Brake Caliper Buyer's Guide
The brake caliper is a critical component of a vehicle’s brake system.
A brake caliper is a clamp mechanism that applies friction to the rotors to slow down and stop the wheels from turning.
There are two common types of brake calipers: fixed and floating brake calipers.
The cost of a brake caliper replacement will vary depending on your vehicle’s specific year, make, and model. OE replacement brake calipers will generally cost you anywhere between $30 to $1,300.
Signs of a failing brake caliper include high-pitched braking noises, brake fluid leaks, sticking or seizing brake calipers, and “spongy” brakes.
To prevent brake failure and improve vehicle handling, caliper replacement is highly recommended.
What is a brake caliper?
The brake caliper is a critical component of a vehicle’s brake system. This part fits over the rotor and works like a clamp. The brake caliper holds the brake pads and is mostly seen in vehicles that have disc brakes. Most cars today have disc brakes in the front wheels, but some other trucks and vehicles may have it in the rear wheels as well.
How does a brake caliper work?
A brake caliper is a clamp mechanism that applies friction to the rotors to slow down and stop the wheels from turning. To understand how the brake caliper works, it’s a good idea to go over how a disc brake functions.
Stepping on the brake builds hydraulic pressure in the master cylinder with the help of the brake fluid. This, in turn, activates the pistons in the brake caliper, pushing the brake pads (metal plates bonded with friction material) towards the inside and outside of the rotors. Since the wheel is attached to the rotor, its movement will slow or stop when the brakes are applied.
Types of brake calipers
There are two common types of brake calipers: fixed and floating brake calipers. Here’s how you can differentiate the two.
Fixed brake calipers
This type of brake caliper is bolted to the mount and has pistons on both sides of the rotor. Fixed calipers will have anywhere between two to six pistons arranged on opposite sides of the rotor. Many prefer this type of design for its performance. These will typically cost you more than floating calipers.
Floating brake calipers
This type of brake caliper is also known as a “sliding caliper”. This design features one or more pistons that are only located on one side of the rotor. When the brakes are applied, the piston pushes the entire caliper towards the inboard side of the rotor is the surface facing the inside of the vehicle.
Signs of a faulty brake caliper
Brake calipers play a very important role in your vehicle’s disc brake system. As a mechanical component, these are expected to break down and fail, especially if it is subjected to high temperatures and extended use.
Unusual braking noises
Listen for any high-pitched noises coming from the wheels whenever you step on the brakes. This is a common sign of a loose or stuck caliper. You must also watch out for any thudding noises while braking because these are a common sign of premature brake wear.
Brake fluid leak
The brakes may lock up and seize if there is a leak between the caliper’s piston and master cylinder. Leaks are typically caused by worn-out rubber seals that may become loose or deteriorate due to excessive heat generated while braking. To check if you have a brake fluid leak, watch out for any puddles underneath your vehicle that smells like burnt rubber.
Vehicle pulling to the left or right
This symptom is often due to a brake caliper sticking or seizing. Extreme heat may cause the components of the brake disc to seize, making it difficult for the caliper piston to retract even after the brake pedal is released. This will cause the brake pads to drag on the rotor and pull your vehicle towards the side of the bad caliper.
Another symptom of a failing brake caliper is “spongy” brakes that require extra effort to put your vehicle to a complete stop. This is often caused by dirt and grime buildup within the caliper, making it unable to fully clamp down on the rotor.
Why is brake caliper replacement important?
The caliper has a lot of force to endure and absorb force since it is affixed to the frame of the vehicle and the rotor spins at hundreds of revolutions per minute. Hence, while the brake pads and brake rotor dissipate much of the heat, the pulling and twisting forces are endured by the brake caliper. Often, brake fluid causes the deterioration of the brake caliper. Failure to change the brake fluid when necessary produces moisture that brings rust to the interior of the brake caliper.
A brake caliper should typically last you 75,000 miles or about seven to ten years of use. Depending on your driving style and road conditions, you may need to replace your brake calipers sooner.
Experience safe & improved vehicle handling
Properly functioning brake calipers are vital to road safety. Constant drag caused by a stuck caliper on a wheel can pull the vehicle to one side, making it harder to control your vehicle. Not only will handling suffer, but your risk of getting into road collisions also increases because of the caliper’s inability to engage and disengage the brakes as needed.
While repairing old calipers is an option, this increases the risk of subsequent leaks and sticking. To prevent brake failure and improve vehicle handling, caliper replacement is highly recommended.
Make your vehicle look good
Worn out brake calipers can make your vehicle look older and poorly maintained. If you plan on selling or trading in your vehicle, replacing the brake calipers is a good idea. If you want to make your wheels stand out, you may also spruce up this brake component with a little bit of brake caliper paint or consider using brake caliper covers instead.
You may use our website’s search bar to narrow down your search for the right brake caliper for your vehicle. Simply plug in your vehicle’s specific year, make, and model to browse through our wide selection of relevant parts.
How much is a brake caliper replacement?
The cost of a brake caliper replacement will vary depending on your vehicle’s specific year, make, and model. OE replacement brake calipers will generally cost you anywhere between $30 to $1,300. These are sold individually or as a 2-wheel set. Brake pads and mounting hardware may or may not be included with your purchase. Due to the location and nature of the brake calipers, it is highly recommended to have a licensed mechanic replace this part for you.
How to easily replace damaged brake calipers
Brake calipers work with hydraulic pressure to push the brake pads to the rotor, which slows down your car. The force is equally relative to the pressure applied by the driver. They were designed to wear out and since it's heavily used, it needs to be replaced. When you notice your vehicle pulling to one side while applying the brakes; or if you see brake fluid leaking past the seals in the caliper pistons, it's time to replace the brake calipers.
We prepared the procedures, tips and tools that you need to help you with this task.
Tools that You'll Need:
Car jack stands
Brake system lubricant
Tire iron and breaker bar
Brake caliper replacement parts
Brake bleeding set (3/8-inch diameter clear tubing, about 2 feet in length and a glass jar
Make sure that you're working on a solid, level surface.
Check your replacement parts and make sure that they are compatible to your vehicle's make and model.
Always wear recommended safety equipment like closed-toe shoes, an industrial-grade dusk mask, safety goggles and gloves.
Step 1: Park your vehicle on a flat, level-surfaced area and set the parking brakes. Place wheel chocks at the vehicle's rear wheels.
Step 2: Position the car jack and lift your car from the ground. Place jack stands at the vehicle's jacking points to ensure that it's stable.
Step 3: Loosen the front wheel's lug nuts with a tire iron or breaker bar. Once the wheel is loose, remove it to expose the braking system.
Step 4: Locate the "banjo" bolt which connects the brake caliper to the brake hose. Loosen the bolt and place a drain pan underneath it.
Step 5: Remove all the bolts attaching the brake caliper to the wheel assembly. Be careful when draining the brake fluid from the brake hose; it's corrosive and dangerous.
Step 6: If clips were used to attach the brake hose, use a flat-head or Phillips-head screwdriver to pry them loose. Throw away the old copper or brass washers.
Step 7: Remove the brake caliper and strip its mounting components: sliders, bolts, and rubber boots. Check for any signs of warp, damage and rust.
Step 8: Apply a generous amount of lubricant to all the brake caliper's mounting components. Install these components to the new brake caliper.
Step 9: Compress the brake caliper with a caliper brake tool. Since each caliper has a different method of compressing it, consult a mechanic or have a brake shop compress it for you. It's an important step to ensure that your brake caliper is working properly.
Step 10: Install the brake caliper at the end of the brake hose. Make sure to leave the connection loose.
Step 11: Put brake pads on the new brake caliper and make sure to lubricate the caliper bolts.
Attach the new brake caliper to the wheel assembly and align the brake hose. Make sure it sits normally and tighten the "banjo" bolt.
Step 12: Fill up the brake's master cylinder with brake fluid to bleed the system. Open the brake caliper's bleeder valve and attach the clear tubing. Put the other end of the tubing into the glass jar to start the bleeding process.
Ask someone to press on the brake pedal to force brake fluid and other impurities into the glass jar.
Step 13: Repeat this process until there are no more air bubbles in the glass jar. Close off the bleeder valve.
Step 14: Make sure to refill your brake fluid before install the wheels on your vehicle.
Step 15: Install the tires and secure them with lug nuts. Repeat the process for the next brake caliper.
Step 16: Test the new brake calipers once you're done.
Installing new brake calipers will take about 2 hours for an expert DIYer and around three hours for a beginner. Exercise caution when working on your vehicle's brake system. Stay safe!