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What Is a Caliper? A Closer Look at Brakes

BY: Keith Benline
Mechanic installing brakes

Your vehicle is made up of many different components that you may or may not be familiar with but play a crucial role in your safety. One of these components is the brake caliper. The brake calipers on your car or truck are one of the most essential parts of the braking system and are responsible for bringing your vehicle to a stop.

While you may see your brake calipers daily, many are unfamiliar with how they function. Let’s look at what a brake caliper does and its role in your vehicle’s safety.

Basic Overview of a Vehicle’s Braking System

While many different types of vehicles are on the market, one thing stays relatively the same throughout each of them – the brake system. The core brake system components found on most vehicles include brake calipers, brake rotors, brake lines, a master cylinder, and a brake booster.

Here’s a closer look at types of brake calipers and braking parts and how they work together to ensure your vehicle stops on a dime:

  • Brake Calipers – The brake caliper is the C-shaped component mounted over your brake rotors and acts as a clamp for your brake pads. When your brake pedal is pushed, a caliper piston, or pistons, push the brake pads together, clamping against the brake rotor to slow the vehicle.
  • Brake Rotors – The brake rotors are the circular components seen behind the wheels of your vehicle. These rotors are what the brake pads clamp onto to slow your vehicle down. They are designed to wear out over time, so ensure you have them inspected during routine maintenance.
  • Brake Pads – The brake pads clamp onto the rotor to slow your vehicle down. Over time, these wear down and will need to be replaced for proper brake functionality.
  • Brake Lines – The brake lines are what carry your brake fluid from your master cylinder to each caliper. These lines are made from metal, and your vehicle may have rubber brake hoses to make brake jobs much easier.
  • Master Cylinder – The master cylinder is a component made up of a reservoir and ports that hold and distribute your brake fluid. These are usually located within the engine bay for easy access.
  • Brake Booster – A brake booster is an intricate component that helps make braking easier by utilizing a vacuum from the engine to decrease the force needed to apply the brakes.

What Is a Brake Caliper’s Role and Function?

So now that we know how the brake system works, let’s take a closer look at the role and function of the brake caliper. Depending on the age of your vehicle, you may have two or four brake calipers in your brake system. Brake calipers were widely used on rear axles in the early 1990s, as many manufacturers still used brake drums.

A brake caliper is essentially a large clamp that utilizes brake fluid to push a single piston against your brake pads. Most brake calipers will be of a cast aluminum construction and feature one or more pistons. They will have provisions for your brake pads to be mounted into and will have a brake hose fitting to attach your brake hose and a bleeder valve to bleed the brakes.

As you push your brake pedal, brake fluid is sent to the caliper, pushing the piston against the brake pad. The brake pad makes contact with the rotor, slowing your vehicle down. Once you release your brake pedal, the piston can retract into the caliper, allowing you to resume regular driving.

Common Issues and Maintenance of Brake Calipers

Brake calipers, when properly maintained, can last the life of the vehicle. However, due to driving styles, environmental factors, and quality of parts, you can experience a few different issues with your brake calipers, including a check engine light or other warning lights. To give you a better idea of what problems you may face, let’s take a look at some of the most common brake caliper issues and braking performance.

4 Common Brake Caliper Issues

  1. Leaking Caliper – Since brake fluid travels throughout the brake caliper, you can develop leaks at multiple locations. Brake calipers may leak at the brake hose mounting surface, the piston, or the bleeder valve. You may notice brake fluid leaks on the ground or inside your wheel’s barrel.
  2. Corrosion – If you live in a climate where salt is used to de-ice roads or in a beach town where sand is prevalent, you can experience corrosion on your brake calipers. Corrosion can cause many different issues that can damage key components of your caliper.
  3. Piston Seals Worn – The piston in your caliper has a seal that seals it against the bore. This can become worn over time, causing your piston to malfunction.
  4. Caliper Slide Pins Stuck – The caliper slide pins are metal pins that direct the proper angle where your brake pad meets the disc. If these become seized or damaged, it may cause your caliper not to move freely.

Brake Caliper Maintenance

  • Regular Inspections – The brake system should be inspected during regular maintenance to ensure no potential issues can be prevented.
  • Brake Fluid Check – A quick fluid check should be done every oil change to ensure your brake fluid is at the appropriate level. If it is low, perform a full brake service.
  • Lubrication – Depending on your brake caliper setup, your caliper slide pins may need to be lubricated often. Check with your mechanic or owner’s manual for recommended brake caliper lubrication guidelines.
  • Brake Pad Replacement – Lastly, ensure your brake pads are changed on time to prevent uneven pressure from the piston. This can damage the piston seals and lead to malfunction of the caliper.

The Impact of Calipers on Vehicle Safety and Performance

Brake calipers play a crucial role in both the safety and performance of a vehicle’s braking system. Your brake system components must work in unison to slow your vehicle down and allow it to stop safely.

The brake caliper functions in an important role as it clamps your brake pads together against the side of the rotor, slowing the vehicle down. If your calipers are malfunctioning, your vehicle may not stop as quickly or stop at all, causing your vehicle to be unsafe for you and the drivers around you.

Your brake system will also affect the performance of your suspension and handling as well. A properly functioning brake system will ensure that weight distribution and the unloading of your suspension are done properly under heavy braking applications. With a brake system that does not function correctly, it may feel as if your car is jerking or surging as the weight transfer is thrown off during braking.

Lastly, if your brake pads or rotors are worn down, you will notice that your car will take longer to slow down or come to a stop. That is due to your brake system working harder due to worn components. This is a dangerous hazard, so replacing your brake rotors and pads on time will help ensure this does not happen.

Protecting Your Brake System With an Extended Warranty

With all that out of the way, it’s time to talk about what is and isn’t covered under an extended warranty. Most extended warranties, more accurately called vehicle service contracts, are offered in various levels of coverage ranging from basic drivetrain coverage to near factory-like coverage.

An extended car warranty usually covers the repair and replacement of specific components of the brake system that fail due to a manufacturing defect. This can include replacing faulty brake rotors, calipers, pads, and other components of your brake system. However, they will usually only be replaced if the failure can be proved to be a defect in manufacturing.

Most extended warranties or auto protection plans will not cover a brake job or routine maintenance of “wear and tear” parts. Wear and tear parts are parts that are designed to wear out over time and require routine maintenance, such as brake pads and rotors. If these have worn down to the point of replacing them, your extended warranty will not cover this as part of your coverage.

The exception is if you purchase additional maintenance services with your extended warranty. Some companies, such as Endurance, will offer maintenance plans that allow you to get up to a certain amount of maintenance jobs done during a specific time period.

Maintain Your Vehicle with Endurance

Inspecting and maintaining your brake calipers is an important part of your vehicle’s routine maintenance. Maintaining your entire brake system properly ensures your vehicle slows down and stops safely.

By repairing any brake system issues immediately, you can prevent larger issues from occurring, keeping your vehicle as safe as possible. A brake failure can cost anywhere from $150 to $1,200, depending on the issue, so an auto protection plan is key to preventing large, unexpected repair bills.

You can find coverage plans for your car’s brake system with Endurance Warranty. As an added bonus, Endurance offers a 30-day free-look period. If you are dissatisfied with your mechanical breakdown coverage or the customer service we offer, you can cancel for a refund of your payment. After that period, we also allow for cancellation at any time with a prorated refund (see plan terms for full details).

Learn more about Endurance by requesting a FREE online quote and visiting our online store for instant warranty costs. Or call (800) 253-8203 for personalized help from a plan advisor.

Read our Endurance blog for expert-written articles covering maintenance, dealership repairs, bumper-to-bumper coverage, car reviews, comparisons of warranty companies, FAQs, and more.

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