Brakes. You need them if you want to be a productive member of society. Sometimes brakes wear out; they are, after all, considered regular wear items. Sometimes you just need more performance so you can rule the track, other times you just need a workhorse pair of pads. Either way, the second most common replacement item (behind pads) when it comes to brakes are rotors. They are also the most visible brake feature, so chances are if you are doing car work, you are going to interact with them.
- A Short Primer on Brake Rotors
- Top 10 Best Brake Rotors 2021
- 1. Best Overall Brake Rotor Kit: Power Stop Evolution
- 2. Best Budget Rotors: Bosch QuietCast
- 3. Best Premium Rotors: EBC Brakes Dimpled and Slotted
- 4. Best Easy to Buy Performance Rotors: Napa Reactive One Slotted
- 5. Best Complete Rotor Kit: Detroit Axle 4 Disc Replacement Kit
- 6. Best Looking Upgrade Rotors: Power Stop Drilled/Slotted
- 7. Best Anti-Rust Rotor: ACDelco Gold
- 8. Best Rotors for Stock Replacement: Raybestos Professional
- 9. Best UV Coated Rotors: Brembo UV Coated
- 10. Best Inexpensive Rotor: Wagner E-Coated
- The Total Guide to Brake Rotors
- Get the Lug Wrench
A Short Primer on Brake Rotors
Buying brakes can be extra painful because of marketing. Every manufacturer claims to make the best brake rotors, pads, and calipers. They claim that only their rotors will stop you the fastest, only their rotors will cause the least amount of noise, only their rotors will last the longest, and for the most part, it’s just marketing. We want to give you the tools to cut through the infomercial jargon and get the facts. In order to do that, we have this quick buying guide, a review section below, and an in-depth look at brakes at the bottom.
Styles of Rotors
There are a few different styles of brake rotors that you will come across. The biggest concern with disc brakes is heat buildup, so engineers have come up with all sorts of ways to dissipate that heat. Having rotors with good heat dispersal won’t make your car faster, you can read about that down here, but it will make your brakes perform better after a lot of use.
Smooth rotors are the kind of rotors your car probably came with. If you look at the surface, you won’t see any marks or anything. It will just be a smooth metal surface. Smooth rotors have the longest life, the least amount of noise, and the best value. They can also be ‘turned’ by a shop to get some extra life.
Drilled rotors have holes in them. In the older days of cars, brake pads for disc brakes were garbage and ejected tons of particles into the air. Those particles would collect on the disc brake and make them way less effective. Performance junkies would drill holes into their brakes that the dust particles could escape out of. Nowadays, unless you’ve got an older car, it’s all for looks. Modern brake pads don’t need them. Drilled rotors can’t be turned and are noisier than smooth brakes.
Unlike drilled rotors, slotted rotors are still used for performance. They have grooves that clean the brake pads as they pass, as well as remove debris from the disc itself. They are noisier, and won’t last nearly as long as a smooth rotor. However, they are better performing than smooth rotors. They won’t necessarily stop your car faster, but they will keep your brakes working better during heavy use.
Dimpled rotors are a combination of drilled and slotted. They look drilled, but the holes don’t go all the way through.
Vented rotors only worth mentioning venting because you’ll see them a lot. Old disc brakes would overheat quickly, so manufacturers changed the classic solid rotor design to get air to flow through them and cool them off. These air-ways, or vents, are found on every modern front brake system. Slotted, drilled, and smooth brakes can all be vented.
Brake Pads: Making Compromises
If you read above, you might have noticed that there are strengths and weaknesses to each type of brake pad. The basics of it are that the more performance you want, the more comfort you sacrifice. Performance brakes are noisy, they will destroy brake pads, and they’re expensive. Inexpensive brake pads and long-lasting ones perform poorly. That means you have to compromise when choosing which features are the most important to you.
Performance is more about heat dispersion than stopping power. We’ll tell you about it down here, but the rotor itself isn’t really what determines how fast you can stop. What the rotor is responsible for is dispersing heat. When brakes get hot, they don’t work as well. The more you use your brakes, like when racing, the hotter they get. Towing, racing, and constant driving are where slotted rotors reign supreme.
Noisy brakes are annoying. Squeaking, grinding, groaning. The problem is that noise is your brakes working harder, so quieter brakes are not dispersing as much heat and not biting as hard. That’s fine for the average driver, and it’s why new cars all come with smooth brakes.
Longevity comes in two forms: how long your brake pads will last, and how long the disc will last. No one wants to replace their brakes frequently. Slotted and drilled rotors will consume brake pads at a much faster rate than smooth rotors. The coated, costlier rotors will last longer than cheaper uncoated rotors.
The last thing you have to know is which rotor you’re replacing. Front rotors are often different from rear rotors on cars. Some rotors are also different from left to right. If you are all set up to change your front brakes, but you have rear rotors, you will have a bad time.
STOP. Hopefully, that caught your attention because we need to talk about fitment. You need to take the time to make sure you buy the right brake kit for your car. Amazon makes it easy. If your garage is set up, it will recommend the right one or tell you if the brand doesn’t have anything for you. It will also give you a big red banner telling you if you are on the wrong product.
Alright, let’s get to the reviews. There’s a lot of different options on this list. Some brakes, like the Power Stop Evolution, are just stock replacements. Some focus on noise reduction, like the Bosch, and some are really only good for performance driving like the EBC set. Get the ones that fit your lifestyle.
1. Best Overall Brake Rotor Kit: Power Stop Evolution
These are smooth, stock replacement rotors. We’ll call them “mild” performance, in that they aren’t an upgrade over your stock brakes, but they will still perform way better than old rotors. You will feel a noticeable improvement because of the included brake pads, though.
The Power Stop brakes are quiet and have a great pedal feel. You won’t have anything to complain about if you install these on your daily. The Bosch down the list are a little less noisy, but they aren’t as convenient.
They are smooth rotors, hard pads, and coated to protect against the elements. In other words, they will be good for a while. The only issue is that the coating doesn’t last as long as more expensive discs, so if longevity is your only concern, get the Bremby or Raybestos down the list.
Anytime you can get a kit that includes rotors and pads, we get excited. It’s not because they are super high quality or anything. It’s because it means you are more likely to replace and upgrade the whole system instead of just slapping rotors on your car and expecting miracles.
What you get in the box is a perfectly acceptable replacement for your stock brakes. They don’t perform better, and they probably won’t last quite as long as factory brakes, but you won’t have to worry about them. The best part is that it’s a great value; you save about $50 by buying it as a kit.
- Good value
- Rotors will last a good amount of time
- Included pads make it a very convenient thing to buy
- The coating doesn't last as long as others
- There are higher performing discs for the same price
2. Best Budget Rotors: Bosch QuietCast
For the price, they have great performance. Usually, budget brakes shake and rattle. The ultra-cheap Wagners on our list certainly will. Bosch somehow made a budget brake rotor that is rock solid. It’s not suitable for racing or anything, but for the average car, they are fantastic.
Comfort is where the Bosch rotors shine. They are very quiet and very smooth, and you will definitely notice how nice they are if you get stuck in stop and go traffic.
Your pads will wear evenly, which is good, but the rotors are just middle of the road as far as durability. The price makes it easier to replace them when they get worn down, and you’ll still have spent less than rotors that last a bit longer.
Bosch knocks it out of the park with the QuietCast rotors. They are just a great rotor for most cars. They are quiet, work well enough, and last long enough to be worth it. We have to temper all of that greatness. We keep saying they work great for the price. There are better performing brakes, like the Napa’s, and there are longer-lasting brakes, like the Brembos, but they both cost more than twice as much. They are also both noisier.
There just isn’t much bad to say about the QuietCast brakes at the end of the day. If they came as an easy to find set, they’d be the best on our list. The fact that Bosch sells the rotors one at a time just makes them inconvenient compared to the Powerstop set.
- High quality for the price
- Don't last as long as similar rotors
- Only sold individually
No matter how you slice it, EBC’s performance brakes are amazing. They get around the weakness inherent in drilled rotors by using dimples instead of holes but keep the extra cooling ability. The coating is meant for grip, the grooves will keep the pads clean, and the rotors are extra wide for extra airflow. If you track your car or go “to Mexico” a lot, these are fantastic.
We talked a bit about how you compromise comfort for performance. EBC represents the extreme end of that. They make weird noises, the pedal will grab high and catch you off guard, they will throw dust all over your wheels that’s hard to clean off, and they will squeal under light braking. That just adds charm to a built street-rod, but it can be very annoying on your commuter.
If you want to be annoyed, go read the reviews online about the EBC brakes. Many people are buying these performance brakes that don’t know the rules, and then they are complaining about how the brakes didn’t last very long. That’s the trade-off, you can’t have extra brake performance and durability.
That being said, for performance brakes, they actually last a good amount of time. You’ll go through a lot of pads before you have to replace the rotors. Napa has a performance brake that does last a while longer, but compared to pads like the Power Stop cross-drilled deals, these things are solid.
If you’ll allow us to have a super vain moment, part of the reason we love the EBC brakes is that they look awesome. The dimpled look and dark color scream performance, and unlike the 30 dollar eBay wing bolted to an automatic Civic, they have the chops to back it up.
They cost a lot, though. They cost a lot, you have to replace them way more often, and if you aren’t going to a track or doing a lot of spirited driving, they will drive you insane. If you just like the looks, no judgment, but just get the Power Stop drilled rotors. Those at least won’t set you back the cost.
The other issue is that it’s sort of hard to find the right set for your car. EBC makes them for front and rear applications and makes them in a ton of different sizes. For some reason, it seems like no two places want to carry the same options. Chances are if you are looking for high-performance brakes, you already have a supplier you like, so it’s probably not an issue. Otherwise, if they aren’t on Amazon, try Summit.
- Looks amazing
- Very good stopping power
- Great cooling capabilities
- Can be hard to find the right ones for your car
4. Best Easy to Buy Performance Rotors: Napa Reactive One Slotted
The Napa Performance brakes are, surprise, meant for performance. They aren’t as hardcore as the EBCs, but will absolutely improve your car. If the EBC is perfect for racing, the Napas are more for stop and go traffic during a hot day in Florida. The kind where you have to make sure your brakes don’t fade because a guy in a scooter might drive right onto the highway right in front of you.
Better than the EBCs, still awful. They will make funny noises, they will grab hard, and they don’t have the benefit of looking so good.
It’s difficult to quantify the longevity on these, since they are performance brakes and won’t last as long as smooth rotors, but they are coated and made of a harder material than most performance brakes. That means they actually last a good amount of time. You’ll get at least a few years of good performance, no problem.
Napa brakes are sort of a guarded secret among mechanics. They are a good price, can be picked up anywhere, and are high-quality. You don’t get a sticker to put on your car, though. No one will be impressed when you respond with “Napa” when people ask you if you are running Brembos.
What you do get is some really high-quality brakes. They are expensive compared to standard rotors, but they work great and last a while. Oh, and you don’t have to guess or play with a website to get them. Just walk into any Napa and have the clerk go grab them for you. It’s a very safe way to buy rotors since you can just have the clerk double-check that they’ll fit your car on the spot.
- High performance
- Very easy to find and buy
- No one will be impressed when you list your car's mods
5. Best Complete Rotor Kit: Detroit Axle 4 Disc Replacement Kit
They will stop your vehicle. That’s it, that’s all you get. If the rotors get hot, they’ll fade, and they will get hot after a lot of use. These rotors are better than the Wagners, but not by a lot.
They are a bit noisy for smooth brakes. The problem is twofold since the pads included in the kit are cheaper too. Cheaper products just tend to be loud; the Bosch QuietCast rotors are the exception, not the rule.
The rotor will last a long longer than the pads, which is normal. What’s abnormal is how much longer the rotors will last. You’ll go through two or three sets before you need to replace the rotors. Just like with the noisiness, the problem is more about the poor quality pads. They work fine, but they don’t have the lasting power that higher cost pads will have.
If you tally up everything in this kit, it’s easily the least expensive brake job possible. The kit is amazingly complete, too. It’s amazing; they even include new brake fluid. You get all four discs, pads, shims, and the grease. Our other kit, the Power Stop, doesn’t even include half that much stuff and is the same price.
Sure, it’s all of decent quality. In fact, if we are honest, the included pads are downright bad. If you just need new brakes for your junker, commuter, or other inexpensive rides, they will work fine. Don’t expect EBC quality, just enjoy the fact that you’re getting an entire brake replacement kit for cheap.
- Includes everything, even the cleaner
- Rotors are good for the price
- Very inexpensive
- Included pads are meh
6. Best Looking Upgrade Rotors: Power Stop Drilled/Slotted
Power Stop’s drilled rotors look great! They don’t perform as well as they look, though. They are maybe a little better at cooling than your average smooth rotors, but the grooves and holes are mostly for show. What will definitely improve your performance are the included brake pads, so there’s that.
Okay, so we know we said that performance brakes are noisy and awful to live with, but they are only performance in name. They are quiet enough to be fine for daily driving. You will get the pedal feel that comes with slotted rotors, meaning it will take a little getting used to, but that’s part of the fun.
They’ll last just as long as any budget discs like the Raybestos. The grooves and holes will eat your brake pads at a much faster rate, though. With the Power Stop Performance rotors, you are definitely trading practicality for looks.
There is no judgment in what we’re about to say, but if you really want your car to look high performance without being high performance, these brakes are perfect. You get the nice, drilled, and slotted rotor looks without the drawbacks of having an actual high-performance brake. It might even let you drive harder because psychologically, you’ll feel better about the brakes. We aren’t qualified to comment on that, but they really are good looking brakes.
The thing is, they are a quarter of the cost of the EBCs. Plus, we said it before, we’ll say it again, we love it when you can get a kit with rotors and pads. Power Stop makes great pads, so you get good stopping power. Since it’s a kit, you don’t have to worry about matching anything up. It’s just a nice kit to upgrade your stock brakes, even if you’re just doing it for the prestige of having drilled rotors.
- Looks good
- It being a matched set makes it convenient
- Lasts a long time for slotted rotors
- Not really high performance
- Will eat brake pads for lunch
7. Best Anti-Rust Rotor: ACDelco Gold
Do you like your care feeling like new? These brakes will make it feel like new, assuming you get good brake pads to go with it. They aren’t an upgrade, they aren’t worse; they are just a good replacement for old brakes.
They are a little noisy for smooth brakes, but it’s not noticeable inside the cabin. For a replacement rotor, there’s nothing to complain about.
ACDelco is the GM OEM replacement brand, so they have to be really, really long-lasting. That’s what they are known for. It’s not uncommon to see stock GM vehicles with high mileage and original brakes. ACDelco has to compete directly with that, you don’t have to worry about them failing.
There exists a pretty big issue with recommending ACDelco rotors. If you don’t have a GM product, like a Chevy Truck or Cadillac Coupe, then it might be hard to find brakes that fit. That’s because ACDelco is a GM OEM manufacturer. That’s great if you have a GM product. They are long-lasting, great quality for the price brakes.
- Good quality for the price
- Guaranteed to work with GM products
- Not guaranteed to work with non-GM vehicles
- A little noisy
8. Best Rotors for Stock Replacement: Raybestos Professional
These are some of the only smooth, standard rotors that we can safely say will probably out-perform the stock brakes on inexpensive cars. For the price, you can’t really ask for more. Raybestos has lines that go all the way up to ultra-high performance, their R-300 line, but even their cheap line has great stopping power and cooling.
They are average in the comfort department. Nothing that you will be upset about, but not as nice as the Bosch up top. You will get a very confident brake feel, though.
The downside to performance is always that you sacrifice a little durability, and this is no different. It’s not nearly as extreme as something like the EBCs. It just won’t last as long as the Brembos or ACDelcos.
It’s hard to really say a lot about a product that is “just fine.” There’s nothing to praise, nothing to damn, and nothing quirky to dwell on. Maybe that’s praise enough. The Raybestos’ rotors are perfectly acceptable and don’t cost too much. Raybestos is at least a well-known quality brand, so you don’t have to worry too much about what you are getting.
Comparing them to their direct competitors might be the most useful. They work better than the Bosch rotors but are noisier. They won’t last as long as the ACDelcos, but cost less and fit more vehicles. So if you want the best performance from a budget disc, here it is.
- Good stopping power
- Raybestos has good quality control
- They don't last as long as similarly priced rotors
- Not as quiet as the Bosch rotors
9. Best UV Coated Rotors: Brembo UV Coated
They are Brembos, they work great. You don’t get the heat dispersion, since they are just smooth rotors without bigger vents, but you’d be hard-pressed to get better from a smooth brake.
Perfectly fine. The Brembos are as quiet as the Bosch rotors. They cost a lot more, so you should expect them to be a bit better than all the budget options. It’s nice that they aren’t a letdown.
These Brembos are really well protected and well constructed. They will definitely last, and they won’t go through pads at an alarming rate. They will get noisier as the brake coating wears off over time. That affects longevity and comfort and can be one of the more irritating things when buying coated brakes.
Brembo is one of the brands, like Wilwood or EBC, that you can feel good about owning. You can take the sticker out of the box and slap it on your car. These ones are from the budget line. At least, as budget as Brembo gets, they are still expensive.
You get some really long-lasting, good performing brakes that will improve your car over factory for the price. Enough said.
- Great performance for a smooth rotor
- Brembo is a well known, prestigious brand
- The coating will protect the rotors from the elements
- Can get noisy over time
10. Best Inexpensive Rotor: Wagner E-Coated
Yup, they perform. Your car will stop. Your brakes will fade over time with, so it’s probably prudent to look for a performance pad if you’re planning on taking them to a track.
These inexpensive rotors don’t produce too much road noise. These rotors are super cheap, so don’t expect too much.
These rotors will last long enough that you can save up some money and get some higher quality rotors, that will last longer. If you need something cheap to get you through a couple of months, these are a good option.
Sometimes you just need a really cheap rotor to hold you over. If you have a cheap, old car that isn’t worth putting much money into, these are fine. If you are a little strapped for cash, but your rotors badly need replacement, these will work great. But if you’re looking for something that performs well, this is not your best pick.
- They will stop your car
- They won't last very long
- You are trusting your life to a product that prides itself in being just ok
The Total Guide to Brake Rotors
This section is going to feel more like a myth-busting section than anything else. There is so much marketing hype and misinformation about brakes on the internet. Even some other guides to buying brake rotors that we’ve seen are helping spread the embellished truths. We’ll call them that to be kind.
What Is a Rotor Anyway?
In the olden days, all cars had drum brakes. In the 60s, performance cars were dabbling with disc brakes. By the 70s and 80s, disc brakes were a premium feature. Nowadays, they have largely replaced their less efficient drum counterparts entirely. Only the most budget of models still uses drums, and only in the rear.
Disc brakes are composed of three main parts. The caliper converts hydraulic or mechanical pressure into squeezing force. The pads, which are made of abrasive material, are attached to the part of the caliper putting on the squeeze. Finally, the caliper squeezes the pads against the rotor to slow down your car. The rotor is the big disc that gives disc brakes their name.
Rotors Are Only Part of the System
This is an important takeaway. Rotors alone will not make your brakes better. Many sites and manufacturers put a huge amount of emphasis on how great your life will be if you buy expensive rotors. But the truth is that just getting expensive rotors probably won’t improve your braking performance much, if at all.
How to Actually Improve Your Braking Performance
In order to actually improve braking performance noticeably, you need larger diameter rotors, higher performance pads, and larger calipers. It doesn’t matter how expensive the EBC slotted and dimpled rotors are or how good the Power Stop drilled rotors look. You aren’t going to notice a huge improvement if you just slam on the brakes. That’s because rotor performance isn’t about braking distance, but about keeping braking performance consistent over time.
If you really want the absolute best braking performance you can get for the money, buy newer, better tires. That’s not very cool; tires are boring and don’t add anything to your car’s looks. It’s the truth though. Most vehicles on the road (or the track, for that matter) are limited by tires, not brakes, when it comes to stopping power. It doesn’t matter how good your brakes can bring the tire to a stop. If you don’t have traction, the car doesn’t stop.
Rotor Performance Means Keeping Things Consistent
When you drive a car hard and do a lot of braking, the brakes heat up. Watch any car racing event, and you’ll see their brakes get red hot. If you really want a good example, watch Donut Media set their brakes on fire here. You can actually watch that whole episode to see first-hand everything we are talking about below. When brakes get hot, they stop working well and can fail outright. That’s called brake fade, and it’s a reality of performance driving. Rotor technology is all about getting rid of heat.
Vented, Slotted, Directional, Drilled, and Dimpled
We explained what each of those does in brief up above. What we want to touch on here is how you can avoid the exaggerations made by companies that are very into separating you from your money. If you want to keep it really simple, just know that you aren’t really getting a “super high-performance” brake kit unless you are paying thousands of dollars. On real race cars, a single rotor can cost over two thousand dollars. Check out this rotor from Willwood. That’s what a real exotic rotor looks like. If you are searching for one of those, or some similar carbon fiber brakes, for your 6-second car, then let’s face it. You probably aren’t reading this guide.
We only mentioned it very briefly above, but some rotors are directional. Directional just means that the left and right rotors are different. Either the veins for the vents are curved to push are out like a pump, or the slots run in a certain direction. Most slotted rotors are directional, like the EBCs. Not all of them are, some slotted rotors use straight grooves instead of angled grooves, and the Napa brakes we recommend have funky cool grooves that are symmetrical. The good news is directional brake rotors are almost always sold in pairs, so just make sure you read the label before installing them.
Throughout this entire article, we have been hard on drilled rotors, saying things like “they’re mostly for looks” and “they don’t really help you stop.” That’s not totally fair, though: it’s even worse than we make it out to be. They also are weaker than other rotors. The holes create weak points that can cause cracking under high loads. Your daily driver or weekend car won’t notice any difference, but please don’t try to take cheap drilled rotors to a hillclimb.
Rotor Replacement Tips and Tricks
Now that you have chosen some rotors and learned all there is to learn, let’s get into some general tips to make sure you can have the best stopping power you can.
Know When to Replace Your Rotors
Rotors get warped, grooved, and wear down over time. If you are having bad vibrations under braking, or hear really awful noises when you tap the brake pedal, you probably need new rotors. Generally, they last about 50k miles, but check your manual.
The only way to tell during normal operation is to measure their thickness, which you should do periodically no matter what. Take the time to also look for damage, and check their thickness against the factory specifications. Those are easiest to just google; use “type of car+type of brakes+rotor tolerance.”
Replace Your Fluid and Pads
Rotors are actually one of the slowest wearing parts of the brake system, so chances are you will also need pads and fluid when the rotors need replacing. You are already doing a ton of work to replace the rotors, and it doesn’t take any more time to replace the pads. Replacing the fluid does take more time, but most people don’t do that enough as it is so you might as well do a total service every time you do rotors.
Don’t Be Afraid to Take It to a Shop
These are your brakes we are talking about. If you don’t feel comfortable, let a pro do it. It’s not an expensive procedure. Most shops will do it in a few hours, so if you source the parts yourself, it’s quite inexpensive, and you won’t have to leave your car overnight.
Don’t be afraid to do it yourself though, we guarantee there’s a Youtube video that’s a step by step guide to replacing the rotors on your car.
Get the Lug Wrench
So what are you waiting for? Grab some new rotors and get going. Or get stopping. Just remember to make sure the ones you buy fit your vehicle and don’t believe all the marketing on the box.