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Put simply a brake disc (rotor) is the metal plate that your brake pads squeeze against to stop the motion of your wheels. In drum brakes a brake shoe squeezes against the brake drum with the same effect. For effective stopping the brake pads/shoes need to fit flush against the surface of the disc/drum. Any problems with the surface of your brake discs or drums can cause premature wearing of your brake pads, vibrations or grinding noises when braking and dangerously effect your braking distances.
Often the surface of the disc or drums can be machined or resurfaced rather than requiring a replacement.
Just like brake pads, rotors and drums have a minimum required thickness. If they are too thin, rusted, warped or cracked they cannot be resurfaced and will need to be replaced.
Signs you need might a rotor/drum resurface: