When you suddenly press the brake pedal, you actually entrust your safety to 40+ components to bring you to a sudden stop. One of these components that are quite unfamiliar to many is the brake rotor. In most cases, rotors are made from unprotected metal to provide the effectiveness of slowing down a moving vehicle. The worst thing about this technology is that under harsh conditions, the rotor can easily rust. For that reason, learning how to remove rust from brake rotors is very important.
You see, the rotor comprises a smooth metal disc that’s inserted inside the wheel. When brakes are applied, the brake pads get into contact with the metal disc to slow down the vehicle. But, with time, the rotor starts to rust. As a result, the brake pads fail to have good contact with the metal disc leading to brake failure.
So, in case you’ve been asking why it’s important to remove rust from brake rotors, then this is the reason why. But, you don’t have to worry. The process of removing rust from rotors is not as labor-intensive as it sounds. That’s because we’ve prepared a well-detailed step-by-step guide that will walk you through the process.
But First, Let’s Understand What Brake Rotors are
What are Brake Rotors?
Now, brake rotors are important components of any vehicle assembly. These are metal discs that are attached to your vehicle’s wheels and they mostly spin alongside the wheels. When you apply the brakes, the brake calipers squeeze the brake pads forcing them to press against the rotors.
This action leads to the creation of kinetic energy, which is automatically transformed to thermal energy or heat by the rotors. This action also leads to the creation of immense friction that stops the vehicle from moving.
Now, excessive heat on the brake system can lead to rapid wear on the brake pads and the brake calipers. To prevent this, most rotors are designed with ribs or hole perforations on the surface to dissipate as much heat as possible from the brake pads and other braking components.
Different Types of Brake Rotors
Before we discuss how to remove rust from brake rotors, it’s important that you understand the different types of rotors that are available. By knowing the different types of rotors, you’ll have an easy time replacing the rotors in case the damage caused by rust is substantial.
- Blank & Smooth:
The most common types of rotors you’re likely to find in almost any type of vehicle are the blank and smooth variants. These types of rotors consist of smooth, blank metal surfaces that go around them. They’re commonly found in most passenger vehicles and are very affordable.
The only issue with these types of rotors is that they wear down brake pads much quicker due to the accumulation of heat on the rotor’s surface. They’re also prone to failure as there’s no means of venting excess heat, gas, and water.
- Drilled Rotors:
Just as their name suggests, drilled rotors consist of holes drilled on the surface of the rotors. Now, to many, seeing a rotor with drilled holes may sound counterintuitive right? In fact, others may pursue it as a design flaw as drilled holes can reduce the surface area of the brake rotors making it hard for the brake pads to grab the metal disc when braking.
But, there are three reasons why rotors have drilled holes. The first reason is to dissipate heat. You see, when you brake, a lot of heat is created, which if not vented can lead to brake failure.
The second reason is gas buildup. Although it’s quite uncommon with modern rotors, earlier rotors suffered from gas buildup between the rotors and the brake pads leading to brake failure.
The third and last reason is water buildup. This mostly happens after washing your vehicle or when driving in a rainstorm. With drilled holes on the rotors, water will quickly move away from the surface making the rotors less slippery when brakes are applied.
- Slotted Rotors:
One downside of using drilled rotors is that they’re quite weak. Just like punching holes on a wall, drilled rotors can crack unexpectedly when extreme braking force is applied. Due to this reason, slotted rotors have come as perfect alternatives to solve this issue.
With slotted rotors, slots are perforated on the surface of the metal disc to dissipate heat, gas, and water from the surface of the rotors. Since they don’t have any drilled holes, slotted rotors are strong enough to be used on high-performance cars that require extremely high braking force.
Although they’re more durable, slotted rotors tend to wear down the brake pads quite fast making them way costly to maintain.
- Drilled & Slotted Rotors:
These types of rotors combine drilled holes and perforated slots on the surface of the rotors to enhance performance. In most cases, these types of rotors are used on high-performance cars such as Formula One vehicles where high braking force is needed.
You see, most sports cars generate a lot of heat due to their high speeds. Since enormous amounts of braking force is needed to stop them immediately, drilled and slotted rotors will be needed to stop such cars while still venting as much heat, gas, and water as possible from the rotors.
How to Remove Rust From Brake Rotors
Tools and Materials You’ll Need
- Floor jack
- Wrench set
- Wheel chocks
- Wire-bristled brush
- 6-Inches C-clamp
- Brake cleaner spray
- Clean rags
- Steel wool
- Step One: Perform a Test Drive
The first step of removing rust from your vehicle’s brake rotors is by performing a test drive. Now, three main reasons cause rust to accumulate on your brake rotors. These include:
- Leaving your car undriven for a long time
- Driving in a humid and damp environment
- An aging car that has rusted rotors
You see, the main reason why a test drive is important is that it tends to loosen the rust on the rotors leaving them clean and easily manageable. So, to test your vehicle, simply drive in an area with less traffic.
Secondly, perform some stop-and-go driving and keep checking the rotors from time to time. After a few minutes of driving, you’ll realize that the rust on your rotors will slowly break down leaving you with just a few rusty parts.
- Step Two: Assemble the Right Cleaning Products
So, once you’ve performed a test drive and confirmed the severity of the rust, the next step is to pick the right cleaning products that will remove the rust residue from your vehicle from harming the rotors.
In most cases, you should avoid using soapy detergents, cleaning agents with PTFE as well as those with gloss-enhancing abilities. The reason why you should avoid these types of cleaners is that they contain soap that can make the rotors slippery causing brake failure.
- Step Three: Lift Your Vehicle
Since it’s now clear the rotors need to be cleaned, it’s time to perform a rotor cleaning prep to ensure all parts within the braking system are checked. To do that, you’ll need to lift your vehicle off the ground. So, to do this, start by loosening the lug nuts on each wheel.
Next, use a floor jack to lift the vehicle off the ground. Here, you can use jack stands to keep the vehicle suspended securely in the air. When lifting your vehicle, it’s always advisable to use wheel chocks to secure the rest of the feet. This way, your vehicle will remain steady on the ground without shifting.
- Step Four: Remove Brake Pads and Calipers
After lifting your vehicle off the ground and removing the tires, the next step is to remove the brake pads and the calipers to gain easy access to the rotors. Now, some people will advise you not to remove the brake pads and the calipers to avoid damaging them.
However, it’s always recommended to remove these two. But, when removing them, you need to understand that these braking components are very fragile. Therefore, you have to keep them in a raised position to avoid any damage.
- Step Five: Check for Any Damages
Once the brake pads and the calipers are out of the way, the next step is to inspect the entire braking system to correct any flaws. So, inspect the brake pads to see whether they’re worn out. Also, measure their thickness to ensure they’re in good health. Secondly, inspect the caliper piston boot and the guide pin boots to see whether they’re torn.
- Step Six: Start Cleaning
The cleaning process is pretty much self-explanatory. Here, you’ll begin by assembling all your cleaning tools such as a basin for collecting runoff, steel wool, a clean rag, and a cleaning agent. With those, start by applying the brake cleaner directly on the rotor.
Give it a second then start wiping it with a clean cloth or rag. In case the rust is too stubborn to get off, then you can try scrubbing the surface with an abrasive material such as steel wool or wire brush. Scrub the area gently until it becomes shiny and spotlessly clean. In case of any hard-to-reach areas, then you can use a toothbrush to access them.
When you’re done, spray more cleaner on the rotor to make it shiny. When you’re done, you can repeat the procedure on other components such as the brake pads and the calipers to remove any contaminants.
- Step Seven: Reassembling
So, once you’re through removing rust from brake rotors, the last step is to reassemble everything together. In this case, you’ll start by assembling the brake pads and the caliper assembly in their right position.
When you’re done, pick the wheels and connect them to the rotors using lug nuts. Lower the vehicle to the ground using a floor jack and tighten the lug nuts thoroughly. Remove the chock blocks out of the way to free the vehicle.
Lastly, perform a test drive once more to see whether you’ll feel any notable improvement in the car’s braking performance. In case there’s an improvement, then congratulations! You’ve just removed rust from the brake rotors.
Cleaning your vehicle now and then to remove rust from the brake rotors is very important. This process prevents water from accumulating on the surface of the rotors. Remember, water and oxygen are the two main components that cause rust.
So, if moisture and air are eliminated on time, then you won’t have to struggle to take your vehicle to a repair shop to have it fixed with new brake pads and other components.