5 Symptoms of a Sticking Brake Caliper (and What Causes It)

Ever feel your vehicle pull to one side when braking? Or notice a burning smell from your wheels? These signs (and others) often point to a stuck brake caliper, a common issue that can create safety hazards.

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.

stuck brake caliper

See Also: 4 Causes of Brake Shudder

Common Symptoms of a Stuck or Frozen Brake Caliper

#1 – Vehicle Pulls to One Side

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

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.

Related: What To Do if Your Brakes Lock Up While Driving

#3 – Excess Heat From Wheel Area

hot car brakes

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.

Read Also: What Happens If You Use the Emergency Brake While Driving?

#4 – Bad Gas Mileage

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.

#5 – Burning Smell

car ac smells bad

As already mentioned, a sticking brake caliper constantly drags and rubs against the brake rotor, even when you’re not applying the brakes. This friction generates intense heat that can cause the caliper, brake pads, and rotor to overheat quickly. The burning smell often comes from these overheated components grinding on each other.

This constant friction also accelerates wear on brake pads and rotors. As they wear down, the metal backing of pads and rotors rub together, which smells like burning chemicals or rubber. Built up debris and brake dust on the calipers and rotors can even ignite from the excessive heat, contributing to the burning odor.

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.

Related: 3 Causes of a Stuck Parking Brake

#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.

Mark Stevens


  1. I have a Hyundai i40, when I drive above 30mph my steering wheel vibrates. I have changed Shock absrobers, bearing strut, brake pads, brake disc, tyres and tracking rods. this issue only started a few weeks back. What could the issue be?

    1. Vibration could be caused by a wheel imbalance, loose lug nuts, bad tie rods, bad wheel bearings, and a few other things. It’d be best to have the car inspected to see what the cause of the problem is, because these can be serious issues.

  2. 2001 Ford F350 4 Wheel Drive truck. We have already melted drivers side caliper and drum down due to sticking. Had a mechanic fix all new parts plus the rubber brake lines. Pulled camping trailer this weekend another melt down almost a fire. Drivers side sticking passenger side works fine. Master Cylinder??

    1. I’m not sure, but I suspect the master cylinder could be the problem. Check where the proportioning valve lives on your vehicle and see if you can replace just that before replacing the whole master cylinder.

  3. you need to leave the possibility that the master cylinder has failed. it is possible, and in some cases, after replacing all other suspected parts, was the actual problem.

  4. My 2008 Hyundai Tiburon made grinding and dragging noise. After some inspection, I found two rear calipers, both side, are not retracting all the way – still runs but a lot of noise and drag feel. Replaced both calipers, hoping it is the culprit but problem persists. Now I am thinking it has to be the hose. However, I am scratching my head with a question ” same problem on both side at the same time?” What is common part(s) that may do this from the master cylinder to the rear calipers? Or is it just a coincident? No problem on the front…

    1. Master cylinders often have two circuits: either one for the front and one for the rear, or one from the front left/rear right and the other for the front right/rear left. This is so a loss of brake fluid pressure at one corner will not leave you without brakes entirely. I am not sure which setup the Tiburon uses, but that might be something to look into.

  5. I have a 2007 Acura mdx and I took it to a shop to have back caliburs and new brakes and rotors replaced..also had front brake pads replaced..got it back and front caliburs started to stick which caused my car not to move and front brakes caught fire…took it back in and have replaced front brakes and caliburs..still didn’t fix it..replaced master cylinder and power booster and front hydraulic hoses..problem still not fixed…mechanic is stumped by this and have has my suv for over 3 months with no new leads to the problem..any suggestions on what it could be?

    1. Might want to try a different mechanic, it sounds like they may be guessing at what the problem is. Have they inspected the brake hoses and ABS module?

  6. I replaced the brake caliper and both wheel bearings on left front side. The brake caliper was stuck. After replace everything the wheel will not turn once the brake hose was put on. We bleed the brakes and everything. Once I released the brake hose from the caliper the wheel would turn some. What could be causing this? We are at a lost at this point.

    1. Sounds like you may have a bad brake hose. Sometimes when brake hoses go bad fluid can get from the master cylinder to the caliper, but once you release the brake pedal the fluid can be trapped in the brake hose, causing a build up of pressure that prevents the brakes from unlocking on that corner.

    1. While it’s often possible to drive with a stuck brake caliper, you shouldn’t drive with a stuck caliper any more than you absolutely have to. If the caliper is stuck closed, the brakes will get very hot and could even cause a fire. You also run the risk of destroying other braking components.

      1. I have a toyota starlet.We experienced stuck caliper brake while travelling back home.I just continue to run the car even it moved slowly.few meters away,it runs normally.But when we almost got home,it stuck again.I am not sure if what is really the problem of this car.Anyone can give your thoughts or advice?thank you.

        1. Yeah, it could be a bad caliper or bad brake hose. Both are fairly inexpensive to replace most of the time.

  7. My 2007 Suzuki XL7 FRONT LEFT SIDE caliper got stuck one more time in 18 months (11500 miles). Last time was fixed after replacing ABS module because the new calipers and entire front brakes kit were mounted brand new including left side sensor and hose. Now the left wheel got overheated (220 °F) and smoke made me stop the SUV inmediately. I really don’t understand why this happened again and what cpold be the real reason. Any idea to help me out?

        1. Visually inspect the hose. If you notice any cracks, leaks, or the hose is swollen in one spot, replace it.

  8. I have a 1997 chevy suburban k2500. The passenger front caliper is sticking. It pulls to right while driving and if I hit brakes I can do a u turn. I’ve replaced brake line , rotor , caliper, slides , master cylinder. What am I missing?

  9. 2015 Ford Fusion 2.5 drivers side rear caliper seized replace caliper, rotor, and pads. Upon driving after the replacement the caliper seized shut instantly. I am not sure if it could be the master cylinder?

    1. Do you have an electronic parking brake? Those Fusions have a maintenance mode you’re supposed to use when replacing the rear calipers. If you don’t do this, you risk breaking the rear caliper by trying to retract the piston manually.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

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