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Warped Rotor Myth (by Beandip)


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This Article was found by Gary, AKA Beandip. I uploaded it for him.

Though it is not Z specific, it does contain info that makes it worthy of the "tech section" . Because there is not a General Automotive section, or a Brake section, I posted it here as it is a technical article.

The "Warped" Brake Disc and Other Myths of the Braking System

By Carroll Smith

Copyright © 2001 all rights reserved StopTech LLC


The term "warped brake disc" has been in common use in motor racing for decades. When a driver reports a vibration under hard braking, inexperienced crews, after checking for (and not finding) cracks often attribute the vibration to "warped discs". They then measure the disc thickness in various places, find significant variation and the diagnosis is cast in stone.

When disc brakes for high performance cars arrived on the scene we began to hear of "warped brake discs" on road going cars, with the same analyses and diagnoses. Typically, the discs are resurfaced to cure the problem and, equally typically, after a relatively short time the roughness or vibration comes back. Brake roughness has caused a significant number of cars to be bought back by their manufacturers under the "lemon laws". This has been going on for decades now - and, like most things that we have cast in stone, the diagnoses are wrong.

With one qualifier, presuming that the hub and wheel flange are flat and in good condition and that the wheel bolts or hat mounting hardware is in good condition, installed correctly and tightened uniformly and in the correct order to the recommended torque specification, in more than 40 years of professional racing, including the Shelby/Ford GT 40s – one of the most intense brake development program in history

- I have never seen a warped brake disc. I have seen lots of cracked discs, (FIGURE 1) discs that had turned into shallow cones at operating temperature because they were mounted rigidly to their attachment bells or top hats, (FIGURE 2) a few where the friction surface had collapsed in the area between straight radial interior vanes, (FIGURE 3) and an untold number of discs with pad material unevenly deposited on the friction surfaces - sometimes visible and more often not. (FIGURE 4)

In fact every case of "warped brake disc" that I have investigated, whether on a racing car or a street car, has turned out to be friction pad material transferred unevenly to the surface of the disc. This uneven deposition results in thickness variation (TV) or run-out due to hot spotting that occurred at elevated temperatures.

In order to understand what is happening here, we will briefly investigate the nature of the stopping power of the disc brake system.


Friction is the mechanism that converts dynamic energy into heat. Just as there are two sorts of friction between the tire and the road surface (mechanical gripping of road surface irregularities by the elastic tire compound and transient molecular adhesion between the rubber and the road in which rubber is transferred to the road surface), so there are two very different sorts of braking friction - abrasive friction and adherent friction. Abrasive friction involves the breaking of the crystalline bonds of both the pad material and the cast iron of the disc. The breaking of these bonds generates the heat of friction. In abrasive friction, the bonds between crystals of the pad material (and, to a lesser extent, the disc material) are permanently broken. The harder material wears the softer away (hopefully the disc wears the pad). Pads that function primarily by abrasion have a high wear rate and tend to fade at high temperatures. When these pads reach their effective temperature limit, they will transfer pad material onto the disc face in a random and uneven pattern. It is this "pick up" on the disc face that both causes the thickness variation measured by the technicians and the roughness or vibration under the brakes reported by the drivers.

With adherent friction, some of the pad material diffuses across the interface between the pad and the disc and forms a very thin, uniform layer of pad material on the surface of the disc. As the friction surfaces of both disc and pad then comprise basically the same material, material can now cross the interface in both directions and the bonds break and reform. In fact, with adherent friction between pad and disc, the bonds between pad material and the deposits on the disc are transient in nature - they are continually being broken and some of them are continually reforming.

There is no such thing as pure abrasive or pure adherent friction in braking. With many contemporary pad formulas, the pad material must be abrasive enough to keep the disc surface smooth and clean. As the material can cross the interface, the layer on the disc is constantly renewed and kept uniform - again until the temperature limit of the pad has been exceeded or if the pad and the disc have not been bedded-in completely or properly. In the latter case, if a uniform layer of pad material transferred onto the disc face has not been established during bedding or break-in, spot or uncontrolled transfer of the material can occur when operating at high temperatures. The organic and semi-metallic pads of the past were more abrasive than adherent and were severely temperature limited. All of the current generation of "metallic carbon", racing pads utilize mainly adherent technology as do many of the high end street car pads and they are temperature stable over a much higher range. Unfortunately, there is no free lunch and the ultra high temperature racing pads are ineffective at the low temperatures typically experienced in street use.

Therefore - there is no such thing as an ideal "all around" brake pad. The friction material that is quiet and functions well at relatively low temperatures around town will not stop the car that is driven hard. If you attempt to drive many cars hard with the OEM pads, you will experience pad fade, friction material transfer and fluid boiling - end of discussion. The true racing pad, used under normal conditions will be noisy and will not work well at low temperatures around town.

Ideally, in order to avoid either putting up with squealing brakes that will not stop the car well around town or with pad fade on the track or coming down the mountain at speed, we should change pads before indulging in vigorous automotive exercise. No one does. The question remains, what pads should be used in high performance street cars - relatively low temperature street pads or high temperature race pads? Strangely enough, in my opinion, the answer is a high performance street pad with good low temperature characteristics. The reason is simple: If we are driving really hard and begin to run into trouble, either with pad fade or boiling fluid (or both), the condition(s) comes on gradually enough to allow us to simply modify our driving style to compensate. On the other hand, should an emergency occur when the brakes are

cold, the high temperature pad is simply not going to stop the car. As an example, during the mid 1960s, those of us at Shelby American did not drive GT 350 or GT 500 Mustangs as company cars simply because they were equipped with Raybestos M-19 racing pads and none of our wives could push on the brake pedal hard enough to stop the car in normal driving.

Regardless of pad composition, if both disc and pad are not properly broken in, material transfer between the two materials can take place in a random fashion - resulting is uneven deposits and vibration under braking. Similarly, even if the brakes are properly broken, if, when they are very hot or following a single long stop from high speed, the brakes are kept applied after the vehicle comes to a complete stop it is possible to leave a telltale deposit behind that looks like the outline of a pad. This kind of deposit is called pad imprinting and looks like the pad was inked for printing like a stamp and then set on the disc face. It is possible to see the perfect outline of the pad on the disc. FIGURE 5

It gets worse. Cast iron is an alloy of iron and silicon in solution interspersed with particles of carbon. At elevated temperatures, inclusions of carbides begin to form in the matrix. In the case of the brake disk, any uneven deposits - standing proud of the disc surface - become hotter than the surrounding metal. Every time that the leading edge of one of the deposits rotates into contact with the pad, the local temperature increases. When this local temperature reaches around 1200 or 1300 degrees F. the cast iron under the deposit begins to transform into cementite (an iron carbide in which three atoms of iron combine with one atom of carbon). Cementite is very hard, very abrasive and is a poor heat sink. If severe use continues the system will enter a self-defeating spiral - the amount and depth of the cementite increases with increasing temperature and so does the brake roughness. Drat!

(Go to part two)






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There is only one way to prevent this sort of thing-following proper break in procedures for both pad and disc and use the correct pad for your driving style and conditions. All high performance after market discs and pads should come with both installation and break in instructions. The procedures are very similar between manufacturers. With respect to the pads, the bonding resins must be burned off relatively slowly to avoid both fade and uneven deposits. The procedure is several stops of increasing severity with a brief cooling period between them. After the last stop, the system should be allowed to cool to ambient temperature. Typically, a series of ten increasingly hard stops from 60mph to 5 mph with normal acceleration in between should get the job done for a high performance street pad. During pad or disc break-in, do not come to a complete stop, so plan where and when you do this procedure with care and concern for yourself and the safety of others. If you come to a complete stop before the break-in process is completed there is the chance for non-uniform pad material transfer or pad imprinting to take place and the results will be what the whole process is trying to avoid. Game over

In terms of stop severity, an ABS active stop would typically be around 0.9 G’s and above, depending on the vehicle. What you want to do is stop at a rate around 0.7

to 0.9 G's. That is a deceleration rate near but below lock up or ABS intervention. You should begin to smell pads at the 5th to 7th stop and the smell should diminish before the last stop. A powdery gray area will become visible on the edge of the pad (actually the edge of the friction material in contact with the disc - not the backing plate) where the paint and resins of the pad are burning off. When the gray area on the edges of the pads are about 1/8" deep, the pad is bedded

For a race pad, typically four 80mph to 5 and two 100mph to 5, depending on the pad, will also be necessary to raise the system temperatures during break-in to the range that the pad material was designed to operate at. Hence, the higher temperature material can establish its layer completely and uniformly on the disc surface

Fortunately the procedure is also good for the discs and will relieve any residual thermal stresses left over from the casting process (all discs should be thermally stress relieved as one of the last manufacturing processes) and will transfer the smooth layer of pad material onto the disc. If possible, new discs should be bedded with used pads of the same compound that will be used going forward. Again, heat should be put into the system gradually - increasingly hard stops with cool off time in between. Part of the idea is to avoid prolonged contact between pad and disc. With abrasive pads (which should not be used on high performance cars) the disc can be considered bedded when the friction surfaces have attained an even blue color. With the carbon metallic type pads, bedding is complete when the friction surfaces of the disc are a consistent gray or black. In any case, the discoloration of a completely broken in disc will be complete and uniform

Depending upon the friction compound, easy use of the brakes for an extended period may lead to the removal of the transfer layer on the discs by the abrasive action of the pads. When we are going to exercise a car that has seen easy brake use for a while, a partial re-bedding process will prevent uneven pick up

The driver can feel a 0.0004" deposit or TV on the disc. 0.001" is annoying. More than that becomes a real pain. When deposit are present, by having isolated regions that are proud of the surface and running much hotter than their neighbors, cementite inevitably forms and the local wear characteristics change which results in ever increasing TV and roughness

Other than proper break in, as mentioned above, never leave your foot on the brake pedal after you have used the brakes hard. This is not usually a problem on public roads simply because, under normal conditions, the brakes have time to cool before you bring the car to a stop (unless, like me, you live at the bottom of a long steep hill). In any kind of racing, including autocross and "driving days" it is crucial. Regardless of friction material, clamping the pads to a hot stationary disc will result in material transfer and discernible "brake roughness". What is worse, the pad will leave the telltale imprint or outline on the disc and your sin will be visible to all and sundry

The obvious question now is "is there a "cure" for discs with uneven friction material deposits?" The answer is a conditional yes. If the vibration has just started, the chances are that the temperature has never reached the point where cementite begins to form. In this case, simply fitting a set of good "semi-metallic" pads and using them hard (after bedding) may well remove the deposits and restore the system to normal operation but with upgraded pads. If only a small amount of material has been transferred i.e. if the vibration is just starting, vigorous scrubbing with garnet paper may remove the deposit. As many deposits are not visible, scrub the entire friction surfaces thoroughly. Do not use regular sand paper or emery cloth as the aluminum oxide abrasive material will permeate the cast iron surface and make the condition worse. Do not bead blast or sand blast the discs for the same reason

The only fix for extensive uneven deposits involves dismounting the discs and having them Blanchard ground - not expensive, but inconvenient at best. A newly ground disc will require the same sort of bedding in process as a new disc. The trouble with this procedure is that if the grinding does not remove all of the cementite inclusions, as the disc wears the hard cementite will stand proud of the relatively soft disc and the thermal spiral starts over again. Unfortunately, the cementite is invisible to the naked eye

Taking time to properly bed your braking system pays big dividends but, as with most sins, a repeat of the behavior that caused the trouble will bring it right back


To digress for a moment "steel discs" are a misnomer frequently used by people who should know better. This group includes TV commentators and drivers being interviewed. Except for some motorcycles and karts, all ferrous discs are made from cast iron - an excellent material for the job. While steel has a higher tensile strength, cast iron is many times stronger than disc brake requirements. Its thermal transfer characteristics are significantly better than those of steel so that the heat generated at the interface between pad and disc is efficiently carried through the friction faces to the interior surface of the disc and into the vanes from where the heat is dissipated into the air stream. Cast iron is more dimensionally stable at elevated temperature than steel and is a better heat sink - so let us hear no more talk of "steel" brake discs


The all too familiar mushy brake pedal is caused by overheated brake fluid, not overheated pads. Repeated heavy use of the brakes may lead to "brake fade". There are two distinct varieties of brake fade

A) When the temperature at the interface between the pad and the rotor exceeds the thermal capacity of the pad, the pad loses friction capability due largely to out gassing of the binding agents in the pad compound. The brake pedal remains firm and solid but the car will not stop. The first indication is a distinctive and unpleasant smell which should serve as a warning to back off

B) When the fluid boils in the calipers air bubbles are formed. Since air is compressible, the brake pedal becomes soft and "mushy" and pedal travel increases. You can probably still stop the car by pumping the pedal but efficient modulation is gone. This is a gradual process with lots of warning


Once the brake fluid inside the caliper has boiled, it has lost a significant percentage of its original boiling point and should be replaced. It is not necessary to remove all of the fluid in the system, just bleed until clear fluid appears.


DOT 3 AND DOT 4 brake fluids are ether based and are hygroscopic in nature - i.e. they absorb water vapor. As the braking system in not quite airtight, a significant amount of water can be absorbed from the atmosphere in the course of a year. A 3% water content in brake fluid drops the boiling point as much as 170 degrees F. Brake fluid should be completely replaced annually.

DOT 5 fluids are silicon based and are non-hygroscopic, which is good. They are also subject to frothing from high frequency vibration, which gives a soft pedal. Soft brake pedals may be OK in non-high performance cars (in fact, most drivers accept mushy brake pedals as normal) but they are not acceptable in any situation where the driver intends to modulate braking at high force values

MYTH # 6 The brake fluid reservoir should be topped up during routine service.

In most modern passenger cars, the brake fluid reservoir is designed with a specific volume and is equipped with an internal float. The volume corresponds to the amount of fluid that will be displaced when the pads have worn to the point of replacement plus a generous reserve. When the replacement point is reached, the descending float completes an electrical circuit and a light appears on the dash warning the driver that the pads should be replaced.

If the brake fluid is topped up the first warning of warn out pads will be the screech of steel backing plate against iron disc. This will be both annoying and expensive.

3541-A Lomita Blvd

Torrance, CA 90505







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My appologies for the lack of puntuation at the end of the sections-the article was jsut unde 20000 characters, and to break it up into two parts at the end of a section I had to loose 23 characters-I didn't want to change a word, so I changed the punctuation.

The complete article can be found here:


I appreciate Gary for sharing this with all of us.


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So if you have rear discs, you shouldn't use the parking brake if you've been driving, is that correct? Wait till the brakes cool down, then put the parking brake on? Or are rear discs different that what is mentioned here because they work so much less...

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  • 3 years later...

I got some new pads a few weeks ago on my DD car and I asked the guy about the break-in procedure, to which he says," There's no procedure. They're ready to go." Yes, they were done and ready for stopping, but you till have to break them in. I was going to get in the highway and get on & off a few times, using the brakes to stop mostly and the e-brake to hold the car at a light (after shifting to Neutral of course.)

It looks like I stopped once or twice too fully, because I've got a little shudder. The same brake guy tested the car and tells me "You have a warped rotor."

!!! :eek: :devious::devious:

I argued a little that "There's no such thing!" and the guy then reminds me he's certified on brakes!?? Nore like certifyable...

In the end, I went to another brake specialist who sanded the rotor a little and I got the pads done-in properly. The brake shop manager wasn't a specialist, just 'a guy in a suit' if you get my drift.

So even after so many years of the word being out on the problem, some "experts" are still doing it WRONG.

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It's not that you "stopped once or twice too fully" more that you didn't let the pad/rotors cool sufficiently between stops. I'm no expert but I break my pads in with no problems, if they're good pads to begin with.

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I'm going to print this out and show it to my last mechanic- who did a shoddy job of installing my new brakes. Especially the part about Blanchard grinding, and garnet paper resurfacing. My new mechanic pointed out much of this to me when he surveyed her.

Thanks so much for taking the pains to introduce such a very informative- and critically important- subject.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I just had my 280Z at a Meineke place to "surface the rotor" that was shuddering while braking. I said the re was a "sticky spot" from the brake pad material. The tech guy drives my car around a parking lot, then tells me "You have a warped rotor." After I informed him that there's no such thing as a warped rotor he gives me a look like I'm telling him!? Then he says I need both lower ball joints $500 per pair) and a tie-rod end (new tierods from my Mustang rack install)


OK, maybe the ball joints ($200 each!) are about ready to be changed, but those people still tell me I need two new rotors & pads (rotors & pads come in "matched sets?")

Finally, they guy tells me if I did get new rotors & pads, I wouldn't have to do anything epecial for pad brake-in.

Yeah, right.


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Did you expect anything different from a guy at a "chain store" garage?

Hell would have to freeze over before I take my Z to Meineke, Pep Boys, Jiffy Lube (except for a state inspection), Brake Check, etc. The average monkeys that they tend to hire are too ham-fisted to work on any car as classic as a Z.

Please tell me that you walked away.

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Having put many many rotors on a lathe and actually SEEN the cutter hit one side of the rotor and not the opposite side, and seen it reversed 180 degrees awawy on the rotor, I'm a bit perplexed by this whole "deposit on the rotor" scenario. That said I also have all of Carroll Smith's books, and I'd consider myself a fan of his. Whether you call it a deposit or a warp, cutting the rotor on a lathe will indeed remove the problem. Unfortunately it will also make the rotor thinner, and more likely to develop the same problem quicker the next time in my experience.

Having passed the ASE test on brakes, I can tell you that they don't subscribe to the deposit on the rotors theory, or at least they didn't when I took the test in the early 90's. So telling an ASE certified mechanic that there is no such thing as a warped rotor is an exercise in futility, and to keep going to different shops telling them that there is no such thing is about as useful as repeatedly slamming your head into a wall.

To fix the problem use different pads. Whether the pads are depositing material on the rotor or warping it is irrelevant. Using a different pad is going to be the solution. You can either cut the rotors or replace them. I made a decision not to turn rotors on my own vehicles a while back, so I just replace them, but cutting will work.

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Did you expect anything different from a guy at a "chain store" garage? .... The average monkeys that they tend to hire are too ham-fisted to work on any car as classic as a Z.

Please tell me that you walked away.

Yeah, I asked for a written quote, and asked for the car back because I didn't have the time to wait. I will givethem a call when I am ready forthe service.

I do know a guy ( greasy blue coveralls and face, dirty little shop on the corner of some quiet street) who will tell you things (a little) more honestly. I think I will go there and get the rotors turned again, if there's enough material left.


I'm not sure which pads are on there right now. Probably generic or Bendix ones. Is there a suggestion on what pads to get or ask for?

Darn- I forgot to tell them to hand-torque the wheel nuts.


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my Nissan dealer has a brake lathe that turns the rotors while still on the car, so that everything is true to the hub. is this really the best way to do the rotors? they claim that this is the only way to guarantee no run out or shimmy when braking.

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my Nissan dealer has a brake lathe that turns the rotors while still on the car, so that everything is true to the hub. is this really the best way to do the rotors? they claim that this is the only way to guarantee no run out or shimmy when braking.

On a Z the rotor gets bolted to the hub, so when you put it in a lathe you use the hub and it's all bolted together. So you basically get the same effect. Most newer cars have slip on rotors. On that type of setup the on car lathe has a real advantage.

It is true however that most brake lathe spindles are bent because stupid mechanics slam down heavy drums and rotors on them (I know because I used to be a stupid mechanic who didn't realize the damage this caused), so the on the car lathe might be better in that respect. If you had a straight spindle on the brake lathe though, there should be no real difference between doing it on the car vs off the car for a bolt on rotor like a Z has.

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my Nissan dealer has a brake lathe that turns the rotors while still on the car, so that everything is true to the hub. is this really the best way to do the rotors? they claim that this is the only way to guarantee no run out or shimmy when braking.

It certainly guarantees that you are not spinning the rotor with it mounted to an uncontrolled surface. With rotors that are removable from the hub (like on a Z car) there is a risk that someone will clamp it to a lathe with either the center or square-up surface locating on a part of the rotor that isn't tightly controlled. That will cause the finished cut to be out of square to the calipers when it is mounted back on the car.

Personally, I never turn brake rotors. If they are within the specified minimum thickness I just replace the pads. I know that in doing that the car will shake and shimmy under some braking loads for the first 3 to 5 thousand miles, but it always goes away eventually. I am just cheap, and have found that rotors that are not turned every time will last MANY thousands of miles longer than rotors that are "trued up" every time.

If in the business of repairing brakes, then I would probably want to turn the rotors every time, because it would reduce my warranty costs.

(And increase my long term part business.)

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It would be more work to separate the rotor from the hub to turn it. I've never seen it done, although I suppose you might run across a particularly stupid mechanic or a lathe that is missing the correct adapter for the hub bearings I guess...

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The last time I had a rotor from my Z turned, it was removed from the hub. The hub was repacked before reassembly, which isn't so bad a thing, but maybe not that much needed.

I'm off to the dirty brake guy to see what he has to say- BBL


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No such thing as a warped brake disc? Well I guess that could be true under a strict definition of warped and disc. I define warped as the disc being not parallel with the plane that is perpendicular to the axis of rotation of the hub. The "disc" part of the rotor may not be warped but can still wobble instead of spin true. It's the whole spinning assembly that needs to be true, not just the disc part if the rotor. I do agree that the shudder most of us feel is stuff on the friction surface of the disc and not "warp". I've seen rotors that were "warped" by my definition not give the slightest hint that there was any problem.


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The last time I had a rotor from my Z turned, it was removed from the hub. The hub was repacked before reassembly, which isn't so bad a thing, but maybe not that much needed.

I'm having a hard time believing that a mechanic would do this. IME the Z rotors don't usually come off the hub too easily, so it really is something to be avoided if at all possible.

Normally to turn a Z rotor a mechanic would remove the wheel bearings and wipe out the grease from the hub, then turn the rotors with the hub on the lathe, then repack the bearings and reinstall in the hub and reinstall the hub and rotor on the car. Is that not what happened on your brake job?

The way you wrote that out made me think that you thought repacking the bearings was necessary due to the removal of the rotor from the hub, which is not the case.

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I think the guy did the rotor the way you suggested, not some kind of shortcut. I will review the FSM on this to be sure, but as it had be said earlier, 'certified' tech guys don't need the customers telling them how to do their job, even if they have the FSM with them.


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