Brake calipers are a vital part of your car’s braking system, unfortunately, a seized brake caliper is a common fault. The pistons inside the brake caliper can seize and reduce the car’s braking power over time if the brake calipers are not maintained properly. It’s important that the calipers are kept in good shape. The brake caliper, after all, transfers the pressure you put on your brake pedal when you brake into braking power.
What causes a brake caliper to seize?
The calipers can seize due to a number of issues, here are the most common reasons:
- Exposure to the elements
Brake calipers are exposed to the elements and grime and dirt can penetrate the system over time. This can reduce a brake caliper’s range of movement, subsequently, brake pads can stick or seize completely.
- Heating and cooling
Brake calipers have to cope with constant heating and cooling as you drive the car and brake. That takes its toll, specifically on the caliper’s piston boot which will crack or harden if it deteriorates too much. If this is not addressed moisture will be able to get to the caliper’s pistons which can start to corrode and eventually seize.
Often the calipers seize if the car is not used regularly. Seals can perish over time and moisture can penetrate leading to corrosion of the system. It’s easy for corrosion to progress in such a situation as any corrosion that develops is not cleared regularly by braking the car. Taking the car out for a quick spin once a month is always a good idea to help prevent this problem.
Corrosion generally develops during periods of inactivity, but it can’t be ruled out moisture can get trapped in the system for other reasons. For example, when the brake fluid absorbs moisture through a leak in the hydraulic brake system.
- Skewed brake pads
Another reason for brake calipers to seize is a brake pad issue, they can suffer from uneven wear and result in skewed brake pads which can upset the balance in the brake caliper.
- Slide pin seizure
This symptom will depend on your type of caliper. As the slide pin can’t move the brake pads are only pushed onto the discs from the caliper’s piston side. You might find that the car drives normally, however, it will lead to reduced braking power which could be dangerous and can accelerate brake pad wear.
- Lack of lubrication
Brake caliper components need to be adequately lubricated as recommended by the manufacturer. A lack of lubrication can lead to the system seizing up.
Sticking brake caliper symptoms
Symptoms of sticking or seized brake calipers are as follows:
- Reduced braking power
- Car will pull to one side under braking
- Feels like the brakes are on while driving – sometimes the car may not move at all!
- MOT advisory or failure notice on brake imbalance
- Poor fuel efficiency
- Brake pedal gets ‘soft’ over time
- Brake fluid level drop
- Wheels have traces of brake fluid
- Burning smell from the brakes
- Smoke coming from the brakes
How Do I Know If The Brake Caliper Needs Replacing?
In most cases, a seized brake caliper manifests itself as reduced braking power. Usually, when a brake caliper seizes, the brake pad on the side of the caliper piston will wear excessively. Eventually, the brake pad will wear down so much that it can affect the brake disc which will get damaged.
When you have a seized brake caliper, the discs and pads on the other side of the car will have to take over a lot of the braking to stop your car. You might feel that the car’s brake balance is off and that the car pulls to one side when you brake hard. Which might lead to dangerous situations on the road. Also, if one side of the brakes has to do all the work they might overheat and eventually fail.
If you think you might have a seized brake caliper, make sure you get it repaired as soon as possible by a mechanic. Not only because of the danger but also because a seized brake caliper can cause lots of wear to brake parts that otherwise would not have had to be replaced. Simply put, to stay safe and potentially save money in the long run, make sure to get the calipers sorted. If you’re not sure if your caliper needs replacing then make sure to get help from a professional mechanic. For example by getting a diagnostic inspection.