Turning Brake Rotors vs Replacing

If you’re considering performing maintenance on the brakes of your car yourself, you probably already understand two critical truths: Properly functioning brakes are critical and DIY brake maintenance saves a ton of money.

Although saving money is the primary objective, no one wants to risk death for the sake of a few bucks. In the ongoing debate over turning rotors versus getting new ones, any argument presented essentially comes down to balancing the weight assigned to safety and the weight given to cost.

The more risk averse among us will argue that any compromise to performance is not worth the risk, while the more reckless among us may argue that turning isn’t necessary at all. When weighing your position on this topic, it is important to consider your personal resources and values.

When should brake rotors be RESURFACED?

Ideally, resurfacing (also called “turning” or “cutting”) brake rotors should be done whenever the brake pads are changed. Just as basketball shoes don’t work well on a sandy basketball court, new brake pads can’t perform to their best when used in conjunction with oxidized, rutted, and marred rotors.

However, most will agree that turning at each brake service is overkill for most drivers with most cars. A better guideline would be to have rotors resurfaced every other brake change. Anytime the brake pads have been allowed to wear down to the wear indicator causing an audible squeal under braking, the rotors should be resurfaced and inspected.

When should brake rotors be REPLACED?

cracked rotor needs replacement

While some will argue that rotors should be replaced with every brake job, there are certain scenarios in which everyone will agree that replacement is necessary. Rotors should definitely be replaced whenever there is any type of damage to the rotor.

Cracks, dents, excessive warping, and excessive corrosion are common conditions that will make replacement mandatory. Otherwise, rotors can last thousands of miles without need for replacement.

Replacing can be done by just about anyone. Simply go to your local auto parts store or online to purchase new rotors compatible with your vehicle. Then all you’ll need is a floor jack, pair of jack stands, lug wrench or impact wrench, wheel chocks, and a couple other tools to remove the brake caliper and rotor.

Where can I get my rotors turned?

When you’ve determined that your rotors should be turned and not replaced, there are a few places to turn to that specialize in this service. The majority of certified repair centers or tire centers will be able to perform this service.

Turning rotors is a fairly simple task and costs for the service should be minimal. Be prepared to be flexible, as many shops are busy during weekend prime hours and may be apprehensive to break away from major projects for such a simple job. Also, some shops will not perform this service without seeing the vehicle and evaluating the brakes for themselves.

before and after resurfacing

Another option for turning rotors is some of the major auto parts stores such as Pep Boys or O’Reilly’s. This is probably the simplest option, as they offer the service specifically for people like us.

Keep in mind that they are auto parts suppliers and will likely try to talk you into replacing the rotor instead of turning it. If you can make it past the sales pitch, the technicians will follow strict guidelines in determining if your rotors can be turned and if they can, the job will be done swift and professional.

How much does it cost to turn brake rotors?

Depending on where you go, turning rotors can be cheap to really cheap. Auto Parts stores charge pre-defined flat rates for the service which are typically set in stone. Most places will resurface a rotor anywhere from $10-$25 each. Small local shops will generally be on the cheaper end while larger chains will be more.

A repair facility may negotiate with you, especially when turning all four rotors, but will typically make sure they cover their hourly labor rate at a minimum, which could leave you paying a little more in the end. Some facilities even have the ability to turn your rotors while they are still on the car. This will generally cost you a few bucks more but it might be worth the added convenience.

It’s best to avoid dealerships which can end up charging you upwards of $50 or more per rotor. At that point, it would make more sense to simply buy new rotors every time.

Can I resurface brake rotors myself?

In general, attempting to resurface rotors yourself is a bad idea. Unless you are fortunate enough to have substantial machining equipment and a good caliper or micrometer at home, turning rotors requires fairly precise machining tools.

Some owners have been known to “scuff” new or very good condition rotors between brake jobs, but this doesn’t equate to resurfacing. Special care must be taken to ensure adequate thickness remains after turning as well as ensuring the new surface is true to the turning axis and not wavy. Any inconsistencies in the surface will greatly impact stopping feel and power.

In other words, don’t risk it!

How long do rotors last before replacement is necessary?

If brake pads are changed at a regular interval, brake rotors can last over 80,000 miles. Depending on your driving style and conditions, brake pads can last 20,000 miles or longer.

If pads are changed before reaching the wear indicator, the surface remains smooth and consistent, protecting the surface of the rotor. If the brake pads are ever allowed to wear past the indicator, the surface becomes inconsistent and begins to dig into the surface of the rotor.

The reduced effectiveness of the brake pads also generates excess heat, which can warp the rotors out of shape. In this case, repair or replacement is required immediately.

Conclusion

When deciding your position on turning versus replacing, you must understand that you have more to consider than your personal safety. You have a responsibility to everyone sharing the road with you to keep your vehicle in a state that allows it to be operated safely. You may not have a family to consider, but the person in the car in front of you just might.

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