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How To Maintain Brake Calipers

A brake caliper of a car as seen with the wheel removed.

Tucked away behind your wheels, brake calipers are something you don’t usually think about unless something goes wrong. Often, it’s not until the brake pedal feels soft or your brakes make a weird squeaking noise that the need to maintain them becomes clear.

Here’s what exactly the calipers do and what you need to do to keep them in working order.

What Are Brake Calipers?Red Brake Caliper

In a disc brake system, which most modern cars have, the pads are the parts of the brake that actually contact the rotor, which is fixed to the wheel. The caliper (the red component pictured here) is the device that holds the brake pads in place allowing them to be clamped down on the disc.

There are two-piston and four-piston systems, which are slightly different, but the basic idea is the same: pressing the brakes triggers the calipers to move the pads toward the spinning rotor, generating friction that brings your car to a stop.

What Causes Brake Calipers to go Bad?

Your brake pads and rotors will need to be replaced more often than your calipers, but neglecting them can hurt the calipers too. Worn pads can allow heat buildup that could warp your rotors and your calipers, so if you notice signs that your brake pads are worn, get them replaced promptly.

A caliper piston or caliper slide that is damaged can also cause problems. The damage could come from excessive heat buildup or from the impact of an accident, but it can also happen naturally over time. Salt, sand, dirt and road grime can corrode the parts as well, either weakening them or causing them to seize up.

How Do You Maintain Brake Calipers?

Proper maintenance of your calipers ensures that when you press the brake pedal, the system can easily move the pads toward the rotors to slow down your car. Start by checking that every component is clean, including the calipers, pistons and slides. Regular car washes are always a good idea and can help prevent corrosive substances from sitting on your brakes or undercarriage for too long. Soap, water and brushes can go a long way toward getting rid of everyday dirt buildup, or you can use a brake cleaner for more persistent grease and grime.

Once everything is clean, it will need to be lubricated. Since there’s a significant amount of friction involved in braking — and that friction creates heat — it’s important to use a lubricant designed specifically for your brakes and calipers. This will keep all the moving parts moving and your brakes working properly.

How often you perform maintenance on your calipers depends on several factors. Do you live where it snows, with salt-covered roads? Do you spend a lot of time in dirty environments like cities or off-road in the mud? A good rule is to perform maintenance once a year or every 12,000 miles, but the harsher your driving conditions are, the more often your brake calipers may need some love.

A little time spent now on maintenance not only ensures proper brake function but also helps to avoid costly repairs.

Check out all the brake products available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to take care of your brake calipers, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy Flickr.

Nicole Wakelin View All

Nicole Wakelin covers the automotive industry as a freelance journalist for a variety of outlets. Her work includes news pieces, podcasts, radio, written reviews, and video reviews. She can be found in The Boston Globe, CarGurus, BestRide, US News and World Report, and AAA along with lifestyle blogs like Be Car Chic, The Other PTA, and She Buys Cars. She is active on social media with a large following on both Twitter and Instagram and currently serves as Vice President of the New England Motor Press Association.

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