Getting the brakes calipers replaced on your car is not a cheap procedure by any means. Unfortunately, brake calipers are extremely important and when yours start to go bad you don't want to wait too long to get them replaced. When they're not functioning properly, you risk a lot greater damage in the long run if you don't get them replaced right away. Damage not just to your vehicle, but also potentially in the form of accidents that could injure yourself or others on the road. The average cost to get your brake calipers replaced can range greatly from about $350 all the way up to $800.
If you head to AutoZone you'll see that front brakes calipers can cost you anywhere from about $40 up to $440 depending on the kind you need in the vehicle that they are designed for. Rear brake calipers tend to be just a little bit more expensive.
What are Brake Calipers?
Brake calipers are part of a disc brake system. Likely you have this in the front brakes of your vehicle. The calipers are what holds your car’s brake pads and pistons. Without your brake calipers you can't slow the wheels because you're unable to create friction in the brake rotors.
As the name suggests, calipers are clamp-like devices. They fit over the wheel rotor to stop the wheel from turning when the brakes are applied. The brake pads are held inside the calipers to allow this to happen.
Anytime you put your foot on the brakes, hydraulic pressure in the brake lines creates pressure that forces the pistons close in the brake caliper that in turn makes the pads clamp down on the brake rotor, and that's what stops your car. Without properly functioning calipers, your brake pads can't clamp down on the rotors, and you can't stop your car. Obviously, that would be a problem if they were to fail.
While most people realize that their brake pads need to be replaced every so often, the brake caliper is not something you think about very often. Calipers should have a much longer life than your brake pads do. After all, the pads are what take the brunt of the friction when you apply the brakes. The calipers should theoretically last for the life of your car. But, just like every other part of your vehicle, they can potentially fail or become damaged. If that happens, you need to get them repaired quickly.
Problems with brake calipers are not usual, you need to be on the lookout for signs that something has gone wrong.
Symptoms of Bad Brake Calipers
There are a number of ways that your brake calipers can go bad or seize up on you during the life of your vehicle. If anything's happened, you need to get your car to a mechanic as soon as possible before the situation gets worse. You don't want to hurt yourself or others on the road at risk of injury or accident.
Pulling to One Side: When one of your brake calipers seizes up, it can result in your vehicle pulling sharply in one direction or another when you break. This is the result of the brakes working unevenly, so one side is your car won't be breaking bad as easily as the other, which throws you off balance.
Soft Brake Pedal: If there is a leak in your brake calipers then your brake pedal might feel spongy and soft. This could also happen when a piston seizes up or the sliders in your caliper have caused too much space to form between the pad and the rotor. When that happens, you'll notice that pressing your foot down on the brake seems to have very little resistance. The harder you press, we're more effective it might be, but it's not nearly as effective as normal braking.
Fluid Leaks: The brake fluid in your vehicle is part of the closed hydraulic system that uses pressure to make the brakes function. You put your foot on the brakes, the pressure in the brake lines causes the calipers to squeeze on the pads and stop your car. If there is a leak in the hydraulic fluid system, then your calipers won’t be able to do the job properly. You'll see a leak on the ground around where your car is parked at the affected wheel usually if this is the case. This will probably also be accompanied by a smell like burnt rubber.
Uneven Brake Pads: If one of your calipers is not functioning properly then it can't apply even pressure to the brake pads when you’re braking. This is going to end up causing uneven brake pad wear. You'll notice the brakes not performing quite as well when this happens. This could be caused by a caliper slider that has started to stick, or even if one of the pistons isn't fully engaged.
Grinding Noises: Depending on how your calipers are malfunctioning, they can cause your brake pads to wear down perhaps faster than normal. The result of that is going to be that annoying whining or grinding sound you hear when applying your brakes.
Clunking Noises: There are occasions when the sound that a broken caliper makes is a little more noticeable than just the whining and grinding of a worn-down brake pad. If the caliper bracket that holds the caliper in place is damaged enough, it can end up causing a thumping or clunking sound. This could end up causing the brakes to lock up entirely and cause some severe and brake damage if it happens while you're driving.
Vibrations or Wobbling: If you feel a vibration through the steering wheel when you apply the brakes, there's a chance you're having a problem with an uneven rotor caused by a damaged brake caliper.
Sluggish Driving: If the brake caliper is stuck in a way that causes the pads to press against the rotors while you're driving, it would be like driving with your brakes applied all the time. That can make your car feel sluggish, and especially on one side or another.
Brake Light On: You should have a light that comes on your dash, either yellow or red, that lets you know that there's a problem with your brakes. And they have a symbol, it may actually say brakes are anti-lock brakes, but if it lights up it could be your car's computer letting you know that there is a problem with your brake calipers. As with any warning lights that pop up on your dashboard, it's best not to ignore something like this. Of all the systems in your vehicle, the brakes are certainly ones that you never want to let slide for too long.
Bad Braking: This one seems to be a bit of a given, but you'll notice that your brakes aren’t performing the way they're supposed to if your calipers are functioning. You put your foot down on the brake and the response you get is certainly not what you expect. In many cases this means that when you apply the brakes it's much harder to get them to respond, so you're finding that you have to brake quite a bit earlier in order to slow your car down to a stop.
You don't need us to tell you that this can be extremely dangerous because there are occasions in your vehicle when you need extremely quick response times. If a car in front of you stops short for some reason, you don't want to have to swerve to avoid them because your brakes don't function well enough to stop you in time. Bad brake calipers can end up costing you a lot of money in terms of the damage that you can potentially do to your vehicle by not being able to stop in time. And of course, the most important thing is that you're putting yourself and others at risk if you're not able to stop properly. No car repair is worth your life or the lives of others. If your brake calipers are malfunctioning, you need to get them fixed as soon as you can.
Rebuild or Replace Brake Calipers?
If you Google brake caliper repairs, you'll see a lot of sites recommend and instruct you in the way of actually rebuilding the brake caliper rather than replacing it. Most repairs these days require simply getting a new part and swapping out the old one. Brake calipers can be repaired however with a fairly simple rebuild. Videos like this one will show you step-by-step how to rebuild a broken brake caliper without even having to remove it from your car.
It is definitely a more advanced repair job however and not something you'd want to take on if you've never done much Auto Repair on your own. If you feel like you're up to the task, you could definitely save yourself a few dollars by rebuilding the caliper rather than going out of your way to buy a new one. Like we said before, some new brake calipers can be pretty affordable. You'll end up saving yourself not just time but money if you go ahead with new ones in some cases. It definitely depends on the make, model, and year of the vehicle you have.
Still, if you're up for the challenge and you've never tried it before, you might want to give it a try. There are plenty of guides and videos online that can walk you through it. Otherwise, it's a lot faster and potentially more cost-effective just to get rid of a broken one and go ahead with using a new one.
One of the main reasons not to rebuild calipers and just go ahead and replace them is that, because there are so many other components involved such as the pistons, the sliders, the brake pads and more it's often in your best interests to remove them completely and take a look at everything to make sure that it is all in functional, working order. You would not want to take the time to rebuild your brake calipers only to find out that the rest of the components were also malfunctioning and risk having breaks that are still functioning poorly as a result.
The Bottom Line
It's never a good idea to take chances with your brakes. With all the things that can go wrong on your vehicle, often time drivers will let something slide for longer than they should because it seems like the car still works fine anyway. Many a driver has had a check engine light on my dashboard for far longer than they should have. It happens. The cost of going in to get things checked can be very high and, especially in this economy, you don't want to spend money when you don't have to. But there's no amount of money that can make up for what can potentially go wrong if your brake calipers fail while you're in the middle of driving.
If you notice any of the symptoms we listed related to bad brake calipers happening when you go for a drive then you absolutely need to go in to talk to a mechanic who can figure out the problem and diagnose it for you. You're going to end up saving money in the long run by preventing future damage and, as we've said more than once, the most important thing is keeping yourself and other drivers on the road safe from injury or deaths.
It’s estimated that about 5% of accidents on the roads every year are caused by problems with brakes. Seems like a low number overall, but with over 5 million accidents per year, that's hundreds of thousands of crashes that could potentially have been avoided if brakes have been properly checked and serviced.
Don’t risk your safety or the safety of others. if your car is showing signs that you have a problem with your brake calipers, make sure you take it in to get checked out as soon as possible.