What Are The Symptoms Of A Bad Brake Caliper?

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It can’t be more frustrating seeing your car speed up even after applying the brakes. When this happens, you’ll be putting your life and other commuters on the line.

One of the culprits for failed brakes is faulty brake calipers. Generally, the brake components, including low brake fluid, come to mind when there’s a potential saga.

As the system that houses both the brake rotors and brake pads, the brake caliper can cause a lot of issues to the overall functioning of the braking system once it fails.

Specifically, the caliper is responsible for creating sufficient friction for clamping down on your car wheel and slowing down or stopping the vehicle. Once the wheels can’t spin, the car can’t move.

What Are The Symptoms Of A Bad Brake Caliper?

Once the brake calipers go bad, you will notice the following signs:

  • Leaking brake fluid
  • Squeaking Noise
  • Car Steers to one side when braking
  • Thinning brake pads
  • Clunking sound

In theory, brake calipers are designed to last the entire life of your vehicle. The part’s lengthy lifespan makes it different from brake pads or rotors that have a limit on their life span.

But like most things in life – where theory doesn’t translate to real-life experience -, the brake calipers can fail in the line of duty. Any fault to the brake calipers causes the brake pads to wear out too fast.

Just before I discuss each of these symptoms in detail, I must let you know how the brake calipers work. This will give you an insight into what to look out for when the braking system collapses.

Let’s examine how the calipers sync with other braking components to slow down your car or bring it to a final halt.

How Your Car Brake Calipers Work

The working mechanism of the braking system culminates in the works of the brake calipers. The mechanism is not complex to learn or know. The calipers activate the trigger that clamps down on your car wheels to slow down its rate of rotation.

So, when you foot-hit the brake pedal, friction is generated to turn the wheels. The presence of the brake booster helps to amplify some force. The heat energy transfers the force to an internal piston located inside the master cylinder.

This conversion of heat energy to kinetic energy forces the brake fluid to come out. The fluid then passes through the brake lines before reaching each of the four vehicle wheels.

When this happens, the hydraulic fluid triggers the brakes to force the brake caliper to squeeze the brake disc. From there, the vehicle starts to slow down.

Furthermore, the calipers squeeze the brake pads toward the brake rotors as a proportional response to the force received from the master cylinder pump.

Continued squeezing contact between the caliper and the disc eventually makes the vehicle stop. There you have it.

Naturally, the brake calipers are designed to soak up a lot of heat which the braking system produces.

The continued production of the heat can cause the calipers to become rusty and contaminated. Ultimately, the heat can weaken or completely damage the caliper seals.

Symptoms of a Bad Brake Caliper Explained

Let’s examine the symptoms of a damaged brake caliper.

Leaking Brake Fluid

If the brake calipers are in bad condition, you’ll notice some brake fluid leaking away and dripping into the car tires. If you look onto the ground, the fluid will visibly be all over the place. The leaking fluid will occupy a wide spot on the ground.

Since most cars nowadays are designed with hydraulic pressure to operate, the pressure you exert on the brake pedal force the fluid to circulate and eventually get to the ground.

However, sticking brake calipers are not the only cause of leaking brake fluid. You may need to consult an experienced mechanic to be sure where the problem emanates from.

Squeaking Noise

Another visible symptom of a broken brake caliper is a squeaking noise. Usually, when the caliper freezes, some high-pitched squeaking noise will emanate from the affected side.

This metallic rubbing noise can be a result of damaged brake pads also. However, if the problem is caused by brake caliper failure, you’ll hear the noise only while driving.

If it’s due to brake pads issues, the noise will come up when you apply the brake. The best thing to do is to visit an auto technician to help you diagnose accurately.

Car Steers to one Side when Braking

An observable sign of a bad brake caliper is the irregular steering of the car. When you drive and notice that your car wanders from one side to another, you should check it. One of the calipers may have spoilt.

The car will pull to one side each time you apply the brake or attempt to slow down. The science behind this is simple.

Manufacturers manufacture the brake calipers with some pistons that go in and out. This in-and-out movement is basically due to the hydraulic pressure that the master cylinder releases.

Debris or corrosion can cause the pistons to freeze. This way, the brake pads won’t make come in contact with the rotors. It can also be that the pads won’t allow the rotors to move.

When this happens, you might notice some irregular movement of the car, pulling itself away from the side that houses the damaged caliper. You will notice this happen when you apply the brakes.

Clunking Sound

This is the least common of the symptoms. The clunking sound emanates from damage to the bracket that secures the caliper in place.

Once the bracket is faulty, you’ll hear a loud noise when the vehicle is operating. It’s not advised that you drive if you suspect this issue.

Thinning Brake Pads

Your car brake pads will wear down very quickly once the calipers are bad. Because the brake pads and calipers work hand in hand, any damage to one will cause the other to wear down.

If the calipers are faulty, you will notice that the brake pads on the affected side will be thinner.


How Can I Tell If My Brake Caliper Is Sticking?

It’s pretty simple to check if the brake caliper is sticking. The first thing to be on the lookout for is a stuck brake pad or piston.

Either of these two components can get stuck inside the caliper, making your vehicle feeling down.

So, when you’re driving, you may notice that your car is pulling to one side. It doesn’t matter the direction of your steering steel. As you drive along, there’s a chance that the stuck brake will get extremely hot.

Should I Replace All Calipers At Once?

No, you won’t need to replace all the brake calipers at once except if they’re all in a bad condition. As earlier mentioned, the calipers of your car brake are supposed to last the entire life of the vehicle.

However, it can get damaged at any time. The pistons can also fail to extend when you hit the brake pedals. When either of these issues arises, the best thing is to replace the calipers.

How will you go about it since the calipers are sold in pairs? It’s quite simple, depending on whether it is the rear or front calipers that are failing. For instance, if one of the two rear calipers is frozen, you should replace the two.

The same rule applies to the front calipers. If one caliper is bad, replace the two calipers on the opposite sides. The good news is that the rear brake disc has little effect on the overall performance of the brakes.

How Many Brake Calipers Does A Car Have?

A car can have 2 or four brake calipers on the disc brake, depending on the number of rotors the car has. A car with rotors on all four car wheels will feature four calipers.

However, it will have two calipers if the car works with two drums and two rotors.

Final Word

There are a few reasons your brake calipers can become faulty. If the brake hose wears out, the fluid will only flow to one side, causing the caliper to get stuck.

Another reason the caliper will damage may be due to torn rubber boots that surround the caliper piston and bolts. A buildup of dust, debris, or corrosion may cause the caliper piston and bolts to become inefficient.

The symptoms of a bad caliper can range from clunking sound to squeaking noise or leaking brake fluid. You might also observe that your car starts to meander involuntarily from one side to another.

Don’t take any of these symptoms for granted as they can shut down the braking system.

Before the frozen calipers lock up your braking system, make sure you take your vehicle to an auto repair shop. They will have the proper tool and skills to tell what the problem is.

Although some DIY mechanisms may help, you shouldn’t take the risk so that you don’t eventually destroy your brakes.