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Composite Rotors: Can They Be Serviced?

When you hear the words “composite rotor,” you might think of a racecar brake rotor with Allen head bolts holding the hat to the outer ring. But, more economical and robust “semi-floating” rotors have made it onto import and domestic vehicles.

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When you hear the words “composite rotor,” you might think of a racecar brake rotor with Allen head bolts holding the hat to the outer ring. But, more economical and robust “semi-floating” rotors have made it onto import and domestic vehicles.

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In the marketing materials, manufacturers and suppliers may call these rotors semi-floating, dual-cast or composite rotors. For the sake of simplicity, we are just going to call them composite rotors. These types of rotors have two advantages over a fully cast rotor.

First, these rotors weigh less. The weight savings increase fuel economy, while improving braking and handling performance because the unsprung mass is reduced. If you can reduce the unsprung mass, you can improve the ride with lower spring rates and better compression or rebound dampener settings.

Second, these rotor designs allow the outer ring composed of the plates and vanes to expand more. This can help prevent cracking on rotors that have diameters larger than 12 inches. On where the hat meets the outer plates. GM and Chrysler tried using composite rotor designs on some vehicles around the turn of the century. These rotors had a stamped steel hat that the iron rotor was cast around. These rotors had issues with lateral runout induced by uneven lug nut torque and the runout would lead to uneven wear of the rotor’s plates that would cause pedal pulsation. The solution to the problem was full cast rotors and longer lug studs for some vehicles.

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Carbon ceramic composite rotors are another looming service issue. While the pads and rotors can last more than 80,000 miles, they can’t be machined on any lathe. To measure rotor wear on some applications, the rotor must be measured and weighed.

TYPES OF ROTORS

The current batch of composite rotors use a cast-iron friction ring mated to a forged aluminum hat. Since it is almost impossible to weld cast iron to aluminum, two methods to mechanically fasten the rotor to the hat are being used.

Audi and BMW attach the hat to the outer ring using pins that go through the side of the hat and into the rotor. These are pressed in with extreme force. The heads of the pin can be seen through the wheels.

BMW TSB SI B34 05 15 discusses customer complaints of a ticking noise coming from the front wheels while cornering at slow speeds and during parking. This condition is caused by movement between the inner contact surfaces of the brake rotor and the flange. The solution is P/N 31 10 8 053 073 — a “friction washer” that fits between the flange and rotor. On some mid-line Mercedes-Benz AMG vehicles, the company opted to use a design from a supplier that makes composite rotors for Maserati, GM and other manufacturers. This design utilizes an aluminum hat section; the hat has Christmas tree-like projections that go into the rotor around which the iron bonds while the casting is spun.

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SERVICEABILITY

The same is true for the new generation of composite rotors. If a technician tightens the lug nuts unevenly or with too much torque, runout could be induced. This runout typically results in pedal pulsation.

The bad news is that some of these rotors can’t be machined because of their design. On some applications, the front rotors allow for only 2 mm of wear before they are below the discard measurement. It is critical to check your service information for recommendations to measure and machine these types of rotors.

On the 2014 Corvette, the RPO J55 brake package used a cast composite rotor. TSB #16-NA-170 discusses a rattle noise and vibration that can come from the brakes. The cause of the condition was excessive lateral runout in the inner top hat section. What is the solution? GM released a fully cast rotor during the 2016 production.

The BMW two-piece composite rotor does not have much material to work with on a lathe. The nominal thickness is 30mm and the minimum speci- fication is 28.4mm.

The good news is that many aftermarket brake rotor manufacturers have released full-cast rotors for domestic and import applications.

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