Brake caliper sticking: what is it and how to prevent it?

Brake caliper sticking: what is it and how to prevent it?

The hydraulic part that contains the brake pads and applies pressure when the brakes are applied is known as a brake caliper. In disc-braking systems, it is often positioned over the rotor (disc). Friction is created by pressing the brake pads against the braking rotor on either side, slowing or stopping the vehicle.

Every car owner will likely experience a sticking brake caliper at least once in their lifetime. One of three things—slider pin seizing, caliper piston seizing, or brake line obstruction—can cause a brake caliper to stick. It’s not unusual to encounter all these three problems when you begin taking the caliper apart because one of the problems might lead to the other two, making the situation worse.

However, one or more of your brake calipers may be seizing or sticking if you hear grinding noises coming from your brakes, feel the car pulling to one side, or smell burning. That is why in this article, I’ll be discussing the meaning, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and prevention of brake caliper sticking. You’ll also learn how to fix a sticking brake caliper and how much it will cost you in a mechanic shop.

Brake caliper sticking: what is it and how to prevent it?

Read more: What causes a spongy or soft brake pedal (and how to fix it)

Okay, let’s get to it.


What does it mean when a brake caliper is sticking?

A brake caliper is “sticking” if it remains stuck in the applied position even when the brake pedal is not being applied. As a result, there is constant friction between the brake pads and rotors of the car, which leads to some level of constant brake drag.

In other words, vehicles using disc brakes are frequently affected by the issue of sticking brake calipers. After applying the brakes, a caliper sticks rather than releasing, failing to completely retract from contact with the rotor surface.

As a result, the brake pads continue to wear excessively and experience constant pressure on either side of the rotor. This reduces stopping power, decreases fuel efficiency, and raises the possibility of early brake component failure. However, numerous things might cause brake calipers to stick.

Read more: Should I replace or resurface my brake rotor

Causes a sticking brake caliper

Here are the main causes of a sticking brake caliper:

Rusty brake pistons and piston boots

One of the most common causes of a brake caliper sticking is a rusty caliper piston and piston boot. The brake system wouldn’t function without the caliper pistons. To slow the car down, they are applying pressure between the brake pads and the brake rotor. To keep dirt and other debris from entering the brake system, the brake caliper pistons have a rubber boot around them.

When this boot is damaged, the piston will become contaminated with water and other debris. As a result, the piston will begin to rust and eventually stop moving altogether, causing the brake pads to become stuck against the brake rotor.

Inspect the area surrounding the caliper boot for any damage, and try to lift it a little to check for rust. If it is rusty, you can remove the piston and give it a light cleaning; however, don’t forget to replace the boot, which might be difficult if you don’t know how.

Dirty Caliper Guide Pin

When you brake, the brake caliper slides forward and backward with the help of the brake caliper guide pins, which are found at the brake caliper bracket. Rust frequently causes these guide pins to jam, which interferes with the normal operation of the brake caliper and results in a stuck brake pedal.

Rubber boots are wrapped around these guide pins to protect them from dust and moisture. Check the rubber boots and lubricate and clean the guide pins once again. Using a torch to warm them up before attempting to remove them is helpful since they can be difficult to free if they’ve been stuck for a while.

Rusty and stuck brake pads

Apparently, rusty brake pads are another typical reason for a sticking brake caliper. The guides that the brake pads have should be lubricated so that they may easily move forward and backward on the brake caliper bracket.

The brake pads will become stuck in the brake pad bracket and push against the brake disc when dust and rust buildup occur on these bracket slides. To fix this, you must take off the brake pads, file or sand the brake pad bracket, and then lubricate it with copper paste or a similar substance.

Damaged brake hose

The brake hose enables the flow of brake fluid from the master cylinder to the braking system. The brake fluid will, however, flow to the brake pistons and not back if there is a small break in the brake hose. The calipers will become stuck as a result. although it isn’t a very common issue. Try changing the brake hose if all other fixes have failed and the issue remains.

Corroded handbrake cables

There is a good chance that the handbrake is the source of your sticking caliper issue if it originates in the back of the car. Many modern cars have the handbrake on the brake caliper and not inside the brake disc.

The handbrake wires might get corroded if water or other debris enters them. When you let off the handbrake, this will prevent the brake calipers from releasing properly.

Contaminated or Old Brake Fluid

Actually, a lot of braking issues are caused by dirty or old brake fluid. Brake fluid should be changed once or twice a year since it collects water from the air. If you don’t change it, it will be water-filled, which will cause the inside of your brakes to rust.

Moisture Build-Up

The brake caliper assembly will gather moisture over time, which can cause the pistons or sliding pins to rust. As a result, the calipers may become stuck or seize up.

Component degradation

Sticking brake calipers is a significant problem caused by degraded parts. For instance, worn-out sliding pins lose their ability to lubricate and can become stuck as a result of increased metal-on-metal friction.

Degradation of the seal

The problem might become worse with time as a result of seals degrading or damaged piston boots allowing moisture and debris to enter key parts of the caliper assembly.

Read more: Can you use brake fluid for power steering fluid?

Symptoms of a brake caliper sticking

Below are a few signs and symptoms of a brake caliper sticking:

Vehicle pulls to one side when driving or braking

Your car will tend to pull in the direction of the side with the stuck or seized brake caliper. Similar to if you had a bad alignment, but typically more serious This will occur while driving on the road as well as when you brake.

It is quite risky to keep driving when your car won’t stay straight. To be sure a bad brake caliper isn’t the cause, you or a qualified mechanic should check your brake calipers immediately. If not, you probably need to get your car’s wheels aligned.

Unusual noise

Frequently, the unusual noises that a sticking brake caliper makes can be used to quickly identify the issue. The noises that result from brake pad wear that is developing excessively fast or abnormally include grinding and scraping.

Car Slows Itself Down

When your brake caliper or calipers are stuck, your brake pads will frequently be in constant contact with your brake rotors. Because of this, even when your foot is not on the brake pedal, it feels like you are applying the brakes.

Once enough brake pad material has been used up, you will also quickly wear through the brake pad material, which might cause high-pitched noises or grinding. If your brake calipers are stuck, make sure to replace them or any necessary associated parts.

Excess Heat from the Wheel

Heat is produced as a result of the friction because a stuck brake caliper will continuously apply pressure to the back of the brake pad, which in turn continuously applies friction to the brake rotor. It will get hotter as you continue to drive with a sticky brake caliper.

Burning smell

Brake pads typically wear out very quickly when a brake caliper sticks. The excessive friction and rapid wear frequently result in a burnt-smelling smell that may be clearly detected even from a distance of several yards.

Read more: Reasons why your car oil filter is leaking

How to prevent the brake caliper from sticking?

A lot of brake issues, including a brake caliper sticking, can be prevented if you routinely service your brakes. You can do several things to prevent issues of this type in the future. Below are a few maintenance tips you really should consider:

Changing the brake fluid every one to three years can stop the brake system from internally rusting.

Make use of your handbrake even if your vehicle has an automatic gearbox. However, not using your handbrake when your vehicle has an automatic gearbox is another prevalent issue. The first time you use the handbrake as a result, the cables or bracket will become stuck.

Every two to three years, you should clean the brake pads, guide pins, and pistons, or at the very least, do it properly when you change your brake pads or brake discs.

How to fix a sticking brake caliper

You can either replace the caliper or rebuild it yourself if one of your brakes sticks or fully seizes. In either case, you must flush and refill the braking fluid. The most straightforward option is to buy and install a new brake caliper. Installing brake calipers in pairs is a smart idea, so install the front and rear calipers simultaneously.

Depending on the make, model, and item grade, a new or rebuilt brake caliper can cost as little as $35 or as much as several hundred dollars. You have to pick a new or rebuilt caliper if your caliper piston is highly rusted.

Most home mechanics can repair a caliper if they don’t mind getting their hands dirty and if the caliper isn’t too rusted; most rebuild kits cost less than $10. Caliper rebuilds are also far less expensive. You’ll require the appropriate caliper repair kit for your car, which will come with some gaskets and seals, as well as brake cleaning.

Watch the video to learn how to fix a sticking brake caliper:

Read more: Why is my brake grinding when I apply the brakes, drive, or come to a sudden stop?


Can you unstick a brake caliper?

That problem should be resolved by lubricating the parking brake system, and skewed pads can be fixed by removing the pads and lubricating the edge. The solution is to resurface the disc and replace the pads after the stuck ones have been released from the disc.

Can you drive with a brake that sticks?

No, a brake caliper that has been damaged cannot be used to continue driving. This can be quite dangerous for your car, your safety, and the safety of other drivers and passengers on the road.

What causes brake calipers to not release?

A seized caliper or brake pad is one of the most frequent causes of your brakes not releasing. Rust or aging are the main causes of this. When you press the brakes hard, you usually notice your car pulling to one side.

Can you spray WD-40 on brake calipers?

On clutch and brake assemblies, brake discs, calipers, brake drums, brake pads, and brake linings, WD-40 Specialist Automotive Brake and Parts Cleaner are safe for use.

Can a sticky caliper be fixed?

What’s causing a caliper to stick will determine how to fix it. You might get away with just cleaning the pins and relubricating them if it’s only a little grit that got inside the slider pin bore. But things are rarely that straightforward. Most of the time, you’ll need to replace or rebuild the caliper.

How do you tell if a caliper is seized?

  • Continuous grinding noise
  • The brake pedal pulsates even when you’re not braking.
  • The side-pulling of the car is much more obvious when the vehicle is braking at highway speeds.
  • Heat buildup on the wheel rim.
  • Brake pads smoke.

How much does it cost to fix a sticking caliper?

The average cost to replace a brake caliper ranges from $523 to $829. While the cost of parts ranges from $393 to $665, labor charges are estimated to be between $130 and 164. Taxes and other costs are not included in this range, nor are your particular vehicle or geographic area taken into account. There may be additional repairs required.

Read more: cheapest places to get brakes done

What causes a caliper to seize up?

One issue that could affect a brake system is a disc brake caliper seizing up. Multiple factors, including corrosion, grime, and poor maintenance, are to blame for this problem. The brake caliper piston may become stuck as rust develops over time and prevents it from releasing to the disc brake caliper.

Can you change just one brake caliper?

Replacement of the calipers should be done in pairs for vehicles with disc brakes only on the front wheels and tires. Replace both sides of the calipers if only one is damaged. A brake imbalance between the front wheels and tires may occur if only one caliper is changed.


Sticking brake calipers, a frequent problem in cars with disc brakes reduces fuel efficiency, impairs stopping power, and accelerates the replacement of brake components. Sticking is brought on by corrosion, the buildup of debris, worn-out parts, and damaged seals.

The car pulling to one side during braking, uneven brake pad wear, and excessive heat buildup are all signs of a stuck brake caliper. The caliper must be physically inspected, the brake pads must be checked for uneven wear, and after driving, there should be no excessive heat or strange scents. An infrared thermometer can be used to gauge rotor temperatures for an analysis that is more precise.

Crucial preventive actions include routine brake caliper inspection, cleaning, and lubrication. Slider pins or guide bolts should be lubricated with silicone-based lubricant or high-temperature brake oil. Following the manufacturer’s recommendations also means replacing the brake fluid regularly. Drivers may maintain outstanding vehicle performance, improve fuel efficiency, and lengthen the lifespan of essential components by seeing and treating early warning indications of sticking calipers.

That is all for this article, where the meaning, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and prevention of brake caliper sticking. I hope it was helpful, if so, kindly share it with others. Thanks for reading, see you around!