Warning Signs That Your Brake Rotor is Bad

One of the biggest purchases you’ll make in your life is that of a car, and after investing a good amount of money in a vehicle, it stands to reason that you’ll want to keep your car in the best working order possible in order to maintain safety and function. However, one system that is often overlooked until serious problems happen is the braking system and, more specifically, the rotors within the braking system.

How Rotors Work

A rotor is a critical component of your Civic’s braking system. It looks like a bowl with a wide lip at the top and a flat bottom. When you apply the brake, the pads and calipers of the brake press against the sides of the rotor, and the resulting friction stops the car. Rotors are designed to allow the heat produced by this friction to evenly disperse throughout the system to avoid overheating. However, normal wear-and-tear will eventually damage the brake system’s various parts, and if you don’t check them regularly and replace as needed, you could experience damage. If left unaddressed, the damage could progress to the point that the brakes are completely ineffective, putting the car and its occupants in danger should they fail completely. However, there are several easy ways to tell whether your rotors are bad so that you can take the appropriate measures to address the issue.

Signs That a Rotor is Bad

As we mentioned, everyday use can cause the brake system to wear, mainly the brake pads. When you apply the brake, calipers push the brake pad against the rotor’s walls, causing friction that slows the vehicle and allows it to smoothly come to a stop. However, because of this friction, the brake pads can wear down, and if they wear below a quarter of an inch, they must be replaced. So, how can you tell if the pad is wearing too much? Simply look at the brake pad through the space on the wheel itself, or listen for a high-pitched sound when you apply the brake that’s caused by a small metal shim known as an “indicator.” There are other basic warning signs that will alert you to potential problems with the braking system, brake pads and rotors. For instance, if you feel a vibration in the steering wheel and pedal when you apply the brake, there’s an issue with the front brakes. On the other hand, if you feel a vibration in the seat and pedal, there’s an issue with the rear brakes. Do you hear a growling or grinding sound? It could indicate that the pads are completely worn down and are now scoring or scratching against the rotors. If your Civic pulls to one side when you apply the brake, there is either foreign matter in the brake fluid or the brake pads are wearing unevenly. Also, a “sinking,” fading or nonresponsive break could be indicative of a leak in the braking system. Since some of these warning signs could mean that the rotors are bad and in need of repair, make sure you pay attention to what your car is telling you. Rotors are designated to have a minimum, specified thickness, and if you find the problem early on, you can “turn” the rotor and removed the damage while leaving a safe thickness. On the other hand, if you ignore the warning signs, the rotors will eventually become so damaged that they continue to wear to an unsafe thickness and thus compromise the braking system. At this point, your only option is to replace the rotor. One thing to remember is that squealing when you apply the brakes is normal if your car has been sitting for a while after being exposed to water such as washing the car or rain. The small amounts of rust caused by sitting in water will wear off over the next few days. However, if the brake pads are worn and in need of replacement, you will hear the squealing sound every time you apply the brakes.

Should You Put New Pads on a Bad Rotor?

In some cases, a driver knows that the rotors are in need of replacement but he or she is on a budget. Although the driver may try to replace the brake pads since they’re more inexpensive than rotors, hoping that this will take care of the problem for a while, the reality is that doing so is just as bad or worse. The brake pad can only function with friction as it is pressed against the rotor. If you put a new brake pad onto a Civic with damaged rotors, the pad will only come into contact with the highest point of the rotor, which will ultimately reduce its ability to stop. The rotor features deep grooves that will act similar to a cheese grater and shred the material of the brake pad as it is pressed against the rotor. Another complication will be increased heat that results from the malfunctioning brake pad and rotor. Since the rotor can’t evenly distribute the heat that’s generated by braking, hotspots will occur, and you’ll notice a blue color on the rotor itself. When this happens, you’ll have no choice but to replace the rotors.


Your Honda Civic’s braking system is one of the car’s most important systems. Keeping the braking system in good working order is the only way to ensure the safety of yourself and your passengers. Keep in mind that the first thing to wear in this system are the brake pads, but by checking the pads on a regular bass and replacing them when they wear past a safe operating thickness, you can preserve the performance and life of the car’s entire braking system. Regularly checking the brake fluid level is another way to ensure that the rotors and other important parts of the system will not sustain significant damage. If you notice warning signs, it’s critical to address the issues early to save you time and money. You can find parts either through online retailers or at brick-and-mortar establishments, and doing the necessary repairs as soon as possible will allow your Civic to provide you with years of reliable service and driving.