Signs Your Brake Calipers Are Bad

March 27, 2018

When the brake pedal is depressed, the brake caliper uses the hydraulic pressure generated by the brake master cylinder to squeeze the brake pads against the brake disc. This clamping force slows down the wheel.

A bad caliper can wear down your brakes and make it hard to stop, so get it checked out right away.

Get it diagnosed by a professional

Symptoms of a failing brake caliper

  • It feels like the brakes are always on: If the caliper is stuck in a way that doesn’t let the brake pads fully release, it will feel like your car isn’t going as fast as it should, or like the parking brake is on. 
  • Your car pulls to one side: This can happen when braking or when just driving. Typically, pulling to the right or left is a sign that you need a wheel alignment, but it can also mean you have a stuck caliper piston.
  • Brake fluid leak: Wear and tear or a faulty piston can cause a brake fluid leak. This usually is caused by breakdown of protective rubber seals that let this mechanism to move, and can happen in both fixed and floating caliper systems. You might also smell burning rubber.
  • Reduced braking power: This can be another sign of a brake fluid leak. If your car is low on brake fluid, you may feel little or no response when you press the brake pedal. Another possibility is that your caliper sliders are stuck. If they get dirty or gummed up, it can hinder their ability to clamp down. This is fairly common in floating caliper systems and will be feel like your brakes are spongy — like it takes extra effort to make the vehicle stop.
  • Brakes make odd sounds: Despite the temptation to crank your radio up to drown out the sound of your brakes grinding, it’s much wiser to take care of the problem. When you have caliper issues, the brakes may be very loud when you try to stop. It can be a high-pitched screech, a thud or a metal-on-metal grinding noise. These sounds can mean that your caliper is stuck, that it has come loose or that it’s having some other problem.

» LEARN MORE: Get an estimate for your brake caliper replacement

Related repair advice

If you suspect that you have a braking problem, have your mechanic inspect your car. If you have a leaking caliper, it’ll likely need to be replaced — very few shops will try to repair a leaky brake caliper. 

If you have a fluid leak, the part that’s causing the problem will likely need to be replaced. If your caliper slider is gummed up, you can remove the pins, clean them and reinstall them with fresh, high-temperature lubricant. A light duty metal brush can help clean the area so the mechanism is able to move without any problems.

It’s often best to have them replaced in pairs, as the other side may be close to failing, too. You may have to spring for new brake pads or other items, depending on how much damage the bad caliper has caused. We highly recommend having the brake hydraulic system flushed when replacing calipers.

About the Author

RepairPal is the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

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