How to Recognize If You Need to Replace Your Brake Calipers

Your brakes deal with extreme friction, pressure, and stress every time you put your foot on the brake pedal. It’s common knowledge that you need to change your brake pads regularly—at least once every couple of years or every 75,000 miles. But calipers also need attention, even though they’re more durable than pads.


On modern cars, calipers can easily last 100,000 miles or up to ten years, but it’s wise to keep an eye on them when servicing your vehicle. In this guide, we’ll walk you through how calipers become damaged, when to change them, and what can go wrong if you don’t.

What Causes Damage to Calipers?

In a disc-braking system, brake calipers house the brake pads that make contact with the rotors to stop a car. When you push down on the brake pedal, the braking fluid exerts more than 500 psi on the calipers, forcing them to move the brake pads onto the rotors. This pressure is accompanied by a lot of heat—if you hit the brakes in a fast-moving vehicle, you can expect calipers to heat up to somewhere between 200 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat and pressure are the two biggest factors when it comes to caliper wear and tear. Calipers are subject to high heat and pressure throughout the day, causing moisture in the surrounding air to boil. This steam then comes in contact with the caliper’s metal surface, resulting in oxidation, or rusting.

Surface rusting on your calipers is normal—and inevitable considering their operating conditions. It’s a good idea to get the surface rust cleaned off your calipers every once in a while, though, since rust can and will penetrate deeper with time.

The rubber piston seals on your calipers are also subject to wear and tear. Over time, the rubber hardens and becomes more brittle, rendering it susceptible to corrosion, too. Damage to your calipers’ rubber seals can result in leaking brake fluid.

How Can You Tell If Your Brake Calipers Need Changing?

Unlike brake pads, which give you a number of audible and visual cues when it’s time to change them, it can be harder to tell exactly when your calipers need changing. Because they last for a relatively long time, car owners often overlook the need for brake caliper maintenance altogether. If you know what you’re looking for, though, there are clear signs that’ll indicate that your brake calipers need changing.

1. Pay attention to auditory cues

You probably don’t need to be told that it’s a good idea to pay attention to any unusual noises your car makes. A few different sounds can indicate that something’s wrong with your calipers.

A squealing noise even when the brakes aren’t applied
Squealing brakes are usually a sign that you need to replace your brake pads or brake rotors. Damaged calipers, on the other hand, can cause a squealing noise when your brakes are not engaged. If you’re driving on the highway at a steady 60 mph and hear a squealing noise, it may be due to a faulty caliper that is seizing up.

A loud clunking noise
Sometimes, the caliper bracket—what holds the caliper in place against the wheel—can break. This will result in a loud clunking noise. If your caliper bracket is broken, there’s a very high chance of your brakes locking up. You shouldn’t drive your car if this takes place. Instead, jack your car up and inspect the braking assembly to assess any damage.

2. Inspect for visual signs of damage

A few visual cues can tell you it’s time to start fixing your calipers or even replacing them. It’s a good idea to check for these whenever you’re getting your other brake components serviced.

Corrosion, rust damage, and leaking brake fluid
As we mentioned earlier, some amount of corrosion is inevitable due to the way that calipers work. However, if you see a significant amount of corrosion and rust damage, you will want to replace your calipers, even if you don’t currently face issues with braking.

There are a number of reasons why your brake fluid might be leaking, and a faulty piston seal on your calipers is one of them. If your brakes are leaking fluid, be sure to check your caliper piston seals for damage. If they’re the reason behind the leak, you’ll want to replace your calipers as soon as possible.

Wear patterns on brake pads
Because your calipers push the brake pads onto the rotors, corrosion, warping, and other issues with your calipers can manifest as issues with your brake pads. When you’re servicing your brakes, be sure to examine your brake pads closely for wear. When calipers are faulty, they often place an uneven amount of pressure on different brake pads.

This can cause brake pads on one side of your car to end up being thinner—or more eroded—than brake pads on the other side. If you notice uneven wear on your brake pads, inspect those calipers.

3. Check for brake drift

Your calipers exert force on the brake pads, pushing them into the rotors to stop your car. If the calipers are damaged, they might not apply the same amount of force evenly over the brake pad surface as before.

When this happens with calipers on one side of your car, it can cause the braking force on each side to be uneven, causing your car to veer to the side when braking. If your car drifts to one side as you’re trying to slow down, this is a likely sign of caliper damage and can be extremely dangerous if left unchecked.


Calipers are an important part of your car’s braking assembly, and they’re fairly durable too. In fact, your calipers might only need servicing once every 100,000 miles. However, we suggest taking a close look at your calipers every time you service other braking components. Maintaining and inspecting your brake calipers regularly can help you identify caliper issues before they become major problems.