5 Signs that Your Brake Calipers Need Replacing

Your brake system relies on a number of moving parts to achieve consistent, safe braking. When a single part is damaged or needs maintenance, it can affect your braking in a number of ways. Find out when to replace brake calipers on your vehicle by using these five common signs that they need replacing. Don’t wait until you lose braking power, stop by your local AutoZone and pick up the necessary parts for a quality replacement and restore your braking power.

Brake Calipers Explained

You may be used to replacing your brake pads, but brake calipers also need to be replaced when they wear out. Calipers house a powerful piston that uses the pressure of the hydraulic brake fluid to press brake pads against the brake rotor. When working correctly, your calipers glide in and out effortlessly as you press the brake pedal.

Whether you have fixed or floating calipers, the same signs of damage apply. Pull into your garage and inspect your brake pads, calipers, and rotors for signs of damage or malfunctioning. Floating calipers are particularly susceptible to sticking, but any type of caliper can have issues. Look carefully at your entire brake system before blaming your calipers. A car’s brake system relies on a number of components for smooth braking, so any issue with your brake pads, rotors, brake fluid, or other component can produce similar signs of bad braking.

Bad Brake Caliper Symptoms


Bad Brake Caliper Symptoms

Most vehicles have a series of sensors that alerts you to a brake malfunction. The brake light indicates when sensors detect something wrong with the system. In a perfect world, your brake light would always illuminate at the first signs of trouble and you could safely repair your brake system before losing any braking power or efficiency.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Inspect all the relevant brake components for an issue. This light may also be caused by an electrical issue or damaged sensor.


Unusual Noises

Squealing, grinding, and metallic scraping noises are all signs that your brake pads are wearing thin. When installing new brake pads, check out your calipers. Grinding while you press down on your brakes could be caused by gravel or other debris caught in the caliper. It also could be a sign of a lack of lubrication in drum brakes.

If your brake pads have uneven wear patterns or have worn out far sooner than expected, inspect your calipers. A sticking caliper causes brake pads to remain pressed against the rotor as you drive, which quickly wears down brake pads. Bent calipers can force brake pads against the rotors in an uneven manner, which also reduces their lifespan.


Burning Smell

A chemical or burning odor is a common sign of a stuck caliper. Stop your vehicle as soon as it’s safe and inspect your brakes. This smell is typically caused by a brake pad forced against a rotor as you drive. Check your parking brake and brake calipers for any sticking points.


Inefficient Braking

If you press down on your brake pedal, you should receive immediate feedback. A delay or spongy feeling in your brake pedal is a sign of a potentially dangerous brake issue. There are two common causes of this issue. First, you may have excess moisture in your brake fluid, causing it to overheat and boil. Second, a sticking caliper may be unresponsive to pressure from the brake fluid.


Pulling Sensation When Braking

A similar stuck caliper issue can cause your vehicle to pull to one side as you brake. This is due to unbalanced braking. When one caliper works and another doesn’t, your vehicle will jerk to one side as you attempt to slow down or come to a complete stop. Inspect brake calipers on both sides to find the responsible component.


Now that you know the top five signs of damaged brake calipers, you probably have many more questions. Here are some helpful FAQs as you determine the best course of action, given your unusual braking situation. Use this information to assist you in selecting the best brake components and successfully repairing your brake system.

How Often Do I Need to Replace My Calipers?

Unlike brake pads, it’s very difficult to identify the exact replacement schedule for brake calipers. When they operate effectively, brake calipers can continue to work for far longer than brake pads. A small piece of debris or unusual braking incident is all that’s needed to damage your calipers. Inspect them every time you replace your brake pads, but don’t replace your calipers unless there is something wrong with them. Follow any manufacturer guidelines when it comes to replacing calipers.

Should I Rebuild or Replace My Calipers?

Caliper rebuild kits are available for most makes and models of vehicles. However, unlike your engine or transmission, a brand-new caliper isn’t a major investment. Modern calipers are affordable enough to justify purchasing a complete caliper instead of a rebuild kit.

Rebuilding a caliper typically involves replacing the pistons, seals, pin sleeves, and guide pins. This process can take a significant amount of time and still has plenty of room for error. Unless your particular caliper is no longer being manufactured, it’s better to replace the entire component than to settle for a rebuild.

How Do I Maintain a Floating Caliper?

Floating calipers are particularly prone to seizing and sticking if not properly lubricated. Periodically inspect your floating caliper and grease it with brake lubricant to prevent a sticking caliper pin. This simple maintenance tip can prevent damage to the entire caliper and excessive wear on your brake pads.

Find Reliable Calipers Today

Now that you know the top signs of a bad caliper, learn more about how to tell if brake caliper is bad by discussing your issue with an AutoZone associate. Whether you stop by your local store or chat online with a qualified agent, find the information and parts you need. Don’t let a minor grinding noise lead to major brake failure, use these signs to solve your caliper issue and enjoy smooth, safe braking with reliable replacement calipers.

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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