Your brakes serve a very basic purpose: stopping your car. But there are choices to make when dealing with your brakes, not least of all choosing the right kind of brake rotor.
Brake rotors can be made of six different materials, each with its own advantages. Let’s take a look at each.
1. Cast Iron
This is the very definition of old school when it comes to a brake rotor. It’s one or two pieces and gets the job done. In fact, it’s the most common material for brake rotors. The right design (usually two-piece) can even work well in a performance vehicle. However, it’s also the heaviest option, which affects the overall weight of your car and its handling, since that weight is right up there with your front wheels.
Steel has been the racer’s choice for years, because a steel brake rotor is thinner, weighs less and handles heat better. The downside: Steel rotors aren’t as durable as some others, and warped rotors can cause noise and a pulsating pedal when you brake.
3. Layered Steel
Layering sheets of steel together and laminating them makes them resistant to the warping you might find in a straight steel brake rotor. It’s a favorite of racers who don’t want frequent brake rotor replacement and repair, but manufacturers are currently only targeting professional racers and production is limited, so it’s not terribly common in passenger vehicle applications.
Aluminum brake rotors dissipate heat quickly, but they also melt at a lower temperature than other options. Aluminum is a favorite for motorcycles, which weigh less and are easier on the rotors when braking than a heavy car, truck or SUV.
5. High Carbon
These are iron, but with a lot of carbon mixed in. They can take a lot of heat and dissipate it quickly. The metallic content helps the rotor avoid cracking under high stress, and brake noise and vibration are reduced as well. The only downside is price, which is significantly higher than straight iron or aluminum.
What’s your favorite supercar? Ferrari? Porsche? Lamborghini? Odds are it’s packing ceramic brake rotors. They offer the highest heat capacity (85 percent higher than cast iron) and superior dissipation, and they maintain a more consistent force and pressure as the temperature of the rotors rises. Ceramic is the highest-performance brake rotor available today.
Your best bet is to be honest about your driving style and environment. If most of your driving is just commuting to and from work, cast iron brake rotors are probably exactly what you need. If you have a high-performance car and love to tackle twisty mountain roads on the weekend, high carbon or ceramic are probably good investments. And if you get your kicks on two wheels rather than four, aluminum is a strong choice for your motorcycle.
Check out all the brake system products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on brake rotor options, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.
Mike Hagerty is an automotive journalist whose work has been featured on radio, TV, in print and online since 1997. He's the Publisher and Editor of MikeHagertyCars.com, and contributes car reviews to the Los Altos Town Crier and losaltosonline.com. Previous outlets have included KFBK and KFBK.com in Sacramento, California, the ABC television affiliates and Hearst-Argyle and Emmis radio stations in Phoenix, Arizona; AAA magazines for Arizona, Oklahoma, Northwest Ohio, South Dakota and the Mountain West and BBCCars.com.