Have you ever noticed a scratching noise coming from underneath the car, or a strong vibrating through the steering wheel? If this only happens when braking, either pads or rotors might be worn out. As brakes are among the most important car components, it is important to check them and replace if needed. In this article, we will go over typical symptoms of worn pads and rotors and explain how to replace them.

What are the brake pads or rotors?

While travelling down the road, brake rotors on your car are spinning at the same speed as the wheels. A stationary caliper with a pair of brake pads sits on the top of the rotor without touching it. Once you’ve pressed the brake pedal, the pistons inside the caliper push the pads against the moving rotor. The resulting pressure creates friction between these two components, which slows down and stops the car.

How to tell if I have worn brake pads or rotors?

However, the friction and resulting heat also causes both brake pads and rotors to wear out with time. Despite their different sizes, rotors are not much more than very durable steel discs. Unlike them, brake pads have a thick layer of special material that increases stopping capabilities and heat dissipation while reducing noise. When this layer wears out, the steel carrier of the brake pad will come in contact with the rotor. This will cause scratching sounds that you hear when pressing the brake pedal. Besides this symptom, you may also feel vibrations coming through both the brake pedal and steering wheel. This happens when the rotor is warped, which happens when it wears out and becomes too thin.

Is it hard to replace pads and rotors?

Replacing brake pads and rotors is not that complicated, but you still have to follow several safety guidelines. If you are using a car jack, prevent any vehicle movement by choking the wheels on the opposite side. When the car is up in the air, place a jack stand below a suitable frame element. While you must replace brake pads every time, reusing old rotors that are in good shape is possible. Just make sure they are not warped or worn out below minimum thickness.

With the car in the air and wheels removed, you can take a closer look at the brake assembly. Most cars have brake pad sensors and anti-rattle clips, which you will have to remove first. Using suitable sockets or spanners, undo the bolts that hold the brake caliper and remove it by wiggling back and forth. Once the caliper is off, locate a convenient spot and let it hang from it using a piece of wire or string. If replacing the rotors, you will need to remove the bracket which carries the caliper. There are one or two small bolts that hold the rotor in place that you will have to remove.

Is there anything else to look for?

Although installation is in reverse order of removal, there are few additional steps to do. New rotors have a coat of protective grease on them, which you will have to remove using a brake cleaner spray. Next, brush off any corrosion traces of the hub or retaining bracket and apply a small amount of grease. You also need to push back the caliper piston so there is enough room for new brake pads, which are thicker. Before doing that, remove the cap of the brake fluid reservoir, which you will find in the engine bay.


As we have explained in this article, checking and replacing brake pads and rotors is something that any mechanically inclined person can do. However, if you don’t have the right tools or don’t feel up to the job, consider hiring a professional. At FixMyCar, we have certified and seasoned technicians that can come to your home and solve any brake related issues. This will ensure that all important components are checked and your car is ready to hit the road.