Performance Driving And Braking: Brake Rotor Types, Advantages And Disadvantages

22 December 2015
 Categories: Automotive, Articles


Performance cars depend upon upgraded parts that help them accelerate faster, handle better and brake with authority. A big part of braking performance is tied to the brake rotor type, and manufacturers have made a variety of configurations to address the needs of drivers. Below are four brake rotor types available for performance driving applications, as well as an explanation of each and their advantages and disadvantages:

Conventional smooth-faced brake rotors

This type of brake rotors is the most-commonly used configuration for ordinary street driving and is seen on most passenger vehicles. The brake rotor surfaces are completely smooth, and they consist of a flat disc of solid metal throughout. Smooth-faced rotors are reliable, long-lived and  more-than-capable of handling braking situations encountered in average daily driving. Their chief disadvantage is their inability to disperse heat as effectively as other types of rotors seen in performance driving.

Slotted brake rotors

Slotted rotors take the smooth-faced rotor an additional step further by adding grooves cut into the face of the rotors. These grooves, or slots, are spaced evenly around the rotor face and they assist in dispersing heat much more effectively than smooth-faced rotors. In addition, slotted rotors provide channels for brake pad particulates and other debris to be routed off the surface of the rotors. Another advantage offered by slotted rotors is the additional "bite" they can provide for brake pads, thus leading to shorter stopping times. However, this characteristic also has a negative side: the slots cause accelerated wear on brake pads which leads to shorter pad life.

Drilled brake rotors

Another type of brake rotor seen in the performance driving arena is the drilled rotor. In the case of these rotors, holes are interspersed throughout the surface of the rotor faces. These holes provide an escape path for particulates as well as gases such as steam and off-gassing from brake pads. In addition, the holes aid in the venting of the rotor faces and permit heat to be bled into the atmosphere at a faster rate than smooth-faced rotors. However, in some cases, the removal of surface area from the rotor can counteract the ability of the rotor to shed heat. In addition, the holes can result in uneven heating across the rotor face, and this can lead to heat stress and fracturing of the metal. This factor can make drilled rotors less-than-desirable for extreme driving situations, such as racing or other braking-intensive driving. However, some drivers opt for drilled rotors for the sake of appearance, as they are seen to be a positive by many enthusiasts from this perspective. As long as the demands of driving don't interfere, drilled rotors can be an acceptable choice for some vehicle owners.

Vented brake rotors

Yet another brake rotor type in common use by performance drivers is the vented rotor. Vented rotors are unique in their construction in that they consist of two side-by-side discs joined by vanes. These vanes, which are either straight or arced, serve to "pump" heated air out of the brakes, thus preventing heat buildup in the rotors and pads. Vented rotors are advantageous due to their ability to efficiently transfer heat from the brakes and their design is rugged and does not cause excessive wear of pads. They are not quite as capable of dispersing debris and gases from the surface of the rotors as slotted or drilled rotors, but with many modern, high-performance pads, this dispersion effect is less-important than it once was.

The conclusion

While the choice of brake rotors often comes down to personal preference, vented rotors usually are viewed as superior in their ability to cool the brake surfaces. This factor alone is sufficient for many drivers to choose vented rotors, though it isn't necessarily the only good option. For brakes that generate excessive amounts of pad particulates or for driving in dirty road conditions, slotted rotors offer a good balance of heat reduction and dispersal capability. Drilled rotors are generally inferior to the other types due to their potential for thermal damage, and this leaves them as merely a cosmetic option for most drivers. Talk to an expert at a company like Godfrey Brake Service & Supply to find the brakes that best meet your needs.