Cheap rotors that aren't

For quite a few years I’ve been buying the less expensive rotor option and happy with the performance. However, I’ve bought my last set of inexpensive rotors and here’s why.

This weekend, I had to re-work my last set of cheap rotors for the second time in about a year. They had maybe 5000 miles on them and that’s being generous. The OEM set had gone about 50k miles.

The first hint at trouble came about a month into their use. They started to squeal and inspection showed there was a hard spot on one of the surfaces that had started to become a significant, concentric, raised ring. I resurfaced it and the pad. Now, some 10 months later, they are completely trashed.

The rotor surfaces have more anatomy than the Himalayas and noticeable runout. That initial inclusion has multiplied like the plague and the entire disc surfaces are covered with them. The metal is completely polluted with junk and they pop out as the surface wears away. The pads, which still have almost their initial thickness, are gouged beyond reclamation IMO.

When I first had trouble with this set, I opted for the more expensive rotors on a different car and haven’t had one iota of trouble from them. I’ve done many, many brake jobs in my life and can count on my punch press buddies one hand the number of times I had to revisit a job. Now I have installed the better set on this car and we’ll see what happens although I have no reason to believe they will not provide the normal, expected lifespan.

Anyway, what used to be economy=slightly less durable is now just junk. Buyer beware!

Brakes and tires are two areas where it does not pay to be cheap. That’s why I have Brembos on my car.

Certainly the case, but it didn’t used to be the case that the inexpensive brake parts also meant “cheap.” Like TwinTurbo, up until somewhat recently I used the bottom shelf stuff and never had a problem. I’ve not had troubles as bad as those described but I too have sworn off the bottom rack because it is now cheap junk.

One has to wonder at the country of origin of these inferior metal products. Would that country have five letters in its name?

I just bought new rotors and drums, both Wagner brand. I thought the price was cheap for both, rotors $25/ea. & drums $30/ea. The drums were made in the USA while the rotors are from Mexico. They look decent quality, but I just started using them so time will tell.

I would think name brand (Wagner, Raybestos, Brembo, Beck/Arnley) would be OK, it’s the store brands that caused problems, right?

Store brands are fine. You just need to look who supplies the store brand. For example, CarQuest has their store brand. And these are supplied by Raybestos. CarQuest oil is supplied by the Ashland Oil Company. They make Valvoline oil.


OK. Is it marked somewhere?

Usually on the package/box.


I’ve never had any trouble with inexpensive rotors but odds are there are some junk ones out there.

Since I’ve seen unbranded “white box” parts such as filters and ignition parts that are of dubious quality, I wonder if someone has been bootlegging brake rotors now?
Maybe some typical junk Chinese inconsistent cast iron poured from a vat in which they melted down an old car with a body in the trunk, tree limbs, stray dogs, and who knows what else?

Good post!

The rotors on my Volvo came from NAPA and I opted for the less expensive of the choices they offered. I have been living with warped rotors and waiting for them to wear out so I can get new ones.

I put some Mexican-made Brembos on the daughter’s BMW and have been very pleased. They are all perfect. I will put a set just like them on the other daughter’s BMW this summer.

While I am offering unsolicited testimonials, I have been very pleased with AAXIS Delux Plus pads on the Volvo and on the BMWs. They are not high performance pads, but for a daily driver, they are clean, quiet, and predictable, just what I look for in a daily driver brake pad.

Maybe 5 years ago I bought new rotors for my Pathfinder. The stored carried 3 different rotors at 3 different prices…ranging from $25/each to $130/each. He brought out all 3 to look at. the $25 was about 1/4" thinner then the other 2. The other 2 were the exact same thickness…I bought the one for $50 that was the same thickness as the one for $130…never had a problem with them…

I have had both bad and ok experiences with the cheap white boxed rotors and pads. Over all I agree with the above comments and I am done gambling with my brakes. I will now only buy from reputable manufacturers and never the house brand at Autozone, Advanced Auto etc. So what if they give you a life time warranty. You still end up having to buy either new pad or new rotors as you should replace both together. They are a crap shoot and I would rather pay more for better reliabily, longevity and performance.

Doesn’t it depend a lot on who is doing the replacement and how hard the replacement is to do? Swapping rotors on many vehicles is a simple 30-40 minute job that anyone can do. For a shadetree mechanic doing their own work, the economics probably favor cheap rotors and pads — at least as long as most cheap brake parts are basically OK. If, OTOH, the rotors are a bear to replace, or one has to pay someone to change them, the economics shift and a part less likely to wear quickly or unevenly becomes worth a premium.

I don’t think there is a safety issue here. Rotors have to be in really awful shape to impede stopping. Brake master cylinders, for example, would be a different story. Might not want to buy the cheapest MC on the shelf.

It has not been my experience in life that expensive is not strongly correlated with quality. Would that it were. Very often, expensive correlates with high advertising costs, lots of overhead, bad and expensive management, high margins for stores and middlemen, etc rather than quality.

Basically, I agree with you. However, one of the problems in modern America is that businesses are increasingly run by MBAs with little knowledge of what they are producing. The reason store brands are cheaper is that the product is bulk ordered. The maker is happy to pass through some of the savings in sales costs to the purchaser. No advertising costs. Maybe cheaper packaging, etc.

The problem is that if the MBAs find they can buy oil a nickel a “can” cheaper from Fly By Night importers, they may not worry for even 10 seconds about whether the quality is the same as the oil they were buying from Ashland. And in truth, the oil may be fine. It may even be “better” than Valvoline. Then again, it may not. The MBAs don’t care.

But it’s even worse than that. The manufacturers also are run by MBAs. Ashland Oil may be good stuff today. How do we know that in five years it will still be good stuff? The MBAs (for the most part) don’t seem to care as long as we buy their product.

Good post vtcodger2!

Purchased some cheap Wearever rotor from Advance Auto, and not feeling to good about these rotors. They seem to be rusting far worst then the OEMs leaving pot marks in the rotor surface.