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Brakes and Rotors

In September, I got my Honda Element routine check up at 56,000 miles. Everything checked out just fine. In october we moved from Boston to San frnacisco and the car was moved via truck for 2 weeks. In January we heard a horrible noise from our back wheels and we had to have our brakes replaced, plus the rotors because the brakes had worn down so much. My question is: How did my brakes wear out so much in 4 months that the rotors were completey destroyed?


On my first trip to San Francisco years ago I rode in a cab and casually asked the driver how long his brakes lasted. He told me they “did the brakes” every 3 months! Now you know why so many car chase movies were made in San Francisco.

Your mileage at 56,000 is normal for brake work to be done. The checkup you got in the past probably did not warrant doing any work yet since the wear had not progressed far enough. Nobody is being dishonest here in my opinion. All I can tell you is that when you need brake work done in SF, better do it!

It is also often the case that when someone checks brakes, they might not check every last thing. E.g. - some places might only check one side assuming that both are the same. Sometimes one might look at outboard pads and not so much at inboard pads, again assuming that both are wearing about equally. I am not suggesting this is the right way to do it, but it is often the way it gets done. As such, problems having to do with unequal wear might get missed.

I’m just speaking from personal experience here. I lost a set of rotors myself once to a set of brake pads that were supposed to have been “fine.”

Of course, it is more likely the case that Docnick is right.

Keep in mind that modern cars have rotors and brakes designed to not only stop the car, but be light weight for better road contact, ride and mileage. 

Rotors are as often as not better replaced with every brake job.   It is possible in some cases to resurface them and maybe they will last out the next set of pads, or maybe not.  They certainly would be far more likely to warp or overheat.  

Just plan on new brakes and rotors with each brake job.  The good part is rotors don't cost much more than having the old ones resurfaced.

It’s possible the terrain in SF could have something to do with it.
You did not define “moved via truck for 2 weeks” but if the vehicle was towed (dolly with rear wheels on the pavement) maybe the park brake was on a notch or two. This would eat up rear brakes quickly.

At the time you had the rears repaired did you have the fronts re-inspected? How did they look? did they appear to be in line with the passing grade given to them at the time of the 56,000 inspection,or did they show the wear that would be expected from the 4 months on operation in S.F.?

Fronts wear faster than rears. Why was the wear on the rears so much more than the fronts? Driving with the parking brake on is one answer.

Was this the first brake job on the rears? You don’t give a mileage just 56K+4 months S.F. driving I think this was early to need rears.

I would easily accept a statement that you are just beginning your second set of front brakes,is this the case?

Fronts wear faster than rears.

Generally true, but there are exceptions.

Enlighten me,don’t keep secrets. Nothing that came across my stall fits the rears wear faster,except the cars that are driven with the parking brake on.

Is the OP’s Element in the “rears wear faster group”? I wasn’t at Honda long enough to answer for myself. Element that is that boxy looking one?

“Enlighten me,don’t keep secrets”

Oh that’s and easy one. The rears wear faster whenever the front brakes don’t work.

No one has yet suggested that the OP’s accelerated rear brake wear was from inoperative front brakes.

I took the comment to mean certain types of cars wear their rears out first by design.

My goal is to help the OP,you can join up.

Slightly related:
I recall the old Corvair rear brakes wore out faster than the fronts.

There was so much weight behind the rear axle that when the brakes were applied, instead of the body doing a typical dip toward the front wheels, the rear of the car lowered itself - causing the rear to be the more weighted axle when breaking.

I have a 2000 Maxima and the rear brakes wear a lot faster than the fronts. I think it’s because the parking brake works by rotating the inner caliper piston just a little, and it is threaded, so the inner brake pad is pressed into the rotor. When you release the brake it relaxes some, but it stays very close. When you replace the pads you have to screw the piston back in, a lot.

It was just for a chuckle oldschool. Like you I can’t think of any reason that would wear the rears faster.

So I’ll “join up” (again) - OP - you should make sure that your front brakes are actually working correctly. If not they will put undue stress on the rears and wear them really fast.

Certain Lincoln and Ford discs were composite material and the rear brakes did wear out before the front.

In the non-racing world “composite” simply means a cast iron rotor with a stamped steel center,this was done to save weight. The main concern with this type of composite rotors was flexing of the center durning rotor turning leading to many mechanics to simply not turn composite rotors. They did not accelerate pad wear

In the high performance world work is being done on a "composite"rotor that is more than a cast iron rotor and a stamped steel center.

I am willing to listen to how a composite rotor would accelerate pad wear.

Many mechanics were unable to achieve the proper final cut finish on composite rotors due to hub flexing. In addition special cutters are needed to achieve the proper finish on a composite rotor

The pads wear gradually over time. They were thin, but not so thin that the rivets were touching the rotor. After a little while, the rivets on the pads touched the rotors and gouged them. Once that happens, the rotors typically can’t be resurfaced. You must replace them.

my rears always preceded the fronts and were never refinished.

Rear disc brakes in snowy climates wear faster than fronts in many cases. The salt spray is especially harsh in the rear versus the front and the rotors corrode very quickly.