I've worked in a variety of hands-on professions and love to write about topics that can save readers from needless expenses.
Warped Rotors and Brake Vibration
If you're wondering why your car shakes when you hit your brakes, you more than likely have one or more warped rotors behind your wheels.
What Is a Rotor?
A rotor is the round piece of steel pictured below that your brake pads grab hold of when you hit the brakes. Depending on your hubcaps, you can usually see your rotors on the inside on the wheel.
When a rotor comes out of the factory, it's smooth and even. When the brake pads make contact with both sides of the rotor evenly, smooth braking results. But what happens over time is that the rotors can become warped, meaning that they lose their smooth, even surface. When that happens, every time you go to hit your brakes, the brake pad encounters a surface that isn't entirely smooth, and the braking gets very bumpy.
What Causes Warped Rotors?
Warped rotors can be caused by multiple things. Here are a few common reasons:
- Sudden braking: As you're driving along, if you ever are forced to brake suddenly from a high speed, the friction can cause a level of heat on the rotor great enough to cause the rotor to warp.
- Constant braking: If you're ever driving down a long hill and are constantly having to keep your foot on the brake, the buildup in heat can also cause the rotor to become warped.
- Overuse of brake pads: Another thing I've experienced that has caused rotor damage has been excessive use of brake pads, meaning that the brake pads weren't changed early enough and partial metal on metal friction was allowed to happen. I've replaced rotors before that have had such deep grooves that you could literally put a marble in them and spin it all around the rotor. You don't want that to happen to your vehicle.
What You Can Do
When your rotors get warped and your car shakes when you hit the brakes, you have a couple of options.
If you change your own brakes, it will be a lot less expensive to fix the problem than if you take your car to the shop for brake jobs. If you've been experiencing some shaking when you hit the brakes and you're due for a brake change, then that's the perfect time to deal with your warped rotors. If the rotors are fairly new then you may not need to replace them. You can take them off and drive them down to your local auto parts store and have them turned on a special machine that grinds down the outer warped layer of the metal to make the surface smooth and even again. But there are two things that you need to be warned of when considering this process.
- If your rotor is too thin the auto parts store won't grind them down for you and you'll have to buy new ones. This isn't really all that much of a problem since new rotors are generally only about $40 a piece.
- Make sure you call ahead to schedule a rotor turning appointment. Sometimes when auto parts stores are swamped, it may take a while to service your rotors and you'll end up sitting there for a long time. The process shouldn't take more than 30 minutes or so per rotor, but if the shop is busy, it's just best to call ahead and make sure they can do it quickly for you.
Each auto parts store will probably have a different cost for turning your rotors, but it shouldn't be more than $25 or so. So all in all, changing your brakes yourself and having your rotors serviced should cost you less than $100, which is pretty nice.
If you don't service your brakes yourself but take them into the mechanic, tell your mechanic that your rotors are warped and that you want him to turn them for you. Ask him how much it costs for the process and hold him to it.
Another thing you can do is to go to the auto parts store before you go to the mechanic and buy a set of rotors from the store and then ask the mechanic to replace your rotors when he does the brake job. It should only be a matter of loosening a couple bolts, so don't let him charge you an arm and a leg for the labor.
Best of luck!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Aleksanda on October 29, 2017:
Shaking when breaking at high speed (e.g. highway) may also be caused by misalignment. Learned this the hard way.
Teri on September 11, 2014:
98 Expedition, about 2 wks ago when i pushed the brake pedal suddenly it felt like the pedal was pushing back against my foot. It became worse. Well, i replaced all the brake pads, but it feels like my truck is hopping. Rotars don't look warped. Could it b the rubber line from the body to the caliper?
Benji Mester (author) from San Diego, California on September 07, 2011:
Yeah that's definitely true. I've never experienced that though.
Tristan Witt on September 07, 2011:
Also, uneven lug nut torque can cause uneven rotors. (Hopefully) All you need to do to in that case is re-torque your lug nuts.
Benji Mester (author) from San Diego, California on September 04, 2011:
Sure. No problem. Thanks for stopping by
Aaron on September 04, 2011:
thanks guys good advice
Benji Mester (author) from San Diego, California on August 22, 2011:
That's good advice. Just don't slam the brakes too hard :) Thanks for stopping by.
S Writer from USA on August 21, 2011:
Vibration is more likely caused by uneven deposits of pad material on the rotors. You should slam on the brakes several times from high speeds to try and clear up the surface of the rotors before buying new ones.