If you’re looking to install some fresh brake pads or replace a faulty wheel bearing, you may have run into some difficulty when removing your brake rotor.
In this article, we’ll explain how to remove a stuck rotor and how to prevent it from happening again in the future.
This Article Contains:
- How to Remove a Stuck Rotor (Step-by-Step Guide)
- 5 Tips to Help Free a Stuck Rotor
- How to Prevent a Stuck Rotor in Future
Let’s dive in.
How to Remove a Stuck Rotor (Step-by-Step Guide)
Rotor removal is a brake job that can be an uphill battle if there’s a lot of corrosion and rust. However, with some luck, a bit of hammering in specific locations will be enough to pry the two pieces free.
Follow these six steps to unstick your brake rotor:
- Remove the Brake Caliper From the Bracket
- Remove the Caliper Plate
- Temporarily Reattach the Lug Nuts
- Remove the Rust
- Grab Some Extra Equipment
- Insert the Bolts Into the Threaded Holes at the Back of the Rotor
Before we get started, it’s important to point out that if you notice rust on certain components like your brake pads and shoes, have them replaced immediately. Rust can get between the braking plate (backing plate) friction material and cause brake failure.
Note: This job can take several hours and requires some specialized tools, like a propane torch or acetylene torch and a rotor puller or pry bar, depending on the level of rust and corrosion present.
Additionally, if you’re working on a rear rotor, ensure the parking brake isn’t engaged.
It’s also great if you have some technical know-how to avoid damaging other brake components. As a result, it may be better to let professional mechanics handle the task for you.
With that said, once you have the vehicle jacked up and the wheel removed, you can follow these steps to dislodge your stubborn rotors:
Step 1: Remove the Brake Caliper From the Bracket
There should be two rotor bolts, one located near the top of the caliper bracket and the other closer to the bottom. This will loosen the caliper and provide access to the brake pads. Remove each pad and set them aside safely.
Also, remove the dust shield if your car has one and you haven’t done so already.
Step 2: Remove the Caliper Plate
After disconnecting and safely tucking the caliper away, you need to remove the caliper’s backing plate. This involves removing a couple of bolts located at the back of the caliper bracket. These bolts go through the caliper bracket and connect to the wheel hub.
Sometimes these bolts are held in place with Loctite and may require a little extra effort to dislodge — so having an impact wrench nearby would be helpful.
Note: Before removing the brake disc, there may be a rotor screw or two on the rotor face. You must remove each rotor screw before attempting to dislodge the brake disc. If a screw has rusted in its screw hole, you may need an impact wrench or driver to dislodge it.
Slot the head of the impact driver into the head of the screw and hit the other end of the impact driver. Try and turn the screw as you do so, and with a bit of luck, it’ll come loose.
Step 3: Temporarily Reattach the Lug Nuts
It’s at this point where the brake rotor should just slide off the wheel.
However, since that isn’t the case, we must break the rust.
Before doing that, it’s a good idea to reattach a lug bolt or two temporarily. You just need to screw on each lug bolt enough to stop the rotor from coming off and falling on someone’s foot while removing the rust.
Doing so will also ensure no accidental damage to the threads attached to the rotor hub, which can warp the wheel studs.
Step 4: Remove the Rust
An old rotor will likely have some rust on it, which must be removed.
For this, you’ll probably start with a hammer.
Almost any hammer will work, such as a:
- Rubber mallet
- Dead blow hammer
- Ball-pein hammer
- Standard claw hammer
- Small sledgehammer
- Air hammer
Some note that using a metal hammer is more effective because it creates more vibrations, but this can damage the rotor if you’re hitting it directly. But, if you’re fortunate to have an air hammer, it can help speed up the process — just be careful not to damage the rotor face.
You can then start by hammering in between each lug nut. This is important because if you’re performing repairs and not a replacement, hitting the rotor itself can break it, separating it from the rotor hub.
Often, giving it a few taps around the wheel hub is enough to pry the brake rotor off with a screwdriver or pry bar. If you want to minimize the risk of damaging your rotor, use a rubber mallet or dead blow hammer instead.
Step 5: Grab Some Extra Equipment
If hammering hasn’t done the trick, you’ll need a backup plan.
For this, you’ll need some extra parts:
- Two hex bolts
- Two washers
- Two nuts
- Two wrenches
Step 6: Insert the Bolts Into the Threaded Holes at the Back of the Rotor
If you’re lucky, there might be a threaded hole or two on the back of the brake disc. These threaded holes serve no other purpose than to help remove a stuck rotor. Slot a bolt with a washer through each threaded hole and secure them with the nuts.
Note: For your safety, loosely secure the rotor hat with the lug nuts to prevent the rotor hat from flying off and possibly impacting your body or landing on your feet.
Then, with one wrench attached to the nut, use the other wrench to tighten the bolt. Then, make sure to switch between the two bolts, tightening them evenly.
If you do this enough times, alternating between the rotor bolts and the brake disc should simply pop off.
5 Tips to Help Free a Stuck Rotor
If the above steps haven’t helped free your rusted rotors, there are a couple of other methods available:
Tip #1: Rotate the Rotor
You can try loosening the bolts you installed in the bolt hole behind the rotor, putting the car in neutral, and releasing the parking brake. You can then rotate the disc rotor about 45° before tightening the bolts again.
Applying the force to a different part of the rotor might also be necessary to break it free. You might need to rotate the rotor a few times to find out.
Tip #2: Use Penetrative Lubricant
Penetrative lubricants like PB Blaster or Liquid Wrench can be a major asset in your toolbox. By applying a generous amount of Liquid Wrench on the wheel hub and the backside of the rotor, the lubricant can help dislodge any rust or corrosion.
After giving the lubricant some time to take effect, you’ll probably need to hit the hat a few more times.
If you’re facing an adamant screw, feel free to use some penetrative lubricant on the screw hole.
Tip #3: Use a Rotor Puller
You’ll need a large enough rotor puller to grip around the back of your rusted rotors. There should be an indentation on the center of the rotor face. Using this indentation to secure the puller’s center bolt, you can then lock the jaws onto the backside of the rotor.
After applying some oil to the center bolt, you can then begin tightening the puller. If the rotor still doesn’t budge, hitting the puller’s center bolt with a hammer can help.
Tip #4: Apply Heat
If the stuck brake rotor still hasn’t dislodged, you may need to start applying heat with a propane torch or acetylene torch. Applying heat to the areas in between the lug nut on the brake hat may be what’s needed to finally dislodge the stuck rotor.
Note: exercise caution when using a propane or acetylene torch by keeping a fire extinguisher nearby.
Tip #5: Use a Breaker Bar
If you’re desperate to get your rusted rotors off, you might need to consider using a breaker bar and some leverage.
If opting for his method, take some extra precautions. Using this much leverage can round out the bolt, and then you’re in a worse place than when you began.
You’ll need a one-foot breaker bar and a cheater bar. Then, simply slot the end of the breaker on the bolt head and slot the cheater bar over the breaker bar. Make sure to slide the cheater bar all the way down, so you don’t bend the breaker bar.
Then, gradually start applying pressure until the bolt begins to come loose. You should then be able to remove it using only the breaker bar.
If you’ve tried all the above methods and still have no luck, you can always cut the rotor off with an angle grinder. Of course, this will work only if you’re installing a brand new rotor and not repairing old rotors.
Now that we know how to remove a stuck rotor, let’s look at preventing it from happening again in the future.
How to Prevent a Stuck Rotor in Future
No one wants to go through all that work again, especially if it’s avoidable. It’s often a time-consuming and exhausting job, requiring a good amount of effort and some specific tools. And even then, the most stubborn rotors may take a mix of all methods before finally dislodging.
Next time you have your brake rotor repaired or replaced, make sure you do the following:
1. Clean the Rust and Corrosion
First, ensure you clean any rust and corrosion around the wheel stud. You can do this with a wire brush or even a wire brush drill attachment. Ensure you thoroughly clean the sides and tops of the wheel stud, hub, and rotor surface, since this is where it will rust the most.
2. Apply Some Grease
Then, you can ask the mechanic to put some lubricant, like dielectric grease, on the wheel hub and the backside of the wheel rotor. This is fantastic for preventing the two metals from corroding together in the future — especially on an old rotor.
With constant exposure to the elements, rust and corrosion can cause the brake rotor surface to weld to the wheel hub. If you’re in a pinch with a stuck brake rotor and unable to dislodge the two, your best bet is to arrange for a professional mechanic to examine the issue.
Trying to separate the hub from the rotor face may require specialist tools. Some technical know-how can also go a long way as you’re going to encounter other essential components, such as the brake calipers.
When in doubt, don’t stress.
Reach out to a professional like RepairSmith and let us handle all the heavy lifting during your brake job.
We’ll send expert technicians to your driveway, ready to fix any rotor issues!