Brake calipers are important components of the braking system. Brake calipers clamp the brake pads down against the brake rotors. Once pressure is applied, friction and adhesive forces convert the kinetic energy of the spinning rotor into thermal energy, slowing down the vehicle.
A vehicle would not be able to stop quickly at all without a functioning brake caliper. On vehicles with disc brakes on all four corners, each wheel has a caliper and rotor behind it. The brake rotors are mounted on each wheel hub, so they spin with the wheels.
When you want to slow down your vehicle, you press on the brake pedal which causes the brake calipers and its brake pads to produce friction along with the rotors.
A few vehicles are sold with drum brakes in the rear, even today. Those vehicles only have brake calipers on the front wheels.
It is very rare that you will have a brake caliper sticking, but it does happen. If it is happening to your vehicle, it is important that you understand the symptoms to look out for and their probable causes. That way, you can take your vehicle to the nearest mechanic and have them fix or replace your brake caliper right away (or do it yourself).
Common Sticking Brake Caliper Symptoms
Below are seven of the most common symptoms of brake caliper stickiness.
1) Car Pulling to the Side
This is one of the most common symptoms of a sticky brake caliper. If you notice your vehicle pulling too far to the right or too far to the left, then replace your brake caliper immediately.
2) Brake Pedal Stays Down
Another common symptom of brake caliper sticking is when the brake pedal stays down after you’ve taken your foot off it. The brake pedal will eventually come back up but it will likely take a few seconds.
3) Brake Fluid Leakage
One easy symptom to lookout for is when you have brake fluid leaking from your vehicle. If you check under your vehicle, around your wheels, or notice a trail of fluid coming out as you’re slowing down on the road, then you could possibly have a leak causing your brake caliper to stick.
4) Hard to Stop Vehicle
The brake caliper depends on the proper amount of brake fluid pressure to slow the vehicle down. If you have brake fluid that is leaking from your vehicle, then it will be hard to stop the vehicle. Furthermore, it will make the brake caliper sticky as well.
5) High Pitched Sounds
You will notice problems with the brake caliper right away when you start hearing these high-pitched sounds occurring while applying pressure to the brake pedal. This could mean the caliper is sticking or some other caliper problem too.
6) Difficulty Steering
If one of the front calipers is stuck closed, you may notice the vehicle start to pull to one side.
If one of the front calipers is stuck open, you may notice the vehicle pull strongly to one side under braking. This is because only one of the front brakes is working to slow the vehicle. The front brakes do the vast majority of the braking on most vehicles.
7) Burning Smell
If you notice smoking or an acrid burning smell coming from one wheel, you might want to check on the brakes. When a brake caliper gets stuck in a clamped position, it generates an excessive amount of heat.
This heat will melt the brake pads and heat up one wheel more than the others. In extreme cases, this may even start a fire. The rotor will often have a bluish tint to it once it’s been overheated.
If you’ve overheated your brakes, it’s a good idea to replace the rotors, the brake pads, and flush the brake fluid. Once braking components take on more heat than they were designed to, they will be less effective at stopping your vehicle.
Common Causes of Sticky Brake Calipers
Here are the top causes of a brake caliper sticking.
1) Caliper Slides
The caliper has grooves which secure the brake pads in place and allow the pads to slide inward after you put your foot on the brake pedal.
However, there are shims on the brake pads which can get caught in these grooves from built up debris that may be there. This will make the brake pads unable to slide, causing caliper sticking.
2) Caliper Bolts
There are slides on the brake caliper bolts which must always be lubricated. Each bolt has a rubber boot which maintains their lubrication. If this rubber is torn, it could lead to less lubrication and soon cause stickiness with the brake caliper.
3) Brake Hose
Brake hoses eventually get worn out and then break apart inside. This will direct the brake fluid to possibly flow one way only after you apply pressure to the brake pedal.
If that happens, the fluid can’t get back into the master cylinder after you take your foot off the brake pedal. The result is brake caliper stickiness.
4) Caliper Piston
A caliper piston that doesn’t fit right in the caliper housing could cause the piston to bind under braking or with the release of the brake pedal.
This is more likely to happen on a lower quality remanufactured caliper, but any caliper assembly could have a defect.
5) Brake Pads
If you don’t replace your brake pads soon enough, they are going to get worn out. Then your caliper won’t be able to create the necessary friction against the rotor, causing extreme stickiness in the caliper.
6) Torn Piston Boot
Wheels, tires, and brakes are some of the dirtiest parts of your vehicle. If the caliper piston boot is torn, dirt, dust, and debris may sneak past the boot and into the piston housing.
This debris will then rub against the piston and its housing, causing excessive wear on the internal components of the caliper. Eventually, this may interfere with the piston’s movement. The piston could even seize in the housing.
If the caliper piston or slide pins corrode, they may get stuck in one position. This is more likely to happen in areas that are already prone to rust, such as those that salt their roads in the winter.
What Does it Cost to Fix a Stuck Brake Caliper?
The cost of a stuck brake caliper will vary by vehicle. Replacement cost may be as low as $200 if you are doing the work yourself, but could creep up around $1,000 for more expensive components on larger vehicles.
Bigger brake calipers, rotors, and pads will cost more. It’s a good idea to replace the brake caliper, rotor, and pads all at the same time if you’ve overheated the brakes excessively. Defer to a trusted mechanic for your particular situation.
Some brake calipers can easily be rebuilt, saving you a bit of money if you or your mechanic buy a rebuild kit.
If you’re not doing a caliper rebuild and the brake hose isn’t the root cause of the issue, you will probably have to replace the caliper. Remanufactured calipers are calipers that have been rebuilt by someone else. These units cost less than OEM parts and may suit you just fine, depending on the condition and quality of the rebuild.
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47 thoughts on “7 Symptoms of a Brake Caliper Sticking (and Common Causes)”
I have 1999 Opel zafira. One of theright back wheel rootor became very hot after few meters of driving and the car started loosing speed and every gear was not responding with the speed optimum and getting back to the packing place it was a burning tire smell and the tire was soft and the wheel was very hot . All other wheel were cold. I had recently changed all the rootor and brake pad. Is it okey to still try to repair or to sell recycle ?
Sounds like a caliper is sticking. I wonder if perhaps a brake hose could be causing the issue.
You changed all four calipers?
The left front caliper is dragging, but it only happens when the temperature is above 70. I changed the caliper and it is still dragging. The rotor isn’t warped. Why does this only happen when the temperature is warm?
Could be a problem with a brake hose that is preventing the pressure from leaving the caliper after you release the pedal. Check to make sure you have lubricated the correct points of the brake pad backing plates where they touch the caliper or brake hardware.
I have a 2008 Toyota Rav 4. I was driving it about 2 months ago and the brakes locked up as I was leaving a parking lot. I called my mom for help- she got in the car and it drove fine. I brought it to a mechanic. He checked the calipers and said they were working. He did change my brakes and rotors though. About a week later the brakes locked up again. About a minute later they released. On my way home, they locked up again (making a loud sound) my tire began to smoke- I drove into a parking lot and saw it was on fire. I had it towed to my mechanic. He replaced the hose and checked the calipers, which he said were working fine. About two weeks later, the brakes locked up again. Took it back to the mechanic and he changed the calipers. Then a month later-today- it happened again. I am at a loss. Do you have any idea what could be causing this? The brakes do not lock often, but when they do it is scary. I have to get off the road, but the car drives very slowly. It is not hard to steer and the car does not pull to the right or left. Any ideas?
Is there anything interfering with the brake pedal assembly? Perhaps there’s an issue with the brake master cylinder.
Installed front disk complete kit have bled brakes numerous times both calipers will not go back in need to release by opening needed or backing caliper bplts
Working on1970 chef malibu put front disk brakes new everything both brake calipers stuck once brakes applied
Quick question if anyone could answer. I have a 2014 Buick Enclave. When I drive above 55 mph I start getting a shake. The thing is usually doesn’t start until after I’ve been driving awhile. So 60mph 65 mph 70 mph. Same shake like the truck is vibrating. I’ve gotten alignments, balances, brought a set of brand new tires. The truck rides likes perfect until I’ve driven awhile. I’ve even taken it to the Buick dealership and they said they couldn’t get it to vibrate like I described. Although all you have to do is hop on the highway and go 60mph. Also on different turns at that speed. I feel like the shaking increases a but. Could this be anything to do with brakes.
It’s probably not the brakes if you feel it all the time, but it doesn’t hurt to get them inspected just in case. If you have AWD, check the driveshaft that runs to the rear differential.
I have a 2009 T+C Chrysler mini van (205,000mi) that I bought new. I recently had the FL rotor stick and discovered it before I got on the interstate. It was very hot but was not smoking. Called AAA and got the van home. Talked to my mechanic friends and they thought a bad caliper/hose. I ordered from Napa all new rotors/brake pads and for the front new hoses and rebuilt calipers. I have a lift so it was easy to do all the work myself. I’ve done the brakes on the van before, but never replaced the hoses or calipers, only rotors and pads. The brakes work perfect except there’s a serious shimmy on the interstate at speed going down grades when applying the brakes. Apply the brakes on smooth offramps/city streets there’s no shimmy or vibration in the steering wheel. My mechanic friend said I got a bad set of front rotors. I did check the tie rod ends and they were tight. Can you give me your opinion on my situation ?
Your friend’s reasoning seems sound. I’d inspect the rotors, pads, and caliper you replaced to see if there are any obvious defects and swap them for a fresh set if you find anything out of the ordinary.
I have a BMW X3 and the brake in the front stick intermittently after applying brake pressure. I changed the brake pads and rotors three times. The last time I used OEM parts but the problem still persists. I think it’s faulty calipers from what i’ve read. Can’t really drive the vehicle before getting this resolved.
Are you lubricating the brake caliper hardware? Could be a bad caliper or brake hose.
Hey Gregg , what year is your X3 ?
I’ve changed the brakes, rotors, calipers and abs on my 2006 chevy equinox twice in the last 4 months and the front drivers side still locks up. Can anybody help me?
We are having the same issue on a 2007 Chevy equinox. Were you able to figure out what is wrong with the brakes?
Left from caliber piston won’t release even after opening the bleeding valve. Yes I’ve changes calibers 8 times, brake hose twice both tuber and hard one all the way up to the abs madule.also has new booster, master cylinder, wheel bearing, abs sensor and the metal piece that the caliber is attached to.
Disconnected the abs module and drove it for a week and still didn’t release the piston. I don’t know what else to do every single part of the brake system has been changed several time to rule out faulty parts even flushed and bleed the lines.
3 different shops and a total of 8 mechanic have tried to fix it and eventually stopped answering the phone when I called.
May I add no service lights come on the dash and computer reads that no codes.
I’ve recently noticed that when I first start driving it everything is working properly and after a few miles it starts to lock up and only gets hotter and hotter by the mile
Has anyone encountered this problem before PLEASE HELP
I’m a bit stumped on this one. Is there anything you haven’t you replaced between the left from caliper and the master cylinder?
you have a bad ABS module. its not letting the pressure release. even if it does not show a code. it’s still bad. I had this happen to me on a 2010 ford f-150.
11 Mar 2021 – QUESTION: I have a 1992 Lincoln Town Car and have been plagued by a shimmy problem. Have had it into the shop several times…replaced tie rod, all 4 brake rotors and all new tires. Thought all was good since it hadn’t shimmyed all winter long but it’s warmer now and headed into town the ABS light came on and stayed on….when I headed for home the light again was on all the time and when breaking the shimmy started again.
Could the ABS be responsible for the shimmy?
Ok so 15 Jeep Patriot replaced the caliper an pads because caliper started sticking and now it’s doing it again an brake fluid is leaking somewhere an can’t pinpoint where lol it does stick intermittently but the fluid leaks somewhere is it normal when it sticks or is it a brake hose or line that’s bad?
It could be a brake hose, line, or fitting that’s gone bad. When this happens you may experience a stuck caliper at the same time.
I’ve had to have the right front calliper replaced 3 times now in the past 6 months. Garage said they were bad. Why does this keep happening?
I’m not sure, perhaps you have a bad brake hose that is causing the caliper to stick. Why did the caliper need to be replaced?
I have a 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan. This thing has given me fits, with the brakes for years. I’ve replaced all the rotors, multiple times. Same with calipers, hoses, pads. I keep frying pads and rotors. The Left front is the current offender. But, I’ve had the the rear calipers lock up too, on a previous swap. At first, I thought it was the rebuilt calipers. So, those went back for new calipers. The only change, is which wheel decides to lock up. I drove it once, hoping the POS would burst into flames. I didn’t go far enough. Smoking yes, flames no. Chrysler didn’t do anyone any favors, by putting the parking brakes, internally, into the calipers. And, yes, I made sure the cables weren’t tight. Since the LF rotor has been screaming hot, it’s warped. I’m sick and tired of replacing crap, so I drive it as is. Shimmying down the road.. Any ideas,, other than it’s a Dodge?
I’m not sure what’s going on there. What components of the braking system haven’t you replaced yet?
It might be worth your time to have a good mechanic do a full brake inspection on it. Tell them the problems you’re having, tell them what you’ve replaced, and see what they say. The more detail you can provide them, the better they will be able to troubleshoot.
Know also that sometimes the solution can be right under your nose, and you either overlooked it or thought something was installed correctly when it wasn’t quite right. Good luck, hope this helps.
maybe a bad ABS modulator valve assembly or controller
I have replaced my front calipers brake pads brake hose 2 times in a month and calipers are still sticking does anyone know why this would be
Are you lubricating the slide pins on the calipers?
You changed the pads, rotors and hoses and still have an issue? Did you change the caliper itself?
I have the same issue with the right side caliper got so hot it was smoking and i can not go any place I replace rotor and caliber and 8 months later the same issue.
Could be a bad brake hose that’s not allowing pressure on the caliper piston to release.
I have my right front caliper sticking just sometimes. But when it does it vibrates bad and this last time got so hot it was smoking and turned my wheel colors. The rotor was new from last fall when I replaced pads and rotors. I had this problem, so I rebuilt the caliper, then finally replaced it and still have the same problem. Sometimes I can go 5 to 10 miles and never have a problem and sometime it start in just a couple miles.
That’s really strange. I’m not sure what could be causing the caliper to stick even after you replaced it entirely. Did you buy a remanufactured caliper? I suppose it’s possible that you had really bad luck and bought a defective replacement.
Before I’d try replacing another caliper, inspect your brake lines to make sure they’re in good condition, and double check that you replaced and correctly installed all brake hardware. Did you lubricate the brake hardware as well?
What would cause caliper to stay closed. Got new caliper and brake hose, caliper still close
Is it a rear caliper? Sometimes you simply need to adjust the handbrake.
My front right tire is stuck. It will not roll forward but the car does go into drive and try to go forward. It will roll in reverse do you think it could be a caliper? Someone said it might be my transmission.
I’ve been changing brake pads for the 3rd time in 4months now .i was told that my bolts are uneven .could this be the reason ?
If you’re changing brake pads for the third time in four months, I would seriously consider rebuilding or replacing the calipers on the axle with the problem. It sounds like something is stuck, which will also overheat the rotor. I’d get those replaced while you’re in there.
When moving off first time each morning, there is a noise at a rear wheel. It seems like the brakes take a little time to release, then all is fine.
Have I got sticking calipers?
This is certainly plausible. Sometimes the caliper slide pins simply need lubrication, but corrosion in the caliper could limit the piston’s ability to retract and release the brake at that corner. This calls for a new caliper, or a caliper rebuild.
I actually just fixed a very similar issue on my car. When I’d park with the handbrake on, my left rear caliper would stick closed, even after releasing the handbrake. At first the brake would release after driving a few feet forward, but it got bad enough where the brake stopped releasing until I drove for a mile or two and they got very hot.
I actually drove it 2 miles on the highway with the left rear brake stuck closed, which I highly discourage. When I came to a stop, the left rear brakes were smoking and had a very strong brake pad smell. The result was a glazed rotor and brake pads, which I wouldn’t feel comfortable reusing. The whole job cost me more than it would have, had I simply addressed the issue right away.
The fix in my case was a new rear caliper.
will a sticking brake caliper cause you steering wheel to viberate
It can but your car would also likely pull to one side. Uneven tire wear is more likely. See: http://oards.com/causes-of-steering-wheel-shakes/
No, your rotors are warped. Resurface or replace brake rotors
If it does it at all speeds and is more pronounced at highway speeds or does it only when braking the rotors are warped. If it only does it between 40-5ph you have a bad tire. If the shaking starts at 65mph or above and smooths out 10-13mph faster than when it began you have bad front suspension parts
Yes…and bounce. Pull to one side or the other.
Past GM Parts & Service Dir.