A brake caliper is considered one of the most important components of your car’s braking system. It houses your brake pads and pistons, and is responsible for slowing your car’s wheels by producing friction with the brake rotors when you step on the brake pedal. However, it is not perfect. It can become frozen or seized due to lack of lubrication, debris build up, or corrosion. Signs of a frozen brake caliper include car pulling to one side when braking, car slowing down by itself, odd grinding or high-pitched noises, excessively hot wheels, leaking brake fluid, and poor fuel economy.
Signs of a Frozen Brake Caliper: What is a Brake Caliper?
Before we discuss the signs of a frozen brake caliper, we need to understand what a brake caliper is, what it does, and how it works. Since the brake system of your car is considered as the most important safety feature in a vehicle, you need to make sure that it is always at its top condition. There are two common types of braking systems being used today – the traditional brakes and the ABS or anti-lock braking system.
The braking system of a car usually has components such as the rotor, brake pads, and caliper. Today, we will focus more on the brake caliper. Modern vehicles are usually equipped with a disc brake system that has either front-wheel or four-wheel disc brakes. In this type of brake system, the metal disc or the brake rotor is connected to the wheel.
This brake system works by using brake pads, which have materials that produce friction, to squeeze or grab the brake rotor to slow down or stop the vehicle, when the driver puts his foot on the brake pedal. This can be achieved because of the hydraulic device known as the brake caliper which suspends the brake pads around the spinning rotor.
The brake caliper is the one that houses the brake pads. When you put your foot on the brake pedal, the brake fluid will be hydraulically forced down the brake lines. This will make the caliper’s piston push the brake pads against the spinning rotors which will slow down and stop the car. When the brake pedal is released, the brake caliper will then pull the brake away from the rotor, allowing your car to move freely again.
The brake caliper basically functions like a clamp on a wheel rotor to stop the wheel from turning when you apply the brakes. Since it is exposed to much friction and heat, over time, the seals inside the calipers can weaken and break down. The brake calipers can become corroded, contaminated, or dirty which can lead to your car experiencing symptoms or signs of a frozen brake caliper. Corrosion is known as the most common cause of a frozen brake caliper.
This can happen when your car has been parked outside for a long time. Rust can start to develop on the pads, discs, caliper pistons that will restrict your brake system from working properly. This problem can also be caused when your braking system is not well-maintained or is not being checked regularly. As mentioned earlier, since the brakes are exposed to much heat and friction, problems may start to develop over time which can cause a frozen caliper as well as other brake part failures.
Signs of a Frozen Brake Caliper: What Happens When Brake Calipers Freeze?
As mentioned earlier, the caliper is an important component of the brake system. It houses the pads and pistons and it is responsible for squeezing the brake pads against the spinning rotors to slow down or stop the car. Since it plays an important role in the overall function of your brake system, when you experience braking issues, you should never ignore it. One of the problems that can occur is a frozen brake caliper.
When this happens, the brake won’t be able to completely disengage from the brake rotor’s surface which can result in brakes being lightly applied all the time. A frozen or seized brake caliper not only makes driving more difficult, but it also creates stress on your brake system and transmission which can lead to premature wear and failure.
To prevent other potential problems to occur, you need to detect the problem early so you can have it corrected immediately. To do this, you need to be aware of the signs of a frozen brake caliper. It includes:
- Car pulling to one side when braking.
One of the signs of a frozen caliper is when your car always pulls to one side, either to the left or right, when you step on the brake pedal. This problem can occur when one of the brake calipers is faulty or has seized and the car will pull towards the side of the broken brake caliper.
Car pulling to one side can also be caused by alignment problems. To make sure that the problem is caused by a frozen brake caliper, you need to check for other signs or have your car checked by a mechanic. To fix the problem you will have to replace the damaged brake caliper immediately.
- Car slows down even when you are not applying the brakes.
If you notice that your car often slows down by itself even when you are not stepping on the brake pedal, it can be one of the signs of a frozen brake caliper. This occurs when the frozen brake caliper allows the brake pads to always come in contact with the brake rotors. This makes your car slow down as if you are always applying the brakes, even when you’re not.
The moment that you experience this problem, you need to take your car to an auto repair shop and have your entire braking system inspected since it has been compromised. Bear in mind that the brake system is your car’s most important safety feature, any issues with it should be repaired right away.
- Excessively hot wheels.
Remember that metal to metal contact creates friction which can cause a lot of heat. When a brake caliper gets frozen, there will be constant pressure on the brake pad. This rotor-to-brake-pad friction can produce a lot of heat very quickly and the longer you drive under this condition, the more heat will be created in that particular area.
You may notice excessive heat oozing out when you stop your car and you stand close to your car’s wheels. Although excessive heat on your wheels is one of the signs of a frozen brake caliper, do not attempt to touch the brake calipers with your bare hands to try to confirm if they are really hot.
If somehow you managed to confirm that your wheels are excessively hot, you need to have it repaired immediately. Continuing to drive your car in that state can lead to problems such as warped or damaged components, or melted rubber brake lines. When this happens, your brakes might fail completely.
- Grinding or high-pitched squealing noises.
One of the signs of a frozen brake caliper is when you hear grinding or high-pitched squealing noises every time you step on the brake pedal. If you suddenly hear this noise, it means that your brake caliper just got worse not so long ago. The grinding noise can occur as the metal rotor drags through the brake pads due to a faulty brake caliper.
If you hear any odd sound when you apply the brakes, even if it is not caused by a frozen caliper, you need to have it checked immediately and have it fixed. Odd noises usually mean that there is something wrong in the system.
- Leaking brake fluid
The brake fluid is what lubricates your brake calipers. But, a frozen brake caliper can cause leaks since it can damage the hoses. It can also leak internally itself like in the boot around the piston. The fluid will then be released when the boot becomes brittle from heat exposure or when ridden over corroded piston surfaces. You may notice leaks at the wheel area of your car when your car is parked. If you experience this problem, have your car checked and repaired immediately.
- Poor fuel economy.
Poor fuel economy can be caused by a lot of issues, but a frozen brake caliper can also cause it. This can happen when one of your car’s brake calipers is frozen or seized, putting more strain on your engine. An engine working harder than it’s supposed to can result in consuming more fuel than usual.
Since a frozen brake caliper allows the brake pads to always come in contact with the brake rotors, it can cause constant unintentional braking which will have a negative impact on your gas mileage. If you feel that your car is consuming more fuel than usual, you need to have it checked immediately to find out what caused it.
Signs of a Frozen Brake Caliper: Can a Caliper Unstuck Itself?
You will know if your brake calipers are in need of immediate attention when you experience any of the signs of a frozen brake caliper. When you experience this problem, can a caliper unstuck itself? How can you fix a broken caliper?
If the brake calipers are seized, it is sometimes caused by insufficient lubrication. When the lubrication has dried out, it can result in dirt or road grit finding its way between the piston and the caliper housing which causes your brake calipers to become frozen. The brake caliper piston won’t be able to slide in and out smoothly within the calipers when this happens.
If this is what caused your brake caliper to become frozen, you can fix the problem by giving your system the maintenance it needs and some cleaning. You need it to make sure that your braking system will have a proper lubrication in order for it to function properly. You can do so by removing your brake pads, slides, and applying some grease to the edges to fix the affected pads or slides. You will have to check all the system’s components such as pistons and seals to make sure that they are not hung up in the caliper or piston bore.
You can also do a visual inspection of your brake caliper to determine why your car is experiencing signs of a frozen brake caliper. You just need to do these simple steps.
- Remove your car’s wheel by jacking up the car. Use axle stands to support it while you are working.
- Locate the brake fluid reservoir and remove the cap. Wrap a clean cloth around the reservoir’s opening so it won’t spill.
- Remove two caliper bolts holding the caliper in place found on its bracket.
- The caliper will be stuck in place when it is seized. You won’t be able to easily slide off the rotor. You can use a flat screwdriver and try to push it in between the surface of the brake pad and the brake rotor’s surface. You can loosen the caliper up by wiggling and breaking the dirt seal between the brake pads’ back and the piston face. However, if the brake caliper is really seized, you will have to disconnect the brake hose from the caliper. By doing so, the pressure on the caliper piston will be released.
- When you have successfully removed the caliper, brake pads, slider bolts, and slider bolts off, you need to inspect all the parts’ conditions and look for any signs of damage such as tears or cracks in the rubber seal at the caliper piston’s face and on the seals covering the brake pad slide pins.
- If you see that they are damaged, you will have to replace them and the piston has to be removed, cleaned, and lubricated. If the brake pad shims only have dirt around them with no visible damage, you just need to clean them using a brush and brake cleaner before assembling them again.
If you know the signs of a frozen brake caliper, you can prevent other potential problems from occurring and you can act on it immediately. Any problems involving your braking system should not be taken lightly since it is the most important safety feature of your car. It should be checked and corrected right away.