Understanding Brake Calipers And Why They May Need To Be Replaced

10 May 2017
 Categories: , Articles


If you are a typical car owner, then you may know about some of the basics. For example, you may understand that certain vehicle maintenance tasks need to be completed on a regular basis to make sure that the braking system functions properly. Maintenance includes the changing of the brake pads about every 50,000 miles. The brake rotors need to be swamped out on occasion too, and every now and then the calipers need replacing. If you are hearing about calipers for the first time, then keep reading to learn what they are and also why they may need to be replaced. 

What Are Brake Calipers?

A brake caliper is the metallic, rectangular shaped part that sits just behind each vehicle tire. Each tire has its own caliper and the device holds the brake pads just above the rotor and keeps the pads from touching the disc part of the brake. The caliper is attached to the brake line, and fluid runs through this line and into the caliper. When this happens, pressure is placed on a piston. The piston moves and forces the brake pads together. The pads then rub up against the rotor and your vehicle slows down.

The more pressure you place on the brake pedal, the more fluid pressure builds up. This forces more stress against the piston, and the brake pads squeeze tighter against the rotor. 

All four calipers work together and place equal pressure on the four rotors of the vehicle. This allows your car to come to a stop while also staying straight and safely on the road. 

Why Do Calipers Need To Be Changed?

Calipers, like many of the other moving parts that make your vehicle run, wear out over time. Specifically, the piston inside the caliper will often freeze and stop moving forward and backward. When this happens, the part will typically freeze in the partially or fully engaged position. This means that the brake pads will remain in constant contact with the rotor and place at least a small amount of pressure on the disc brake. 

When the caliper freezes, you will feel your car pulling to the side where the caliper is located. Your car may not accelerate like usual, and you may feel a good deal of drag as you drive. You may also smell a strong odor coming from the wheel well. This smell comes from the friction of the brake pads hitting the rotor. Also, the rotor itself may heat up due to the stress and release a burning smell. You may even see some smoke coming from the braking system when you stop your vehicle. 

What Are Some Other Caliper Issues?

A freezing caliper is not the only problem that may require a repair or replacement. However, the freezing problem is a telltale, common, and serious issue that should be identified and repaired quickly.

The caliper also contains a number of rubber seals that can break down over time. Also, they have a small opening called a bleeder valve on one end that allows for the release of brake fluid. If the seals, like the ones that surround the piston, or the bleeder valve breaks, then brake fluid can start to leak. 

If a caliper develops a leak, then you will notice an issue with your entire braking system. The brake pedal will seem soft and may push to the floor much more easily. Also, the brakes will be slow to respond and it may seem as though you need to slam on the brake before your car slows down. 

If you notice braking problems like this, then it is wise to have your vehicle inspected right away. While a leaking caliper is the likely culprit, there is a chance that there is a break in the brake line. This is also quite dangerous. So if you notice any issues, contact a local auto repair shop, such as Huntington Beach Transmissions, right away.