Understanding brake caliper

When you apply the brakes, your car will stop primarily thanks to the brake calipers. They are undoubtedly one of the most significant braking components. In order to come to a controlled and safe stop, brake calipers control how tightly the brake pads clamp on the rotor of the wheel.

Understanding brake caliper

Contrary to brake pads and rotors, brake calipers typically last for many years and tens of thousands of miles; nevertheless, on rare occasions, they seize up or start to leak, necessitating a rebuild or replacement. Your brakes may squeal or freeze up as a result of calipers that have rusted or become stuck in place over time.

Well, in this article, you’ll get to know the answers to the following questions:

  • What is a brake caliper?
  • How does the brake caliper work?
  • What are the types of brake calipers?
  • How can you tell if your brake caliper is bad?
  • What are the best brake calipers?
  • Is it safe to drive with a bad brake caliper?
  • How much does it cost to replace the calipers?

Read more: Understanding automotive braking system

Ok, let’s get to it. 

What is a brake caliper?

A brake caliper is an essential part of a disc brake system that most modern cars use as part of their front brakes. The rear of more and more vehicles comes equipped with a disc brake system. However, this caliper houses both the brake pads and pistons of the vehicle. The piston(s) press the pad against the rotor, creating friction that stops the wheel. When you use the brakes, the hydraulic system, brake rotors, brake pads, and brake calipers all work together to stop your car.

Diagram of a disk brake caliper assemblyDiagram of a disk brake caliper assembly

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

How does the brake caliper work?

When the driver applies the brakes, the caliper, which is a set of metal jaws, clamps down on the brake disc or rotor of a wheel. The brake caliper presses down the brake pads on either side of the rotor, creating friction that reduces the rotation of the disc and the wheel to which it is attached, slowing and eventually stopping the vehicle.

Additionally, pressing the pedal causes hydraulic pressure to be forced through the brake lines that are connected to the caliper. Brake pads are pressed against the rotor by the caliper pistons. The brake caliper returns to its original position as soon as you release the brake pedal, allowing the wheel to move freely.

Read more: Understanding the working of anti-lock braking system (ABS)

What are the types of brake calipers?

There are two main types of brake calipers, which include:

  • Floating caliper
  • Fixed caliper

Floating caliper:

These calipers move in and out relative to the rotor. On the inboard side of the rotor, they either have one or two pistons. When you use the brakes, the piston or pistons press the caliper, causing friction to be produced by the brake pads that are located on either side of the rotor.

Floating brake caliper

Fixed caliper:

This caliper remains stationary. Instead, they have the pistons arranged on the rotor’s opposite sides. They can have more pistons and are more expensive than floating calipers. They also perform better overall.

Fixed brake caliper

Read more: Understanding Electronic Stability Control (ESC) system

How can you tell if your brake caliper is bad?

Here are the most common signs and symptoms of a bad brake caliper:

  • Vehicle pulls to one side when braking or driving
  • Brake warning light
  • Reduced braking power
  • Dragging
  • Uneven Brake Pad Wear
  • Unpleasant smell
  • A Spongy or Soft Brake Pedal
  • Leaking brake fluid
  • Unusual Noises

Vehicle pulls to one side when braking or driving

The most common and evident symptom of a bad brake caliper is your car pulling to one side. You could feel your car pulling to one side as you braked. This symptom could indicate that the caliper sliders or brake caliper are seizing. While it is more obvious when braking, you could also notice it while driving.

Read more: Why does my car shake when i brake

Brake warning light

When the brake or anti-lock braking system (ABS) light on your car illuminates, it is a clear indication that there is a problem with your braking system.

Read more: What does service brake assist mean?

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Reduced braking power

Heavily reduced braking power may be evident when any component of the braking system, including the brake caliper, is failing. Your chances of getting into an accident rise if your braking power is reduced. Therefore, it is essential to fix all brake problems as soon as they arise.


Even when your foot isn’t on the pedal, a sticking caliper compresses the brake pads against the rotor. A feeling of dragging results from this friction. The only difference is that you’re trying to drive, which can be awkward, and it feels similar to when you’re braking. You could feel like you have to fight to move forward with your car.

Uneven Brake Pad Wear

Another sign of a bad brake caliper is your brake pad wearing unevenly. You may notice uneven pad wear when the caliper slider pins start to stick. This problem can occasionally also be brought on by a stuck piston. The wear happens quickly and unevenly in either case because the pad was partially applied and drags along the rotor. Your brake pads will wear out more frequently if your brake calipers are damaged.

Read more: Whats the ideal brake pad thickness and how to check it

Unpleasant smell

The brake pad is continually under pressure when a caliper gets stuck. Your pads begin to heat up as a result of continuous use. Brake pads aren’t intended to be continuously engaged, after all. If you step out of your vehicle and smell a burning chemical odor, the damaged caliper can be to blame. As the brake pads heated up, the material began to degrade, producing unpleasant smells.

Read more: Car AC smells like vinegar (causes and how to get rid of it)

A Spongy or Soft Brake Pedal

A spongy or soft brake pedal can also be a symptom of a bad brake caliper. The pedal may feel spongy or soft due to a stuck caliper. Leaking brake fluid, overheated brake pads, or air in the lines are all potential causes of this problem. A seized caliper may also increase the gap between the rotor and the pad, which may result in an odd pedal feeling.

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

Leaking brake fluid

Brake fluid is intended to remain untouched in the reservoir. Rarely, if ever, should you need to add more. But if the brake calipers are damaged, you may notice some fluid leaks. The hydraulic fluid engages the calipers.

You can see some leaks coming from the piston seal or the bleeder screw when they are stuck. Take a look inside the tire for a wet, oily spot on the ground. If you aren’t certain that what you are seeing is a fluid leak, you can lay down a piece of cardboard.

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

Unusual Noises

Your brake caliper may stick and make a number of noises. You can hear a lot of clunking noises if the bracket that holds the caliper fails. The brakes on that wheel could also lock up. Additionally, you might hear certain noises that are similar to those made by worn brake pads.

The only difference is that this noise may be heard even when the brakes are not being used. If the caliper persists in sticking, it could damage the brake rotors and pads, producing a metallic grinding noise.

Read more: Common reasons why your new brakes are squeaking

What are the best brake calipers?

Here’s a list of the best brake calipers you should consider:

  • Wilwood engineering brake calipers
  • Callahan CCK03032 Brake Calipers
  • Raybestos Element3 Caliper
  • DRIVESTAR brake calipers
  • ACDelco brake caliper

Wilwood engineering brake calipers

Wilwood engineering brake calipers

It’s hard to find businesses these days that focus on a particular product category, but Wilwood is one such enterprise. This specific component is intended to fit specific General Motors vehicles produced between 1968 and 1996 that have front brakes. It’s conceivable that Wilwood manufactures a caliper of a similar grade that will fit your car or truck if you drive a non-GM vehicle or one that doesn’t meet that model year range.

For these vehicles’ rear brakes, Wilwood also makes a matching caliper so that all four wheels can have the same look and function. This two-piston caliper is a direct replacement for the parts that were originally installed on your car. Because of this, you may use these calipers with any brake pads that are a straight fit for your car or truck, even though they have a flashy red finish.

Read more: Cheapest places to get brakes done

Callahan CCK03032 Brake Calipers

Callahan CCK03032 Brake Calipers

Callahan’s brake calipers are made of a durable material that lessens brake noise and dust accumulation. To assure a high-quality fit and design, every one is made with premium boots, seals, pins, bolts, and hardware. The bleeder screws come with dust covers as an added benefit to prevent any buildup from entering the system.

These calipers each include a mounting bracket for easy installation. They are extremely adaptable due to that bracket. For extra convenience, they can be mounted as replacements for either the front or the rear calipers. They significantly improve the effectiveness of your brake pads and reduce the time it takes for the car to stop.

There are a few drawbacks to be aware of with regard to these calipers. One is that they aren’t painted or powder coated, which makes them less effective at preventing corrosion and rust. The second is that only specific automobiles will fit it. Before buying them, you should make sure they fit your car.

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Raybestos Element3 Caliper

Raybestos Element3 Caliper

In contrast to rebuilt or remanufactured products, the Raybestos Element3 caliper is entirely made of new materials. To ensure dependable performance for thousands of miles and to fulfill Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) requirements, this brake caliper has undergone thorough testing for temperature, torque, deterioration resistance, and extreme pressure.

The original equipment (OE) standards have been met or exceeded in the manufacturing of these brake calipers. These brake calipers feature EPDM rubber components all over them, which provide great heat resistance. For heavy-duty applications, silicone boots are included. It should be known that this is only a front brake caliper and not a complete set or a rear brake caliper.

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DRIVESTAR brake calipers

DRIVESTAR brake calipers

This product from DRIVESTAR is next on our list of the top brake calipers. These specific part numbers are compatible with second- and third-generation Chevrolet Corvette models; however, DRIVESTAR also produces parts for some Ford and imported cars, as well as other Chevrolet vehicles.

The calipers from DRIVESTAR are brand new, not remanufactured, and designed to be a direct fit replacement for the components that came with the car when it was new. You will need to reuse the mounting brackets that are already on your car because these calipers do not include any new mounting hardware; instead, they come with all the mounting equipment you’ll need, including slider pins and bleeder screws.

These calipers are “friction-ready,” which means they don’t have brake pads. Although you’ll need to purchase those separately, the plus is that you can choose the brake pad grade that best suits your preferences and driving style. DRIVESTAR guarantees you not only a perfect fit but also a high-quality component that should last for many years of trouble-free service by offering a one-year warranty on its calipers.

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ACDelco brake caliper

ACDelco brake caliper

Consider this ACDelco product if you want one of the top brake calipers available. Each caliper is pressure tested by the company to ensure it has effective, comfortable, and safe stopping power. For a long-lasting, quality improvement to your brake system, each one is made of iron and aluminum castings.

The calipers from ACDelco also use Ethylene Propylene (EPDM) rubber parts, which offer the best heat, corrosion, and leak resistance. Using the mounting brackets, hardware, and copper sealing washers that are included, each one is also quite easy to install by yourself. Furthermore, since the brake pads are not attached, you have additional customization options when manually installing the calipers.

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Is it safe to drive with a bad brake caliper?

Simply put, no—a car with a bad brake caliper is not safe to drive. This can be quite dangerous for your vehicle, your safety, as well as the safety of other vulnerable road users on the road. Your brake pads may sustain additional damage if you decide to keep driving your car.

Read more: Is it safe to drive a car with the SRS airbag light on?

How much does it cost to replace the calliper?

Depending on the vehicle model and labor costs, the cost of replacing a brake caliper ranges from $250 to $750 on average. The front calipers are priced between $85 and $110. The price of a rear brake caliper ranges from $90 to $110. Remanufactured replacement calipers generally cost between $80 and $90 for front calipers and $80 to $90 for rear calipers.


What does the brake caliper do?

The front brakes of the majority of cars use a disc brake system, which includes calipers. Your car’s brake pistons and pads are housed in the brake caliper. Its function is to slow down the wheels of the vehicle by creating friction with the brake rotors.

How do I know if my brake caliper is bad?

Unusual noise, reduced braking power, fluid leaks, or the feeling that your car is pulling to one side are a few symptoms that your brake calipers may be failing. Calipers should last the lifetime of the vehicle, as opposed to brake pads, which need to be replaced frequently.

How much does it cost to replace a brake caliper?

The average cost to replace a brake caliper ranges from $567 to $904, depending on whether you hire a mechanic or do it yourself. Taxes, fees, and your specific make and model are not taken into account in this price range, which is based on national averages for all automobiles.

Can you drive with a broken brake caliper?

You cannot continue to drive with a damaged brake caliper. This can be very dangerous for your car, your safety, and the safety of other road users. You could further damage your brake pads if you choose to keep driving your vehicle.

What causes brake caliper failure?

Road debris, weather-induced drying or cracking, and deterioration brought on by aging are the main causes of damage to calipers and pistons. The brakes may lose hydraulic pressure, and brake fluid may leak when a caliper seal fails.

Can brake calipers be repaired?

Your customers may need to buy a new caliper if the piston is too severely pitted or scored to be repaired. Although caliper rebuild kits are an inexpensive option that can increase the lifespan of the braking system, these kits can only fix a small number of problems that might arise with a caliper over the course of its lifetime.

What happens if you don’t fix the calipers?

Uneven braking from one damaged or failing caliper will cause the vehicle to pull to one side. The amount of pull rises with speed. As a result, you run the risk of losing control of the car and getting into an accident. Driving a car with a damaged or failing caliper is not recommended.

How long do brake calipers last?

Disc brake calipers are durable brake parts that ought to last as long as your car. Your brake calipers should last 10 years, or between 75,000 and 100,000 miles.

That is all for this article, where the answers to the following questions have been discussed:

  • What is a brake caliper?
  • How does the brake caliper work?
  • What are the types of brake calipers?
  • How can you tell if your brake caliper is bad?
  • What are the best brake calipers?
  • Is it safe to drive with a bad brake caliper?
  • How much does it cost to replace the calipers?

I hope you learn a lot from the reading. If you do, kindly share it with others. Thanks for reading; see you around!