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Brake Caliper Buying Guide

Brake calipers use hydraulic pressure to squeeze brake pads on either side of a brake rotor or disc. It seems like a simple job, but it needs to operate dependably every time the brake pedal is applied. The piston needs to move smoothly, pressure needs to be applied evenly, it needs to be leak-free, and the sliders must let the pads move freely.

You might want to replace brake calipers for better stopping performance, or it could be to repair a problem with them. Some calipers are well under $100 while others are several hundred dollars each. With such a crucial role, you don’t want to take the chance of buying the wrong part for the job, wasting both time and money and potentially creating a dangerous stopping situation.

This buying guide delves into the types of brake calipers you might see, some considerations when buying new brake calipers, what you should look for when upgrading to performance brake calipers, and the best way to choose the right caliper for your vehicle.

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Different styles of brake calipers

There are several different types of calipers used in cars. Here’s an overview of some of the more common ones.

Floating caliper

This type of caliper slides or floats back and forth on pins. The caliper bracket attaches firmly, not the caliper itself. When the piston extends, it pushes the inboard pad against the rotor, and the pressure causes the caliper to float inward, pulling the outboard pad against the rotor. It’s common and comparatively inexpensive, but it’s not intended for extreme driving.

Fixed caliper

A fixed is rigidly mounted to the wheel knuckle over a portion of the rotor. It contains pistons that oppose each other, and brake pads fit into either side. When the pedal is pressed, both pistons extend evenly for dependable stopping power. They’re a more costly component, but they perform better in strenuous situations.

Sliding caliper

A variation of the floating caliper, this style also commonly uses a single piston. The pads are mounted in a caliper adapter rather that resembles a fixed caliper, and they slide on pins to clamp against the rotor. It’s more dependable for even braking applications but they have more service points that could cause issues.

Four-piston caliper

This design utilizes four pistons arranged in two pairs, with each pair located on either side of the rotor. It’s a variation of the fixed caliper. The advantage here is that all four pistons can adjust separately, providing more control over your brakes and helping to minimize brake fade in high-performance vehicles. The downsides are cost and availability since they’re not offered on all makes and models.

Factors to Consider When Buying Brake Calipers

When it comes to buying brake calipers, there are several important factors you need to consider to ensure that you purchase the right product. Here are some tips on what to look out for.

  • Budget – Determine how much money you have available and what type of brake caliper fits within your budget. You don’t necessarily have to purchase the most expensive parts available, but make sure that you buy something that will last.
  • Compatibility – Ensure that the brake calipers are suitable for your vehicle by checking their compatibility with your car’s make and model. Most of the time, the wrong part won’t bolt up at all, keeping your car out of service even longer.
  • Quality – Choose parts from a brand name you know and trust, has excellent reviews, and is backed by warranty for your peace of mind.
  • Driving style – Different driving styles require different types of brakes. For example, if you drive often in aggressive or performance conditions, you may benefit from upgraded calipers such as six-piston calipers.
  • Material. Given a choice, cast iron calipers are strong and cost-effective, but aluminum calipers and newer thermoplastic calipers offer reduced weight and corrosion resistance.

Considerations When Upgrading to Performance Brake Calipers

Upgrading a brake caliper

Before you start searching for performance brake calipers on your vehicle, there are a few things you should pause on. First, are you prepared for the cost? Upgrading to performance parts comes at a price, with calipers often being double the OEM replacements.

Secondly, consider the maintenance requirements. If you’re using your car for performance driving, the brake fluid should be changed more frequently to start with. Then, the performance brake calipers will operate best using performance pads and rotors too, and they’re more costly than stock parts also. It could easily triple your costs of brake repairs.

Also, remember that brake pressures are delicately balanced between the front and rear brakes. If you’re replacing calipers with performance parts, you really should do all four.

Finally, is an upgrade necessary? Most carmakers match a vehicle’s calipers quite well to their application. Unless you’ve added horsepower and torque, upgraded your suspension, and implemented weight-reduction techniques, you might be best sticking with OEM-style parts.

How to choose the right size brake caliper for your vehicle

When you’re working on the braking system, you need to be careful that parts are designed to fit exactly. The wrong caliper won’t line up with the mounting holes on the knuckle, might be designed for a different rotor depth, or the rotor won’t fit within it.

Find the correct parts to replace or upgrade your calipers by shopping according to your specific vehicle. That ensures the brake hose connection will be in the right place, it will mount properly, and the caliper will fit with your car’s brake rotor size, among other things.

If you’re looking to replace a brake caliper, shop at AutoZone. Find the right fitment for your car from brands you trust, like Duralast, and get Trustworthy Advice from our associates.

FAQ/People Also Ask

Which brake caliper is best?

Each brake caliper has an intended application. The best caliper for your vehicle is one that is designed to fit it.

Are 6 piston calipers better than 4 piston?

Typically, you’ll get the same clamping force from both 4-piston and 6-piston calipers. However, the more pistons, the more even the application will be, and 6-piston calipers tend to be less stiff.

Do all brake calipers fit any car?

Brake calipers are model specific, and some makes and models might even have more than one option you’ll need to narrow down.

What are the 2 types of brake calipers

The two general types are fixed calipers and floating calipers.

Is it OK to replace just one brake caliper?

It’s possible to fix your braking issues by replacing one caliper, yes. However, the other caliper on the same axle is often in a similar condition and may need to be replaced soon anyway, so changing them in pairs is a good practice.

Helpful Brake Caliper and Braking System Resources

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