5 Symptoms of a Brake Caliper Sticking (and Its Causes)

A vehicle would not be able to stop without a functioning brake caliper. Each wheel of your vehicle has a caliper and rotor in it. The rotors all spin as the vehicle is moving. 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.

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).

5 Common Sticking Brake Caliper Symptoms

Below are five 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) 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.

5) 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.

Common Causes of Sticky Brake Calipers

Here are the top 5 causes of a brake caliper sticking.

1) 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.

2) 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.

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 rubber boot protects the piston on the outside. Often times, when people get their brake pads replaced, the mechanic will accidentally tear the rubber of the pistons.

This will cause debris and residue to get piled up inside of the caliper which ultimately affects the functionality of the piston.

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.

14 thoughts on “5 Symptoms of a Brake Caliper Sticking (and Its Causes)”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?


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