You know that your brake pads need regular replacement to ensure you stop when you push the pedal, but you rarely give much thought to the brake calipers. 

While the brake calipers should last for the lifetime of the vehicle, there are times when this critical part can fail.

So, how do you know when you have a bad brake caliper? Let’s look at the eight tell-tale symptoms. 

Symptoms of a Bad Brake Caliper

  1. Pulls to one side
  2. Dragging 
  3. Reduced stopping power
  4. Uneven brake pad wear
  5. Leaking fluid
  6. Soft or spongy brake pedal
  7. Strange noises
  8. Abnormal odors

These are the most common symptoms that your brake caliper is bad. Here is a more detailed list of the most common symptoms of a bad brake caliper:

Pulls to One Side

Drive Car

The seized brake caliper doesn’t automatically retract itself. This issue leads to a brake pad that always drags on the rotor. 

As this occurs, the vehicle begins to pull to the side where the brakes are engaged. The damaged caliper is causing that wheel to travel slower than the other. 

Dragging

Glowing Brake Disc

When the brake caliper sticks, the brake pads get pressed against the rotor even when your foot isn’t on the pedal. This friction leads to a dragging sensation. It feels similar to when you are braking, except you are trying to drive, which can be awkward. 

It might feel like you are fighting your vehicle just to move ahead. 

Reduced Stopping Power

Long Brake Distance

When any part of the braking system is faulty, including the brake caliper, you could see reduced braking power. Any time that braking power is reduced, your chances of getting into an accident increases. 

Therefore it is super crucial to fix all brake issues as fast as possible.

Uneven Brake Pad Wear

Worn Brake Pad

When the caliper slider pins begin to stick, you might notice uneven pad wear. Occasionally, a stuck piston can also create this issue.

In either case, the pad is partially applied and drags along the rotor, which is why the wear occurs quicker and unevenly. Having bad brake calipers will cause you to burn through pads more frequently.

RELATED: 5 Symptoms of Worn Brake Pads

Leaking Fluid

Car Fluid Leak

Brake fluid is meant to remain in the reservoir untouched. You should rarely need to add more, if ever. 

However, when the brake calipers are bad, you could notice some fluid leaks. The calipers are activated by the hydraulic fluid. With them being stuck, you can spot some leaks coming from the bleeder screw or the piston seal. 

Look for a wet, oil spot located on the ground on the inside of the tire. You can lay down a piece of cardboard if you aren’t sure a leak is what you are seeing.

Related: 5 Symptoms of a Brake Fluid Leak

Soft or Spongy Brake Pedal

Push Brake Pedal

A stuck caliper can create a spongy or soft pedal. This situation could be caused by leaking brake fluid, overheated pads or air in the lines. 

Aside from that, a seized caliper can create more clearance between the rotor and the pad, which can consequently cause a strange pedal feeling. 

Strange Noises

Noise From Car

There are several sounds you might spot as your brake caliper sticks.

If the caliper bracket breaks that is holding the caliper, you might hear excessive clunking noises. Additionally, the brakes on that wheel could lock up.

You might also notice some similar sounds as when the brake pads are bad. The biggest difference is that this noise is heard even when the brakes aren’t in use. If the caliper continues to stick, it could wear out the brake pads and rotors, leading to a metallic grinding sound. 

Abnormal Odors

Bad Car Smell E1609777166642

When a caliper becomes stuck, it applies constant pressure to the brake pad. As your pads are continually being used, they start to get hot.

After all, brake pads aren’t meant to be engaged continuously. 

If you step out of the car and notice a burning chemical smell, it could be due to the broken caliper. As the brake pads became hot, the material started to break down, leading to noxious odors. 

The Function of a Brake Caliper

Brake Caliper

Today’s cars come with front- or four-wheel disc brakes. With the typical braking system, the metal disc, otherwise known as the rotor, attaches to the wheel. As you step on the brake pedal, the two brake pads grab the rotor to slow down the wheel until it stops.

The brake caliper bolts to the mount, which holds the brake pads in place with the help of hydraulics. When not in use, the caliper ensures the pads are not touching the rotor. 

However, when you press that pedal, hydraulic pressure is forced through the brake lines connected to the caliper. The caliper pistons press the pads to the rotor. As you release the brake pedal, the caliper returns to its original position, so the wheel is free to move. 

Brake Caliper Location

Brake Caliper Location

The brake caliper is located on the caliper mount. You can find the front brake calipers on the mount that is attached to the steering knuckle.

In the rear, there is no steering knuckle to attach to, but you will find the brakes behind the wheels, installed on the caliper mount there also.

Brake Caliper Replacement Cost

The brake caliper replacement costs between $500 and $800. The labor costs $135 to $200, leaving you with $300 to $665 for the brake caliper itself. 

You could also choose to rebuild the caliper with a special kit. This kit drastically reduces the cost, but takes some work.

You will have to replace the seals, pistons, guide pins and pin sleeves. There’s also the chance that something won’t be done right, requiring replacement down the road anyway. 

Unless you are familiar with working on your own brakes, it’s not wise to replace the calipers yourself.