What causes brake calipers to stick

What Causes Brake Calipers to Stick? Sings and Fixes Included

Brake calipers create friction and slow down the wheels whenever it is necessary. So, when these brake calipers are sticking, it can cause several issues, like compromising the stopping power and reducing gas mileage.

Therefore, it is worth knowing what causes brake calipers to stick and how you can overcome this problem. When you go through this blog post, you will find perfect answers to your doubts, so keep reading!

What Causes Brake Calipers to Stick?

Corrosion and rust, worn brake pads, contaminated brake fluid, worn seals,  and stuck caliper pins are some main reasons why your calipers stick. Here, we have listed all the causes behind sticking brake calipers based on our experience. 

Corrosion and Rust

Over time, exposure to water, road salt, and other environmental factors can lead to corrosion and rust on the caliper. This rust can cause the caliper to stick or not slide smoothly.

Worn Brake Pads

When brake pads wear down significantly, it can also cause the caliper to stick. The caliper has to extend further to push the worn pads onto the rotor, which can lead to the caliper piston becoming overextended and getting stuck. If they are damaged or worn, consider replacing the brake pads.  

Dirty or Contaminated Brake Fluid

Brake fluid attracts moisture over time. As a result, there will be corrosion inside the brake system, including the calipers. Contaminated fluid can also cause the caliper’s pistons to stick.

Damaged or Worn Seals

The caliper pistons have rubber seals that can wear out or get damaged. When this happens, the piston may not retract properly, leading the caliper to stick.

Caliper Slides or Pins are Stuck

Calipers slide on pins that allow them to move in and out smoothly. If these pins or the slides are dirty, lack lubrication, or are corroded, the caliper won’t slide correctly and can stick.

Collapsed Brake Hose

Sometimes, the brake hose that carries brake fluid to the caliper can collapse internally, creating a one-way valve that holds brake fluid in the caliper. This can cause the caliper to stick in the applied position.

Faulty Caliper Piston

The piston inside the caliper can sometimes become stuck due to corrosion or damage. If the piston can’t move freely, the result will be a sticking caliper.

How to Know if Brake Calipers Are Sticking?

Here are some key signs and symptoms to look out for.

Unusual Noise While Braking 

If you hear squealing, grinding, or any unusual noises when you brake, it could indicate that the calipers are sticking. These noises might be due to the brake pads being unevenly applied to the discs due to the sticking calipers.

Vehicle Pulling to One Side

When a caliper sticks, it can cause the brake pads to be in constant contact with the rotor on one wheel. This creates a drag on that side, causing the vehicle to pull to one side when you brake.

Reduced Braking Performance

Sticking calipers can lead to decreased braking efficiency. You might notice that your vehicle takes longer to stop or doesn’t slow down as smoothly as it should.

brake Caliper sticking

Abnormal Wear on Brake Pads

If one or more calipers are sticking, you might notice uneven wear on your brake pads. One pad may be more worn than the others, which is a clear indication of a caliper issue.

Overheated Wheels After Driving

Excessive heat around the wheels after a drive can be a sign of sticking calipers. The constant friction from the stuck caliper can generate a lot of heat, which might be noticeable even by just getting close to the wheel.

Read our guide on “How hot do brake calipers get” to read more info.

Visible Inspection

Sometimes, you can physically see if a caliper is sticking. For example, the caliper piston might not retract properly, or there could be visible corrosion or damage.

How Do You Fix a Sticking Brake Caliper?

When it comes to fixing a sticking brake caliper, it’s a bit like solving a puzzle because you need to figure out what’s causing the problem and then find the right way to fix it. From our experience, here’s a simple breakdown of practical solutions depending on what’s going wrong with the caliper:

Cleaning and Lubrication

Lubrication and cleaning the brake calipers are important. If the issue is just some dirt or rust or if the parts are not moving smoothly, cleaning and lubrication is the solution. We suggest using a wire brush and some brake cleaner to get rid of the gunk.

After that, use high-temperature grease to lubricate parts like the pistons, slide pins, and the caliper bracket. Anyway, remember to wear gloves and glasses to protect yourself. 

Seal Replacement

Sometimes, the rubber seals around the caliper pistons get old or damaged. If that’s the case, they’ll need to be swapped out with new ones. This job can be a bit tricky, so we recommend leaving it to a professional mechanic if you’re not confident with car repairs.

Piston Repair or Replacement

If the pistons themselves are scratched or not smooth, you might be able to fix them up with some fine-grit sandpaper and a bit of polishing. But, if they’re really beat up, it would be better to go for a replacement. We suggest getting a pro to handle this, as it’s pretty important to get it right for your brakes to work safely.

Slide Pin Repair or Replacement

Slide pins let the caliper move in and out smoothly. If they’re stuck, sometimes a bit of lubricant and some careful wiggling can free them up. But if they’re really corroded or broken, it’s time for new ones. If needed, get a mechanic’s help. 

Brake Line Repair or Replacement

If the brake lines are in bad shape or clogged, they need to be changed to make sure the brake fluid can flow properly. This is super important for safe braking, so we recommend letting a qualified mechanic do this job.

After fixing anything to do with the brake fluid, you’ll need to bleed the brakes. This gets rid of any air bubbles in the lines and makes sure your brakes work right.

Sometimes, the caliper might be too far gone and need replacing. It’s important to know when to replace instead of repair. So, know the usual lifespan of your brake calipers by going through the user manual or getting advice from a professional. 

Is it Okay to Drive With a Sticking Caliper?

It is not okay to drive with a sticking caliper. The reason why, it can lead to a range of problems, such as reduced braking efficiency, uneven brake wear, and increased strain on the vehicle’s braking system. This issue can also cause the affected wheel to heat up excessively, potentially leading to damage to other components like the wheel bearing or tire. In some cases, it could even lead to brake failure, posing a significant safety risk. 

Therefore, if you suspect there is a sticking caliper, it’s important to address the issue promptly. Continuing to drive under these conditions not only compromises your safety but can also lead to more costly repairs down the line.

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