly, creating a screeching noise. The pads have a metallic shim that creates a loud noise when braking.

Since the shim will wear down to a dangerous level, it can cause a loud screeching noise when braking. This noise is an indication that your brake needs a replacement.

It is better to check your brake discs as soon as you hear any strange noises. Checking it early on can save you from serious repair expenses in the future.

Growling or Grinding

Another way to identify a potential problem with your brake pads or rotors is when you hear a growling or a grinding noise. This noise indicates that the pads have worn down to their lowest points. Therefore, the caliper and brake discs are coming into contact, which is creating the metal grinding-like noise.

The grinding noise indicates that the disc brake systems need an urgent inspection, as there could be something wrong. So, it is better to get a mechanic to look as soon as you hear any odd noise at it to enjoy the optimal braking performance. The mechanic will check the brake rotors and pads and ensure everything is in working order.

Brake Pad Indicator

Most vehicles have a brake pad indicator that shows possible issues with the car's brake system. These indicators are on the car's dashboard close to the check engine light. So, if you see the pad indicator lights going on and off on your dashboard, you should get your car checked by a professional.

When Is It The Right Time Replace Brake Pads and Rotors?

Like every other component in your vehicle, your brakes have a specific lifespan. These components will eventually wear down and start negatively affecting your vehicle's performance. Since the pads and rotors won't create enough friction, you have to resort to hard braking to stop your car.

Therefore, you should have a professional to know if you need new rear brake pads, a brake disc, rotor, or any other component in your vehicle's braking system. Usually, you will have two options for your brake pads and rotors. Let's explore them in more detail.


Even if you don't see any problem with your brakes, it is optimal to replace the pads and rotors from time to time. Not only does replacing them leave your car in optimal working condition, but you can also reliably stop your car.

The brake disc and every other brake system component have a particular lifespan. Usually, the pads are the first to wear down, and you need to replace them after some time. Though you might choose to replace the pads without servicing the rest of the system, that is not a wise decision.

The pads and rotors operate together, and experts will recommend you replace both when changing out either. The technician will check your rotors to ensure they are in proper working condition when putting in a replacement. They will check whether:

  • The rotors are in a satisfactory state

  • Measure more than the minimum thickness

  • It is bent or distorted

If everything is fine, you can use your old rotors with the new brake pads. Many drivers make the mistake of only replacing the brake and leaving the faulty rotors. Doing so will make driving more difficult since the current rotors will wear down unevenly.

Since the new pads will not match the shape of the rotors, since they change shape over time due to wear and tear, they will affect the car's performance. You might notice your vehicle will shake when driving or hear a weird noise when applying the brakes.


Most vehicle owners don't feel comfortable replacing their brake rotors and brake pads, as it might just be too expensive or hectic for a few drivers to go buy replacement brake pads or brake rotors. So for them, the best option is to resurface both these parts.

Resurfacing is the method that ensures your rear brake pads press against a smooth surface on the rotors. This process entails removing a layer from the rotors to make the surface more smoother. The smooth surface will create better friction and create more stopping power for your car.

However, resurfacing has a drawback: it will cause the brake rotors to wear down at a much faster. Eventually, you will find yourself using the replacement option since your brake rotor won't work the same way it did before.

Which Option To Go For?

Ideally, it is best to replace both parts, since you can ensure your brake pads and rotors perform decently. You will need replacement brake pads after every 25,000 to 55,000 miles. However, the distance you travel will depend on various factors, such as:

  • Type of pads and rotors in your vehicle

  • Vehicle's make and model

  • Weather and driving conditions in your area

  • Typical driving habits

5 Reasons Why Toyota Brakes Wear Out

  1. Normal Wear and Tear: Brakes are designed to wear out over time due to their constant usage. As you apply the brakes while driving, the friction between the brake pads and the brake rotors gradually wears down the brake material. Such wear can indirectly lead to engine start issues and cause reduced fuel efficiency.

  2. Driving Habits: Aggressive driving, such as frequent hard braking or riding the brakes, can accelerate brake wear. Prolonged and heavy braking generates more heat, causing the brake pads to wear out faster.

  3. Environmental Factors: Driving in areas with high levels of dust, debris, or road salt can accelerate brake wear. These particles can accumulate on the brake components, leading to increased friction and wear.

  4. Brake Fluid Contamination: Brake fluid absorbs moisture over time, which can lead to brake fluid contamination. Moisture in the brake fluid can result in corrosion and damage to the brake components, leading to premature wear.

  5. Quality of Brake Components: The quality of the brake components used during manufacturing or replacement can influence their durability. Inferior or low-quality brake pads may wear out faster than higher-grade options.

Why It's Essential to Maintain Your Brake's Health

Maintaining your brake's health is of utmost importance for several critical reasons:


Brakes are the primary safety feature in any vehicle. A well-maintained brake system ensures that your vehicle can stop quickly and efficiently, reducing the risk of accidents and potential injuries to you, your passengers, and others on the road.

Stopping Distance

Regular brake maintenance ensures optimal braking performance, reducing the stopping distance when you apply the brakes. This can be particularly crucial in emergency situations, where every inch counts in avoiding a collision.

Prevent Costly Repairs

Addressing brake issues early can prevent minor problems from escalating into major, costly repairs. Regular maintenance helps catch and resolve brake wear and other potential issues before they cause further damage to the braking system.

Extended Brake Life

Proper maintenance, such as replacing worn brake pads and rotors on time, helps extend the life of your vehicle's brake components. This ensures better longevity and cost-effectiveness over the vehicle's lifespan.

Fuel Efficiency

Maintaining a healthy braking system contributes to better fuel efficiency. Properly functioning brakes result in smoother driving, reducing unnecessary braking and acceleration, which can help save fuel.

Preserve Resale Value

A well-maintained vehicle with a reliable brake system retains higher resale value. Prospective buyers are more likely to trust a vehicle that has been properly cared for, including its essential safety components like brakes.

Compliance with Vehicle Warranty

Following the manufacturer's recommended brake maintenance schedule can help ensure your vehicle remains compliant with the vehicle warranty terms.

Peace of Mind

Knowing that your vehicle's brakes are in excellent condition provides peace of mind while driving. You can focus on enjoying your journeys, confident that your vehicle's critical safety system is working optimally. Don't forget to seek professional help when you notice something wrong. They can help you with diagnosing the issue and finding the relevant solution.

Final Word

Ensuring your vehicle's brake system is in perfect working condition will give you an optimal driving experience. You will enjoy the best performance from your brake rotor and pad. Moreover, you can keep yourself and others on the road safe from possible accidents.

You can get a professional to look at your brake pad and rotor to know whether it's in the proper working condition. You can also change or repair your own brake rotors with the right tools and process. But, if you are not confident, then it is better to let an expert handle this for you.