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In the performance brakes world, there is a small amount of debate about the benefits of cryogenically treating rotors, with most people believing that cryo treating rotors greatly improves their durability. An example from Frozen Rotors (one of the leading suppliers) states:

What does cryogenic treating do for my rotors?

Cryogenic treating will increase the useable life of your rotors by 100% to 300% and typically increase the life of your brake pads by 10% - 50%.

To make a long story short, the debate in automotive forums is mainly over exactly what cryo treating does, not even if it has an effect at all. One popular example is that many people believe that cryo treating greatly extends rotor life at the expense of pad life, which is directly counter to the manufacturer claims as above. Another popular claim is that there is no difference for the stresses introduced in daily driving and is not worth the cost, while others quickly counter; swearing it extended their life greatly on a daily driver and is worth the premium.

Finding hard evidence for any claims at all is incredibly difficult. Is there any data out there that will shed some light on this topic?

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According to several sources, cryogenic treatments are proprietary, but it is possible to find scientific papers publicly explaining the process and it consequences in laboratory samples. In 2010, UK-based mechanical engineers Thornton, Slatter, Jones and Lewis wrote:

Cryogenic processing has the potential to significantly increase longevity in many automotive components, where friction and wear are major factors in their operation and eventual failure. Cryogenic treatment affects the whole cross-section of the component and is inexpensive compared to other treatment processes. Whilst numerous studies have been conducted on cryogenic treatment of tool steels since the 1970’s, in many cases showing significant improvements in wear resistance, only minimal work has been done in cast irons. In this study the effects of deep cryogenic treatment (93 K) on the wear resistance of grey cast iron (SAE J431 G10) brake rotors was assessed and related to changes in their microstructure using optical microscopy. A comparative analysis using pin-on-disc testing was carried out on brake discs having undergone deep cryogenic treatment and those that had not, using chrome steel balls as the wear inducing body. The results indicate an improvement in the wear rate of grey cast iron of 9.1–81.4% due to deep cryogenic treatment where significant wear has occurred, although there was no significant change in the bulk hardness, matrix hardness or in the microstructure of the material under optical observation.

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