The braking system is one of the most important systems on your vehicle. While you might be familiar with brake pads and brake fluid, brake calipers are a little more obscure. What are they? What do they do? And how do you maintain them throughout the life of your car?
What are brake calipers?
Owning a car means performing regular maintenance. For your braking system, the most often parts to be replaced include the brake pads.
Manufacturers recommend replacing brake pads every 10,000 to 20,000 miles. When it comes to the brake rotors, you have a bit longer. Rotors should be replaced every 60,000 to 70,000 miles to ensure your braking system remains in great shape. While not as common as motor oil, your brake fluid should still be replaced every four to five years. If you haven’t read through your owner’s manual, it’s a good thing to keep on hand.
Brake calipers also need replacing over time. Through wear and tear, they lose their ability to clamp down and relax the brake pads as you apply and release pressure.
A brake caliper is a part of the disc brake system, which is what most vehicles have on their front brakes. You can see it sitting on your wheel if you look through the spokes. The brake caliper houses the brake pads and pistons. Its sole job is to slow the car’s wheels as you press down on the brake pedal, to create friction against the brake rotors.
Inside the caliper, a powerful piston uses pressure from hydraulic fluid to press the brake pads against the brake rotor. When working properly, the calipers move effortlessly based on the amount of pressure from the brake pedal.
When something in the system breaks, wears down, or stops altogether, that’s when you have a problem.
Brake caliper alerts – how to know when you have a problem
Like other systems on your vehicle, the braking system has all kinds of warning signals to alert you when things aren’t working correctly.
Most vehicles have sensors to art you to braking problems. The brake light on your dashboard will illuminate when the sensors detect something is wrong within the system.
The brake light could trigger if you’re low on brake fluid, or the pressure isn’t within set guidelines. It can also alert you to brake pads wearing down if the car is equipped with pad sensors. The dashboard light is designed to give you plenty of time to set up a service visit and fix the problem before it escalates.
Unfortunately, problems with the brake calipers can be a little more challenging to detect.
Where’s the brake caliper problem?
There are several ways you can identify and prevent further brake caliper breakdown.
Noises, smells, and feelings
Driving is often one of those mindless tasks you perform on autopilot. But it is a good idea to stay alert and pay attention to what your car is trying to tell you. The first problem with any system is often identified through one of your senses.
Does your car drive differently? A malfunctioning caliper can cause your vehicle to pull to one side as you drive. This is due to an unbalanced braking system. Because one caliper doesn’t provide pressure in the same manner as the other side, you’ll notice your car lurching forward, or pulling to one side as you slow and stop.
You may also hear a squealing or grinding sound. This happens when brake pads run thin, and can’t connect with the rotors efficiently. Is it the brake pad, or is it a caliper malfunctioning that caused it to wear down before its time? If you’re nearing the lifespan of your brake pads, it may be the problem. But if you still have life left on them, it may be worth further investigation.
Too much pressure on the braking system can also ramp up the heat within the system. If you notice a burning chemical smell near one of the front wheels, it may be a sign of overheating from the brake pads and the bonding agent.
Do a visual inspection
If you’ve ever boarded a plane early, and watched outside the window, chances are you’ve seen the pilot walk around doing a visual inspection. Why? He’s in charge of the plane, keeping the passengers safe, and the plane in good working condition. It’s up to him to decide if it’s okay to fly, and if he’s comfortable with the mechanics and technology he’s been given.
Driving works similarly, though most of us rarely take a walk around our vehicles before jumping in behind the wheel each time we drive. But there is something to learn from a pilot – it’s a good idea to do a visual check from time to time. Do you notice tire tread wearing unevenly? Is there liquid accumulating near the caliper or the wheel? Keep an eye on anything that looks suspicious, and bring it in for inspection at your earliest convenience.
Proper maintenance means prevention
Luckily, it won’t take much time out of your day to ensure your vehicle is working well. With an occasional visual inspection, and a moment or two paying attention to what your car is trying to tell you, you’ll be able to drive securely with the knowledge that everything is working well.
Bring in your car for regular motor oil changes. Ensure your tires are properly inflated, and your wheels are properly balanced.
Let a mechanic run through a checklist to ensure everything is working well. You can schedule this at the start of each season. Or if you’re heading out on the open road. It’s a great way to keep your security in check to ensure something bigger doesn’t happen.
Braking problems? It might be caliper issues
Your brake calipers are designed to last 100,000 miles or more. They aren’t a component that needs to be replaced often.
Being aware of potential signs of a problem will ensure your braking system continues to work well. It’s the best way to keep your passengers safe, and your vehicle operating well.
When was the last time you had your braking system inspected?