Symptoms Of A Bad Brake Caliper and Replacement Cost

The efficient performance of your vehicle’s braking system is very important to stop the vehicle quickly and prevent accidents. It ensures that you can stop your car safely. The brake system consists of different components, and the brake caliper is one of them. You must have enough knowledge about the symptoms of a bad brake caliper.

Symptoms Of A Bad Brake Caliper

The brake caliper is a major part of the vehicle’s brake system. It helps the braking system to stop the vehicle quickly and safely. It houses the piston and supports the brake pads, which make contact with the wheel rotor to slow down the vehicle.  

When the brake caliper becomes faulty, it may badly affect the performance of your braking system and cause accidents. This article explains the bad brake caliper symptoms, causes, and how to replace it.

Symptoms Of A Bad Brake Caliper

The car pulling to one side while braking is one of the clear symptoms of a bad brake caliper. Bad calipers may also cause dragging, uneven brake pad wear, soft brake pedal, burning smell, brake noise, or brake fluid leak.

Let’s discuss the symptoms of a bad brake caliper in detail:

1) Car Pulling To One Side When Braking

Car Pulling To One Side

The vehicle pulling to one side while applying the brake is one of the clear symptoms of a stuck brake caliper.

When a caliper becomes stuck, it fails to retract to its initial position. Consequently, it continuously starts to exert pressure on the brake pads, causing it to drag against the brake rotor.

In case of a stuck caliper, your car tends to veer to one side as you apply brakes due to uneven force distribution. To counter this pull, you may find yourself steering in the opposite direction while applying the brakes.

2) Uneven Brake Pad Wear

Brake Pad

A faulty brake caliper may also lead to uneven wear on brake pads. Occasionally, a stuck caliper piston may also lead to unusual wear. In both situations, the brake pad of your braking system may experience partial engagement, forcing it to drag against the brake rotor.

3) Increased Stopping Power

Increased Stopping Distance

As per the NHTSA, brake-related issues lead to over 20% of accidents. Therefore, ensuring your brakes deliver their proposed stopping power is of utmost importance.

When the brake caliper goes bad, the performance of the braking system reduces. It may diminish braking effectiveness, increasing the risk of accidents. Therefore, it is recommended to fix the brake-related issues as soon as possible.

4) Dragging

Car Dragging, symptoms of stuck brake caliper

Even when you’re not pressing the brake pedal, a stuck brake caliper keeps the brake pad in constant contact with the rotor, resulting in a sensation of dragging. This dragging sensation can make driving feel awkward, akin to the sensation of braking. In such conditions, you may need to put more effort to move your vehicle forward.

5) Brake Fluid Leak

Brake Fluid Leak

Brake fluid typically remains isolated in the fluid reservoir. However, when the brake caliper becomes faulty, you might observe some fluid leakage. The brake fluid is vital in engaging the calipers.

You may detect fluid leaking from the bleeder screw or the piston seal if the calipers are stuck. To confirm whether you are indeed observing a fluid leak, inspect the ground beneath the tire for any wet, oily patches. If you’re uncertain, placing a small part of cardboard can help.

6) Brake Noises

If you notice an unusual noise, such as a squealing noise coming from the vehicle wheels when you apply the brake pedal, it might indicate there is something wrong with the brake calipers.

The noise coming from the braking system may suggest that the brake calipers are stuck, potentially causing the piston to become stuck in the brake cylinder bores. If this occurs, your braking system may lose some of its effectiveness, compromising your ability to control the car.

Squealing sounds may also be a sign that your brake pads are worn out. In such cases, it’s advisable to promptly contact a professional mechanic to inspect your braking system. Your mechanic will properly inspect whether the issue lies with the brake pad’s friction material, brake piston, caliper assembly, or any other brake-related problems.

If your caliper is faulty, it is recommended to replace it promptly.

7) Spongy Brake Pedal

Soft Brake Pedal

A spongy or soft brake pedal is also one of the most common symptoms of a bad brake caliper. Your brake pedal may also become spongy if there is air in the brake lines or your brake pads become excessively heated.

Alternatively, an unusual pedal sensation might be caused by increased clearance. A seized caliper generates additional space between the brake rotor and pad, altering the overall feel of the braking system.

8) Burning Smell

Burning smell, signs of bad brake caliper

A distinct symptom of a malfunctioning brake caliper is the presence of a burning odor. This particular smell closely resembles the odor of overheated brakes and is distinguishable from the odors associated with an overheating engine or burning electronics.

When the brake pad of your braking system remains in constant contact due to a stuck caliper, it generates excessive heat. This excessive heat leads to an unusual smell.

The critical issue that arises after detecting this odor is that the braking system doesn’t work efficiently as it becomes excessively hot. This problem can ultimately result in the complete failure of the braking system.

Brake Calipers Failure Causes

The brakes of your vehicle operate in harsh conditions, exposed to weather elements, debris, rocks, and dirt. Therefore, your brake calipers may become faulty over time. Corrosion is one of the most common causes of the brake caliper failure. The most common causes of the brake caliper failure are given below:

  • Damaged caliper piston seal
  • Corrosion
  • Stuck caliper piston
  • Dirty brake fluid
  • Damaged caliper guide pin
  • Brake system overheating
  • Manufacturing defects
  • Poor maintenance
  • Road contaminants, collisions, or accidents may physically damage the calipers

Function of the Brake Caliper

Brake calipers play a vital role in the braking system of your vehicle to stop the vehicle. The brake caliper helps to convert the braking system’s hydraulic pressure into mechanical force, which further produces friction to stop or reduce the vehicle.

Brake Caliper function

The brake caliper holds both the brake pistons and pads. As the driver applies pressure to the brake pedal, the brake master cylinder pressurizes the brake fluid it contains, initiating the motion of the piston.

As the piston reciprocates, it exerts force on the brake caliper. When the force is applied on the brake caliper, it compresses the brake pad against the spinning brake disc.

This compression generates friction, which is helpful to reduce the rotational speed of the wheels, ultimately bringing them to a complete stop or slowing them down significantly.

Brake Caliper Location

Brake Caliper Location

In a disc braking system, the brake caliper plays a crucial role, while a drum braking system uses wheel cylinders in place of brake calipers. In the disc braking system, the brake calipers are positioned on the caliper mounts. Specifically, the rear caliper mount is typically located near the wheels, while the front brake caliper mount is situated on the steering knuckle.

The brake caliper has a responsibility to hold both the brake pads and pistons. Additionally, the brake line is connected to the caliper, which is responsible for transferring brake fluid.

How To Diagnose A Brake Caliper?

Diagnosing a faulty caliper isn’t a tough job, especially if you have some basic expertise and tools. Various methods can help you determine the main issue. However, it’s crucial to note that the methods discussed here are general and can’t replace the instructions outlined in your owner manual.

Follow the following methods to diagnose the brake caliper:

1) Check for Leaks

If you notice a soft or spongy brake pedal, your initial suspicion should lean towards a potential brake fluid leak. A faulty brake caliper is one of the main sources of brake fluid leaks. A bad master cylinder may also lead to this issue. Therefore, it’s recommended to inspect the entire brake system for any signs of leaks.

Examine the master cylinder, bleeder screw, hydraulic lines, and caliper piston to find the leaks. Once you’ve pinpointed the source of the leak, you can proceed with servicing or replacing the affected component.

2) Check Brake Pads

Uneven wear on brake pads is also one of the clear signs of a stuck caliper. In such cases, a simple visual inspection of the brake pads can reveal the issue. If your one pad exhibits abnormal wear patterns, there are chances that your caliper is faulty.

Additionally, it is also recommended to inspect the sliders to ensure they are not experiencing any binding. However, it is possible that your vehicle uses fixed calipers and there are no sliders.

3) Check Piston Operation

To diagnose a condition where a piston is stuck or has come out of its bore, potentially causing uneven brake pad wear, brake drag, and vehicle instability when cornering, follow these steps:

  • Use a jack to safely elevate your vehicle and secure it with jack stands. After lifting, try to rotate your tires manually. If you encounter significant resistance, there’s a possibility of a stuck caliper exerting pressure on the pads against the wheel rotor.
  • To further examine the caliper, gently push the piston back into its bore using your hands.
  • If your piston doesn’t go back into its bore using your hands, now completely disassemble the wheel assembly.
  • Now remove the faulty caliper by loosening its bracket and also ensure that it does not disturb the hose.
  • Push the piston back into its bore by using a C-clamp, and also keep an eye on the master cylinder to prevent it from expelling fluid from the fluid tank. If your piston is faulty, you’ll encounter resistance, making it challenging or hard to reset it into the bore.
  • Another troubleshooting step involves loosening the bleeder and attempting to push the piston in. If the piston doesn’t go back to its bore, it indicates a faulty caliper.

4) Get An Assistant

To effectively diagnose a stuck piston, having an assistant can be invaluable, especially when dealing with issues like a spongy brake pedal.

  • Use a jack to safely elevate your vehicle and secure it with jack stands. After lifting, remove the wheel assembly.
  • Have your assistant sit in the driver’s seat and operate the brake pedal while you closely observe.
  • Pay careful attention to whether the piston smoothly moves inward and outward of its bore, which may assist you in checking the performance of the piston.
  • It is also recommended to inspect the area around the caliper and the hoses for a leak.

How To Replace Brake Caliper?

Brake Caliper Replacement Cost

The replacement cost of the brake caliper varies according to your vehicle model, labor cost, and the type of caliper.

The following list represents the replacement cost of the brake caliper according to its type:

Caliper TypeCost
Rear calipers$80 to $140 per caliper
Front calipers$80 to $130 per caliper
Labor Cost$130 to $170

FAQ Section

Can a bad brake caliper cause vibration?

Yes, a stuck brake caliper may lead to brake vibration.

What does a loose caliper sound like?

A loose caliper or a loose caliper bracket may produce rattling sounds when driving over bumps. This is because the larger caliper could collide with its bolts, creating more of a knocking noise rather than a rattle.

How long do brake calipers last?

Brake calipers generally don’t last the entire service life of a vehicle, but they typically have a longer service life than the pads. On average, the brake calipers can last about 10 years, or from 75,000 to 100,000 miles. However, the service life of the brake caliper varies according to different factors, such as manufacturing material and your driving habits.

Can I drive with a bad brake caliper?

No, it is not recommended to drive with a bad brake caliper. When the brake caliper becomes faulty, it may lead to uneven braking, causing the vehicle to pull to one side. This pulling effect becomes more noticeable at higher speeds, which can compromise your control over steering and potentially lead to accidents. It’s crucial not to drive your car with a faulty caliper.

Can I replace just one brake caliper?

It is recommended to replace the calipers of both sides even if one is failed. Replacing only one caliper may result in brake unevenness, where one side works more rapidly than the other. This imbalance may cause early wear on the brake pad or rotor, reducing the performance of the brake system and leading to tire feathering.

Are a brake caliper and a brake pad identical components?

It’s important to note that a brake caliper and a brake pad are not the same parts. The brake calipers specifically house the brake pads and pistons. The piston is responsible for pushing the brake pad against the rotor, ultimately halting wheel movement when you apply the brake pedal. Brake calipers are a component limited to disc braking systems.

Do brake calipers need maintenance?

Yes, brake calipers require maintenance regularly. Salt chemicals can be corrosive to metal and, if left unchecked, can lead to corrosion. This accumulation may lead to poor lubrication. To maintain the optimal condition of your brake calipers, it’s essential to perform regular cleaning and lubrication of the slide pins.

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