Rusted brake rotors can cause loud noises and improper braking maneuvers when you hit the brakes. Both issues can lead to dangerous results, so it’s critical that you remove rust as soon as you notice it. The good news is that it’s very easy to clean your brake rotors to bring them back to life.
To remove rust from brake rotors, start by test driving the vehicle to loosen the rust, place it on a car jack, and consider removing the caliper and brake pads. Next, scrub them with brake cleaner and steel wool, then reassemble the brakes. You can also paint the calipers to protect them.
Throughout this article, you’ll also learn the following information about rusted brake rotors:
- Step-by-step instructions to remove the rust
- Numerous causes of rotor rust
- Product recommendations for your rotors and rims
Test Drive the Vehicle
If your vehicle has brake rotor rust, it’s likely due to one of three reasons:
- You left it undriven for too long.
- You live in a humid/damp environment.
- The car is old and the rotors have aged.
Driving the vehicle will loosen the rust on the brake rotors. If you try to clean them without driving the vehicle, you’ll have to scrub away until the rust breaks down. Even a short 5-minute drive can make a significant difference. It’ll shave hours off of the cleaning process.
If you can’t drive the vehicle because it’s inoperable, then you’ll still be able to remove the rust; It’ll just take a few extra minutes or hours.
Place a Jack Underneath the Car
Next, it’s recommended that you place wheel chocks behind your tires. They’re perfect for preventing your tires from moving around. The last thing you want is the car rolling away when you expose the rotors. If you don’t have access to wheel chocks, you can use cinder blocks or wooden blocks.
After you’ve secured the wheels from rolling around, place a jack underneath it and lift it. The tire should be raised enough to remove it, exposing the rotors, calipers, and brake pads. However, it doesn’t have to be too far off the ground since you won’t be working on the vehicle’s underside.
Remove the Caliper and Pads
Although it’s not entirely necessary, removing the calipers and brake pads will make it easier to access the rotors. These two parts partially cover them, so you won’t be able to achieve a good clean if you don’t take them off. You can perform this step in less than a minute, and it’ll reveal all of the underlying rust.
If you decide to remove the caliper and brake pads, make sure you raise them off enough to prevent unwanted damage. These two parts are quite fragile when they’re dropped or crushed under the weight of your vehicle. You can also use a box wrench to loosen and remove both of them.
Use Brake Cleaner to Remove Rust
Brake cleaner will remove rust, grime, and other debris from the surface of your rotors. As most automotive experts will agree, it’s nearly impossible to completely eliminate rust without using some sort of brake cleaner. All it takes is a few applications, and your rotors will look as good as new.
If you’re looking for an anti-rust spray for your collection, try out CRC Brakleen Brake Parts Cleaner. Place a drip pan underneath the rotors, spray the product mentioned above all over them, and allow the formula to drip into the pan. Wipe it down with a dry, clean cloth and repeat the step once more.
Scrub the Rotors With Steel Wool
Using steel wool or a wire brush will strip the rust away without damaging your rotors. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to start with gentle circular motions before you apply firm pressure. There shouldn’t be any scrape lines or marks from the brush, so let up a bit if you’re seeing these signs.
For the best results, apply another layer of the CRC Brakleen Brake Parts Cleaner from the previous step, then scrub the rotors again. Always make sure you remove any excess moisture from the spray with a soft, clean cloth to prevent it from causing more rust down the road.
Soak the Rotors in a Cleaning Bath
If the rust isn’t coming off the rotors after following the initial steps, it might be time to soak it in a chemical bath. There are several different suggestions, including CLR Jelmar Pro Cleaner, which you can use in a 5-gallon bucket. Add the solution, mix it with the recommended amount of water, and submerge the rotor in the formula.
It’s designed to remove calcium, lime, and rust. Another popular commercial cleaner is Evapo-Rust, which is incredibly potent water-based rust remover, but you can also opt for white vinegar. Just as recommended with the previous solution, mix it in a bucket with water and allow the rotors to soak in it for a while. It’ll loosen the rust from the surface, making it easier for you to scrub it off.
Check the video below for visual demonstrtion on how to use white vinegar.
Consider Painting the Calipers
Repainting the calipers isn’t required, but many automotive professionals highly recommend it. You’ll get a plethora of benefits from doing so, including:
- Highlighting the calipers for a unique appearance when you’re driving
- Protecting the calipers from rust-causing moisture and excess amounts of salinity
- Preventing corrosion from numerous sources
You can choose bright colors such as orange or red, or opt for blended colors such as gray, silver, or black. All of these colors have the same purpose: to protect your calipers from rusting.
Reassemble the Vehicle
When you’re finally finished with removing, cleaning, and drying the rotors, it’s time to put everything back together. If you removed the calipers and brake pads, put them back on before anything else. Then you’re free to replace the rims, tires, and so on if you worked on multiple rotors.
Lower the jack slowly to allow the wheels to sit on the ground, remove the chocks, wooden blocks, or cinder blocks, then drive the vehicle for a few miles. It’s important to operate the car because you want the rust preventative spray to lubricate all sides of the rotors.
Note: A little bit of squeaking is expected for the first few brake applications. However, it should go away relatively quickly. If it continues, then the parts were old, incorrectly installed, or not dry enough.
What Causes Rotor Rust?
Rusted rotors are very dangerous. They can cause you to lose control of your vehicle by preventing the brakes from working properly. You’ll also have to worry about the loud, screaming squeaky noises that come from the rusted surface.
Knowing what causes rust will allow you to prevent it. Remember that you should always use a rust prevention spray if you’re able to.
Here are five causes of rotor rust:
- If you live near a body of water, such as a lake, river, or ocean, then there’s a high chance that you’ll have to deal with rust. Humidity in the air can and will eventually lead to rusted parts throughout your vehicle. Place it in a garage or away from the direction of wind if you can.
- Places frequented by rain usually have a lot of rust. Remember that rust needs moisture and oxygen, both of which are found in excessively rainy climates. Fortunately, you can prevent rust from forming quickly by adding a tarp over the car, parking it in a garage, or leaving it under a carport.
- Scratches, cracks, and other breakages along the rotors can invite rust. Even if there’s no a lot of humidity or rain where you live, small amounts of moisture will become trapped in these grooves, leading to rust. This type of rust can cause your rotors to fracture and become irreparable.
- Old brake pads and calipers can also be a cause of concern. When your brake pads get too low, they start to scrape, hence the loud squeal when you hit the brakes. The friction produced by weakened pads and calipers eventually causes rust to form by creating small grooves along the surface.
- Brake dust also causes rust by caking together with moisture. It’s natural to notice trace amounts of brake dust on your rims and rotors, but too much of it is bad. It starts to gather moisture, which causes rust to form on your rotors, brake pads, calipers, and rims.
As you can see, there are plenty of causes for rust to show up on your vehicle’s brake rotors. They’re all preventable, so there’s no need to get too concerned. If you ever notice rust on the rotors, follow the steps mentioned throughout this article.
Cleaning rust and debris from your brake rotors can add several years to their life span. You won’t have to replace them as often, nor will you have to deal with that ear-piercing squeak that rust creates.
Remember that moisture and oxygen are all that rust needs to show up. It’s important to do a thorough inspection of your vehicle once per month to ensure that it’s clean, safe, and rust-free.