Most cars and trucks on our roads have brake callipers, and how well they work is very important for slowing down and stopping completely. When most people think about brake systems, safety is the first thing that comes to mind. A small number of drivers, on the other hand, don’t think twice about their brakes until they start to squeal, grind, or judder when they use them.
It’s important that your brakes work for your safety, the safety of your passengers, and the safety of everyone else around you, like other drivers and pedestrians.
Stopping is more important than going, which is why it’s important to know a little bit about how brake callipers work, why brake callipers stick, how to keep them in good shape, and how to spot problems with your brake callipers.
Can I drive with a bad brake caliper?
People sometimes call the cars we drive “weapons,” and a sticking brake calliper would be a good example of how our love of cars could put you and others in danger. In this guide, we’ll first explain what brake callipers are and what they do. Then, we’ll look at what can go wrong with a brake calliper so you can better understand what can go wrong.
Next, we’ll talk about six things you’ll notice if your car’s brake calliper ever breaks. If you know this information, you will know what to look for so you can tell when your car needs to go to an auto repair shop.
What is a brake caliper?
The job of a brake calliper is to hold the brake pads, which stop your car. When you step on the brake pedal, brake fluid is forced hydraulically down the brake lines. This makes the piston in the calliper push the brake pads against the rotors, which slows down and stops your car or truck. When you let go of the brake pedal, the calliper pulls the brake pad away from the rotor. This lets the wheels of your car move freely.
A growing number of cars on our roads have both front and back brake rotors. Other new cars that don’t have rear rotors will instead have brake drums and shoes. How well your brakes work depends on how well you take care of them, so that your car can slow down in any situation.
Causes of sticking brake calipers
Even though bad brake callipers aren’t one of the most common problems with cars and trucks, there is always a chance that they could break. Here are the top three things that can go wrong with a brake calliper.
1. Brake caliper bolts
Brake callipers aren’t the most complicated parts in the world, and the way they attach to your car’s brake system is easy to understand and fix by a mechanic. Brake calliper bolts need to be able to slide, which means they need to be greased.
Rubber is a big part of how your car works because it helps protect parts that can get dirty or need to be oiled (think driveshaft gaiters and bump stops). The bolts on the brake callipers are the same. They have a rubber coating that keeps the lubricant inside from leaking out.
There are two things that can cause the rubber layer around the bolt to stop doing its job. First, the rubber could dry out, which would let dirt and rust in and stop the bolt from sliding properly. Second, they can be torn or broken, which can cause them to leak lubricant. This could happen, for instance, if the brake pads were being changed and the rubber was accidentally damaged.
2. Brake caliper slides
Brake calliper slides are very important to how your brakes work when you use them. When you put your foot on the brake pedal, the brake pads slide into grooves. When you take your foot off the pedal, they slide back out of the grooves.
Because of where the brakes are and how easy it is for dirt and corrosion to build up in the grooves or on the brake pads, they can stick together. If this happens and the brake pads get stuck in the grooves, they won’t be able to slide out easily. As a result, when you brake, your callipers will feel sticky.
3. Brake caliper piston and brake hose
When brake callipers stick, most of the time the problem is with the brake pistons or the brake hoses. The piston in the calliper is protected by a rubber boot that keeps dirt out and lubricates it.
Again, if the rubber tore, it could let dirt and rust into the calliper itself, making it hard to slide the way it should. It’s easy to tear a rubber boot, but it usually happens while the boot is being worked on or because the rubber breaks down over time.
The rubber piping in the brake hose is another part that will wear out over time. Brake hoses need to be checked from time to time because they can crack and break, letting brake fluid leak onto the pistons and slow down the vehicle. When this happens, the brake calliper won’t move because the brake fluid won’t go back up to the master cylinder.
Symptoms of sticking brake calipers
Now that you know the top three reasons why brake callipers get stuck, we’ll show you the six most common signs that the brakes need to be fixed.
1. Poor fuel economy
Sticking brake callipers are almost always to blame if your car pulls to one side when you hit the brakes or if the brake pedal stays down after you press it.
When your car gets bad gas mileage, it could be a sign of a number of different problems. A clear sign is a drop in fuel efficiency. If your brake calliper is stuck, you will keep braking without meaning to, which will use more gas because the engine has to work harder.
2. Brakes appear to slow down the car for you
When this happens, you should be able to tell because the car will slow down before you do. If this happens, it’s probably because one or more brake callipers are stuck and always touching the brake rotors.
Some drivers don’t realise this until the car starts to grind or make a loud, high-pitched noise. It will do this when all of the material on your brake pad has been worn away. Even in this situation, a brake calliper can be fixed as long as it is not too stuck. If they are, the calliper and any other wear-and-tear parts should be replaced.
3. Vehicle pulls to the left or right
Depending on which side the brake calliper is stuck or seized, the steering will be affected. This means that the car will pull to the side of the brake calliper that is stuck or seized. If you’ve ever driven a car with misaligned tyres, you’ll know how it feels. But if a calliper gets stuck, the car will pull to the left or right when you drive or brake.
Not only is it unsafe, but it’s also dangerous for you, your passengers, and other people on the road to drive a car that doesn’t naturally go straight. In this case, it’s safer to have the car hauled (not driven) to an auto repair shop on a trailer so that the brakes can be checked. If all the brakes are in good shape, ask to have the wheels aligned so you don’t have to spend extra money replacing tyres more often than you need to.
4. A noticeable amount of heat from the wheel
When brake callipers get stuck, the brake pad will always be pressed against it, causing friction. Brakes only get too hot when they are used a lot, like in motorsports or in this case, constantly because the brake calliper won’t move.
If you think your car’s brake calliper is stuck, park it and walk slowly around it while putting your hand near each wheel. If you feel too much heat or see smoke or smell something burning coming from one of the wheels, this is a sign that the calliper is stuck.
5. Leaking brake fluid
Brake callipers work when hydraulic pressure from the brake fluid pushes the pistons and holds the brake pads in place around the rotors. Sometimes a broken seal can cause brake fluid to leak, which can make it harder to slow down the car and could be dangerous.
If you think your car isn’t slowing down right, get it checked out as soon as possible. When you move the car from a parked position and look near the front wheels, you can see wet spots. This is another sign that the brake fluid is leaking.
6. Unusual sounds
Before we had multiple warning lights on our cars, the braking systems did a pretty good job of letting us know when something was wrong. This hasn’t changed, and if you hear strange sounds when you brake, it means there’s wear or a bigger problem.
We would never tell you to ignore noises coming from your brakes because your brake pads or rotors are getting old. Have a mechanic check it out. After all, the brake calliper could have come loose or be sticking.