A brake caliper is a crucial component in the disc braking system that assists your vehicle to stop as you hit the brakes. Some signs that your vehicle may have a bad brake caliper can include abnormal noise, reduced braking ability, fluid leaks, or the feeling that your vehicle is pulling to one side. Unlike brake pads that should be replaced consistently, calipers ought to last with the vehicle. However, calipers may be faulty or become so, and will compromise your vehicle’s safety. Being familiar with what a brake caliper is, and what the symptoms of a faulty brake caliper are, will help address the problem right away.
What is a brake caliper? The brake caliper is a crucial component of the disc brakes, which is usually located in the front brakes. It houses the vehicle’s brake pads and pistons. Its function is to slow the vehicle’s wheels. The caliper fits on the wheel’s rotor like a clamp. When you apply the brakes, the friction between the two parts slows the rotor and stops the wheel from turning.
Inside the calipers are two metal plates called brake pads. When the brake pedal is pushed, the brake fluid puts pressure on the pistons in the caliper, which works to put the pads against the brake rotor. These components work together to slow down your vehicle.
How to tell that your brake caliper may not be working properly:
It may be difficult to notice that something is wrong with your braking system or that there is something wrong with your brake caliper in particular, but here are some signs that you may notice if you have a faulty brake caliper.
Warning Light: If your vehicle’s brake or anti-lock braking system (ABS) light turns on, it is an obvious warning that there may be something wrong with your braking system.
Fluid Leaks: You may notice brake fluid in your engine compartment or around your wheels. Brake calipers are activated by hydraulic fluid and can develop leaks through the bleeder screw or piston seal.
Soft, Spongy Brake Pedal: If your brake caliper is leaking, it can cause the brake pedal to feel spongy or soft. In addition, sticking sliders or a seized piston in the caliper might create more room between pad and rotor, which will cause the pedal to feel abnormal.
Reduced Braking Ability: If the brake caliper is faulty, which results in a softening brake pedal, then your vehicle will not brake as well. You may also find yourself pumping your brakes continually to get them to work as they should.
Dragging Sensation: You may also experience a dragging sensation while driving. This feeling occurs when the brake pads are pushed up against the rotors as you drive. The affected brakes will be applied, or partly applied, at all times.
Noisy Braking: If you have a sticking brake caliper, it will wear down its brake pads. As a result, you find your brakes continuously grinding and squeaking.
Jerking or Pulling to One Side: When braking, you may find your vehicle jerking or pulling to one side. This symptom may be the result of a seized brake caliper or caliper sliders. While most notable while driving, you may feel it while you are driving as well.
Uneven Wear: You may find that your brake pads are wearing out unevenly. A sticking caliper, pistons, or slider pins, will cause the pads to be applied partially, and make them drag on the rotor.
What to do if you think you may have a faulty brake caliper:
There are multiple ways to troubleshoot a faulty brake caliper. You could check your brake calipers for leaks, check to see if there is abnormal wear on the brake pads, or check how the caliper’s piston is operating. You could also perform a line lock test.
What you should not do is leave your brakes unchecked. If you leave a sticking or seized brake caliper alone, it could lead to a partial or total loss in braking ability, expensive repair work, or endanger your driving. If you notice that your vehicle is showing any of the above issues, you should figure out whether your vehicle has a bad brake caliper, and get it fixed as soon as possible.
Burt Brothers’ family-owned and operated Utah auto repair and tire shops in locations across the Wasatch Front from West Valley to Layton to Park City can diagnose and repair your braking problems and get you safely on your way.