Your car’s brake calipers are an important part of the braking system. They clamp the brake pads against the rotors, causing them to stop rotating.
If your brake calipers stick, you will observe symptoms like reduced braking power, the vehicle pulling to one side while braking, and strange noises from the brakes.
In this article, we will discuss the symptoms and causes of sticking brake calipers, so you can get them fixed before they cause any damage!
What are Brake Calipers?
Disc brakes are the most common type of brake used on modern cars and trucks. They work by using friction to slow or stop the rotation of a wheel. The heart of a disc brake system is the brake caliper, which houses the pistons that press the pads against the discs.
Brake calipers are in the shape of a large letter C, with the two arms of the caliper attaching to the disc brake rotor on either side. The shape of the caliper is important for how it functions.
The caliper must be able to grip the rotor tightly to apply adequate pressure and slow or stop the wheel. The pistons are located at the top and bottom of the caliper body. The number of pistons in a brake caliper can vary, but most have either one or two pistons per side.
The design of the brake calipers also plays a role in how the brakes feel when applied. Some calipers have larger pistons that offer more stopping power, while others have smaller pistons that provide a softer, more gradual braking action.
How Does a Brake Caliper Work?
Brake calipers work by using hydraulic pressure to clamp the pads against the rotor. When you press the brake pedal, fluid from the master cylinder is sent to the calipers.
This increases the pressure in the caliper, which presses the piston(s) out and applies pressure to the pads. The pads then grip the rotor and slow it down. When you release the brake pedal, a spring in the caliper pushes the piston(s) back in and releases pressure on the pads.
Brake Caliper Sticking Symptoms
The braking system is one of the most important safety features in any vehicle. So, it is very important to keep all its parts in good condition and fix any issues as soon as possible. Brake caliper sticking is a serious problem that can lead to accidents if not repaired promptly.
Here are some symptoms of sticking brake calipers:
- Vehicle Pulls to One Side
- Screeching Noise
- Leaking Brake Fluid
- Soft or Spongy Brake Pedal
- Increased Stopping Distance
- Worn Out Brake Pads
- Increased Fuel Consumption
- Brake Drag
- Grinding Noise
- Burning Smell
Let us describe each of these symptoms in detail, shall we?
1. Vehicle Pulls to One Side:
If you notice that your vehicle is pulling to one side while braking, it is a sign that your brake calipers are sticking. This usually happens because the caliper on one side is not releasing.
As a result, the pads on that side stay engaged and grip the rotor even when you take your foot off the brake pedal. This causes the vehicle to pull to that side.
2. Screeching Noise:
If you hear a screeching noise when you apply the brakes, it is another symptom of sticking brake calipers. The source of this screeching noise is usually the brake pads.
When the caliper piston is stuck, it does not release fully when you take your foot off the brake pedal. This causes the pads to stay partially engaged, which rubs against the rotor and makes that screeching noise.
3. Leaking Brake Fluid:
Brake fluid is a hydraulic fluid that helps transfer the force from your foot on the brake pedal to the calipers. So, if you notice stains of the brake fluid under your vehicle, it could be a sign that brake calipers are sticking.
The reasons for this could be either a bad seal on the caliper piston or a faulty brake hose. The same reason causing the brake caliper to stick can also cause it to leak brake fluid.
This is an alarming situation as it can lead to complete failure of the braking system. So, if you notice any leaking brake fluid, get your vehicle checked by a mechanic as soon as possible.
4. Soft or Spongy Brake Pedal:
If you notice that the brake pedal feels soft, spongy, or goes to the floor when you press it, it is another symptom of sticking brake calipers.
One reason for this is usually a leak in the brake system. When there is a leak, the pressure in the system decreases, and you have to press the pedal harder to engage the brakes.
Another reason is that dirt and debris can build up around the caliper pistons and prevent them from moving freely. Or if the brake caliper slides become corroded or dirty. When this happens, the caliper cannot move freely and may cause the brake pedal to feel soft or spongy.
5. Inefficient Brakes:
If you notice that your vehicle takes a longer distance to stop than usual, it is another symptom of sticking brake calipers.
When the caliper piston is stuck, it cannot apply enough pressure on the pads. As a result, the pads cannot grip the rotor properly, and it takes a longer distance to stop.
6. Worn Out Brake Pads:
Another indicator of sticking calipers is if your brake pads are wearing out faster than normal. When the piston is stuck, it cannot apply enough pressure on the pads. As a result, the pads stay partially engaged and rub against the rotor.
This causes them to wear out faster than usual. It is important to note that worn-out brake pads can also be a sign of other problems such as uneven pad contact or bad wheel alignment. So, if you notice this symptom, get your vehicle checked by a mechanic to rule out other possibilities.
7. Increased Fuel Consumption:
If you notice that your fuel consumption has increased, it could be a sign of sticking brake calipers. Sticking brake calipers can cause increased fuel consumption for several reasons.
First, if the calipers are not releasing properly, the brakes will remain engaged longer than they should be. This can lead to increased friction and heat build-up, which can wear down the brake pads and rotors.
Additionally, sticking calipers can cause the vehicle to pull to one side, which increases drag on the engine and leads to higher fuel consumption.
8. Brake Drag:
Another symptom of sticking brake calipers is brake drag. Brake drag is the force that keeps a vehicle’s brakes applied when they are not being used.
This can cause the vehicle to slow down or stop unexpectedly and can be dangerous. Brake drag can also cause premature wear on the brakes and other components of the braking system.
9. Grinding Noise:
If you notice a grinding noise when you apply the brakes, it could be a sign of sticking brake calipers. The grinding noise is caused by the pads rubbing against the rotors.
This can happen if the caliper piston is stuck or the caliper slides are corroded or dirty. Either way, this indicates that your brake calipers need to be repaired or replaced.
10. Burning Smell:
If you notice a burning odor when you apply the brakes, it’s an indication of gummed-up brake calipers. The burning smell is caused by the friction between the pads and rotors.
For example, if your brake pads are worn down, they can start to stick to the caliper itself. This can cause the caliper to overheat, leading to a burning smell. Additionally, if there is brake fluid leaking onto the pads or rotors, that can also cause a burning smell.
What Causes a Stuck Brake Caliper?
If you know what to look for, you can usually tell when your brake calipers are sticking. But what causes them to stick in the first place? There are several reasons why a brake caliper might become stuck. Let us see!
Lack of Lubrication:
One of the most common reasons for sticking brake calipers is a lack of lubrication. The caliper pistons and slides need to be lubricated with brake grease to move freely. If the caliper is not properly lubricated, the piston can become stuck in the bore.
Rusty Brake Caliper Bolts:
Another common cause of sticking brake calipers is rusty brake caliper bolts. The bolts that hold the caliper in place can become corroded over time, which can cause them to seize up.
When this happens, the caliper cannot move freely, and the piston can become stuck. If you notice rust on caliper bolts, it’s good to have them replaced sooner than later.
Brake Fluid Leak:
A third common reason for sticking brake calipers is a leak in the brake fluid system. If there is a leak in the system, it can cause the fluid level to drop below where it needs to be.
When this happens, air bubbles can get into the system and cause the caliper piston to become stuck. A brake fluid leak can cause other problems, such as increased pedal travel.
Dirt and Debris Buildup:
Another reason for sticking brake calipers is dirt and debris buildup. Over time, the caliper slides can become clogged with road grime, dust, and other particles.
This can cause the caliper to stick or bind when it tries to move. Additionally, this build-up can cause the caliper piston to become stuck in the bore.
Choked Brake Hose:
The brake hose carries fluid from the master cylinder to the caliper. Choked brake hoses are the number one cause of sticking brake calipers.
The hose constricts the fluid flow to the caliper, causing a build-up of pressure. This pressure can cause the caliper pistons to become stuck in their bore. The only way to release the pressure is to remove the hose and bleed the brakes.
How to Prevent a Seized Brake Caliper?
A seized brake caliper can be a real pain. There are a few things you can do to prevent your brake caliper from seizing up:
- Make sure your brake fluid is clean and fresh. Old, dirty brake fluid can cause all sorts of problems, including a seized caliper.
- Avoid using your brakes excessively. If you find yourself constantly riding your brakes, it’s time to take a break. Excessive braking can cause the caliper to overheat and seize up.
- Check your brake pads regularly. Worn-out brake pads can also cause the caliper to seize. Make sure to replace your pads before they get too thin.
- Wash your car more often. Brake dust can build up on the caliper and cause it to seize. Regularly washing your car will help prevent this problem.
- Avoid driving through deep mud or water. This can cause the caliper to rust, which can eventually lead to seizing.
By following these tips, you can help keep your brakes in good working order and avoid any headaches down the road.
Brake Caliper Replacement Cost
Brake calipers are a sophisticated component of your car’s braking system, and as such, they are generally very reliable. However, like all mechanical parts, they will eventually wear out or break down. When this happens, you will need to replace your brake calipers.
Since calipers have plenty of moving parts, it is natural that they are expensive to replace. The average cost of a brake caliper replacement job will be between $200 and $350 per wheel. The cost of the brake caliper itself will be between $100 and $200.
It takes no less than two hours to replace both brake calipers on one wheel, so you can expect to pay between $100 and $200 per hour of labor. In some cases, it may be necessary to replace other parts of the braking system at the same time as the calipers.
This could include brake pads, rotors, or even the entire braking system. If this is the case, then the total cost of the replacement job will be significantly higher.
The consequences of a sticking brake caliper should not be taken lightly since it can cause serious safety issues. If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, make sure to get your car checked out by a qualified mechanic as soon as possible.
Remember, preventive maintenance is always cheaper and safer than waiting for something to break down. By following the tips in this article, you can help keep your brake calipers in good working order and avoid costly repairs down the road.
Do you have any tips to add? Let us know in the comments below!
Frequently Asked Question
How do you fix a sticking brake caliper?
If you do find yourself with a seized brake caliper, there are a few things you can do to fix it:
- Clean the caliper with brake cleaner. This will remove any dirt or debris that may be causing the problem.
- Lubricate the caliper with silicone spray. This will help prevent the caliper from seizing up again.
- Replace the brake pads. Worn-out pads can cause the caliper to seize.
- If all else fails, you may need to replace the entire caliper. Seized brake calipers are not something you want to mess around with. If you’re having trouble, it’s best to take your car
What happens if you drive with a bad brake caliper?
Driving with a bad brake caliper can be extremely dangerous. The caliper is responsible for holding the brake pads in place, so if it fails, the pads will no longer make contact with the rotor. This will cause your brakes to lose effectiveness and could lead to an accident.
It’s also important to note that a seized caliper can cause the brake pad to overheat. This is a very real danger that should not be taken lightly.
How do you check a brake caliper?
To check your brake caliper, you will need to remove the wheel and look at the caliper itself. You should be able to see if the caliper is seized by looking for rust or debris on the piston. If the piston is stuck, you will need to replace the caliper.
You can also check for any leaks under the caliper. If you see any fluid leaking, it’s a good sign that the piston seals are damaged, and you have a stuck caliper.
How long can you drive with a bad brake caliper?
Depending on the severity of the problem, you may be able to drive from a few hundred to a thousand miles. But it is not advisable to continue driving for too long with a faulty brake caliper. Once the caliper seizes up completely, you will not be able to brake at all, which could lead to a serious accident.
What does a sticky caliper feel like?
If you have a sticky brake caliper, you will most likely feel it when you press the brake pedal. The pedal will feel “spongy” or “soft,” and it may be difficult to stop the car.
What causes brake system dragging?
There are many potential causes of brake system dragging. Some of the most common include:
1. Faulty or damaged calipers: If your calipers are damaged or not working properly, they may cause your brakes to drag.
2. Worn brake pads: If your brake pads are worn, they may not provide enough friction to stop your vehicle properly, causing your brakes to drag.
3. Damaged brake rotors: If your brake rotors are damaged, they may not rotate properly, causing your brakes to drag.
4. Air in the brake lines: If there is air in the brake lines, it can prevent proper braking pressure from reaching the brakes, causing them to drag.
What does a sticking caliper sound like?
A sticking caliper can cause a variety of sounds, depending on the severity of the issue. A light sticking caliper may produce a squealing noise when braking, while a more serious problem can cause grinding or scraping noises.
Can a caliper unstick itself?
In most cases, no. Once the caliper seizes up, it will need to be replaced. However, if the issue is caused by dirt or debris trapped in the brake caliper piston, you may be able to clean it out and lubricate it to get it working again.