Brake Caliper Sticking (Symptoms and Causes)

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Obviously, your vehicle’s brakes are one of the most important systems in a car and play a critical role in safety of the driver, passengers, and anyone else out on the road. A car or truck wouldn’t be able to slow down or stop if the brake calipers weren’t working.

If you’re facing problems with a brake caliper sticking or stuck, you need to know the common symptoms to look for as well as the most likely causes so you can get the issue fixed. 

4 Common Symptoms of a Stuck or Frozen Brake Caliper

#1 – Vehicle Pulls to One Side

bad front alignment

With a stuck or seized brake caliper, your car will have the tendency to pull towards the side that has the sticky caliper. It will be similar to if you had a bad alignment but usually more serious. This will happen not only when braking but when you’re simply driving.

Continuing to drive when you’re vehicle won’t stay straight is incredibly dangerous.You or a professional mechanic should inspect your brake calipers right away to rule out that a bad caliper isn’t to blame. Otherwise, your car likely needs a wheel alignment done.

#2 – Car Slows Itself Down

When you have a sticky brake caliper or calipers, they are often at the point where they are making your brake pads to have constant contact with your brake rotors. This in turn makes it feel like you are braking even though your foot isn’t on the brake pedal.

In addition, you will quickly wear through brake pad material which can result in high pitched sounds or grinding after enough brake pad material is used up. Confirm your brake calipers are not stuck; otherwise replace the caliper or any related parts as needed.

#3 – Bad Gas Mileage

bad fuel economy

Having bad fuel economy can be the result on many different problems including your calipers. As mentioned above, a stuck caliper will result in unintended braking making your engine work harder to keep at its speed which results in more fuel being used.

The symptoms of brake caliper sticking is: Your vehicle will often pull more toward one side when you apply the brakes. You also may notice the brake pedal not coming back up all the way after you take your foot off from it. If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, then you definitely have brake caliper sticking problems.

#4 – Excess Heat from Wheel

Because a frozen brake caliper will be applying constant pressure to the back of the brake pad, which in turns applies constant friction to the brake rotor, heat is a result of this friction. The longer you drive with a stuck brake caliper, the hotter it will get in that area.

If you do a slow walkaround your vehicle after stopping, you should notice extra heat coming from a specific wheel if you place your hand near it. This is often a telltale sign you’ve been driving with a seized caliper.

Top 3 Causes of a Seized Brake Caliper

It is not too common to have sticking brake calipers, but when they are, there are only a handful of causes that could be responsible for it. Here are the three most common.

#1 – Brake Caliper Piston and Brake Hose

The common cause for a brake caliper sticking is with the caliper piston and the brake hose. The piston has a rubber boot on it which lubricates and protects it. But if this rubber is torn, it will cause debris and rust to form inside the caliper which means the piston’s sliding abilities will diminish.

The rubber boot of the caliper piston is often torn from careless mechanics who are installing new brake pads but it can also deteriorate due to age.

As for the brake hose, it will just wear out over a period of time. Once the hose beings to crack or break, it will cause brake fluid to flow onto the pistons and slow down the vehicle. The worst part is the fluid won’t be able to make it back to the master cylinder, which will make the caliper stick.

#2 – Brake Caliper Slides

And another common cause is with the caliper slides. You see, each caliper has grooves where the brake pads slide into when you step on the brake pedal. When you take your foot off the brake pedal, the brake pads slide out of the grooves.

But if there is debris or corrosion built up in the grooves or on the brake pads, the pads will end up getting stuck in those grooves. This means the brake pads won’t slide out of the grooves after you take your foot off the brake pedal, resulting in the brake calipers feeling sticky when you apply the brake.

Read also: Ceramic VS Organic Brake Pads

#3 – Brake Caliper Bolts

And another possible cause for a frozen brake caliper is with the caliper’s bolts. These bolts are made to slide as well and they can easily become sticky if they are too dry and not lubed up periodically.

The bolts are made with a protective rubber layer to trap the lubricant inside the bolt but this rubber can easily tear and cause the lubricant to spill out. This most often happens by accident when mechanics are installing new brake pads into a vehicle.

Once the bolt dries out, it will cause rust and debris to build up which will further deteriorate the sliding mechanism it has.

Case Study: All Brake Calipers Completely Stuck

If you’re facing a problem where your vehicle cannot move at all due to the brakes being totally stuck, you can read my personal experience below. Maybe you’re having the same problem as I did.

I’ve personally encountered this problem where the symptom is that the car cannot move due to all brake pads holding very tightly the rotor discs. So I began to narrow down the problem one by one. Here’s the diagnostic process I went through before finally figuring out the cause.

  • Check caliper and piston –> OK
  • Check the brake hoses and line –> OK
  • Check the brake fluid –> OK
  • Check the brake line connector –> OK
  • Check the brake master cylinder –> OK
  • Bleed the brake fluid –> OK

Result = Problem Still Exists

Then I finally removed the brake booster and measured the length of push rod. I found that the push rod was over the standard length, so that the rod always pushed the master cylinder and gave brake fluid pressure to the each caliper pistons on the brake discs. This caused all of the calipers to be stuck making the vehicle impossible to move.

To fix the problem, I simply adjusted the push rod to the standard length and the problem was fixed.

 

Comments

  1. I have a toyota camry 2017 after 29000 mile 5 pt inspection brakes rear 8mm. 6 weeks later, noisy back rear sound, brakes down to 0. They said pad got frozen stuck in caliper bracket. Pad brakes unevenly worn, so R & R them. 11,000 miles later same thing happened on same side left rear brake issue. they didn’t replace brake pad since it was at 7mm. They checked everything and said nothing showed so they lubed everything. It scares me to drive this car because i 40,000 miles it happened twice. What do you think? They said they found nothing this time but the brake pad was frozen/sticking to in the caliper bracket. They gave me the car back and I said I think it is unsafe very unsafe. Can’t it be more mechanical ? THey denied it. I was told that Headquarter in Toyota said that it is environmental, and that was it. but after 40,000 miles how could it be, once at 2,0000 and again at near 40,000.

    Reply
  2. Hi Elizabeth,
    It was wrong of the tech to say “they could not find anything”. Many times the cleaning and re-greasing of the slider pins and brackets are all that’s needed to correct. This is the repair. I wonder why if not both sides were performed the same when you had issues the first time at 20k miles.

    Usually an issue like this that presents on one side will do so on the other. Only a matter of time.

    Any service of brakes including pads, calipers, cleaning, greasing should be
    Performed on both sides to maintain balanced performance.
    Regards,
    DS

    Reply

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