The brake calipers are some of the most important components of modern disc brake systems. They work together with the brake pads and rotors, along with the rest of the hydraulic system, to slow and stop the vehicle. When the pedal is pressed, brake fluid pressure is pushed through the master cylinder to the caliper, which extends the piston and forces the brake pads against the rotors to slow the vehicle. Over time, brake calipers are subjected to the intense heat created when braking, and can eventually fail, which will interfere with the vehicle’s braking and negatively affect its handling and safety characteristics. When a caliper does go bad, the vehicle will usually display any of the following 5 warning signs to alert the driver of a potential problem in need of service.
1. Brake Fluid Leaks
One of the most common symptoms of a bad or failing caliper is brake fluid leakage. The calipers operate using brake fluid pressure from the master cylinder and pedal to extend the piston and slow the vehicle. A rubber seal and boot keep the fluid from leaking out. Over time, with constant exposure to intense heat generated by braking, these seals will wear out and leak. Any leaks from the brake caliper will compromise the pressure sealing capacity of the braking system, which will not only make a mess of brake fluid but also significantly decrease its ability to stop the vehicle. You may notice a puddle beneath your car and the smell of burnt rubber from the leaking fluid.
2. Reduced Braking Power
Though it can also be a sign of leaking brake fluid, seemingly reduced braking power can be a sign of a bad brake caliper. It may feel as though it takes extra effort to brake and come to a complete stop. In this case, the caliper sliders themselves may have gotten stuck from the buildup of dirt and grime. The brakes will feel spongy when engaged and the caliper will not be able to fully clamp down. Inability to brake properly can severely hinder the safety of the vehicle, and the issue should be inspected as soon as possible.
3. Abnormal Sounds When Braking
Abnormal sounds from the wheels when braking is another potential problem with the brake caliper. If you notice any sort of high-pitched noises, sudden thudding, or impact sounds when you apply the brakes, it may be a sign of loose, sticking, or binding caliper. A brake caliper in this condition will not be able to properly stop the vehicle, and may even lead to premature brake wear.
4. Vehicle Pulling
Another common symptom of a caliper in need of replacement is a vehicle pulling to the left or right. Calipers are exposed to extreme heat from braking, which can sometimes lead to the caliper piston seizing. A seized caliper piston will not be able to automatically retract, which will cause a constant drag onto that wheel. This will cause the vehicle to have a tendency to pull towards the side with the affected caliper, as the wheel on that side is traveling slower than the wheel on the opposite side due to the brake drag.
5. Brakes Always Feel Engaged While Driving
If it feels like the brakes are always on even when your foot is off the brake pedal, it may be a sign of grimy brake caliper getting stuck. The old, dirty caliper may be stuck in a way that doesn’t allow the brake pads to fully release. It may feel as though the car is working harder to go fast, dragging at speed, or as though the parking brake is left on. A stuck brake caliper will necessitate repair if not replacement.
Brake calipers are an important mechanical component of the braking system, and important to the overall safety and handling characteristics of a vehicle. For this reason, if you suspect one of your calipers of a problem, have the vehicle examined by a professional technician to inspect your brake system and determine if the car needs a brake caliper replacement.