Bad Brake Caliper Symptoms: The 6 Signs To Look For

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While it is fun to drive at speed, it is reassuring to know that your vehicle can slow down as well, and one essential part of the braking system that can fail is the brake caliper.

So what are the bad brake caliper symptoms to look out for?

  • Grinding or high pitch noise.
  • Clunk or thud noise when pulling away.
  • Resistance when accelerating and slowing down.
  • The vehicle pulls to one side when braking.
  • The brakes wear unevenly.
  • Loss of brake fluid

Prolong periods of not driving the car and rust is the leading cause of brake calipers failing.

Now with the symptoms laid out, let’s go more in-depth about what causes these symptoms.

one of the bad brake caliper symptoms is rust like this rusty bad brake caliper
One of the bad brake caliper symptoms: Rusty brake calipers

Bad Brake Caliper Symptoms – 6 To Look Out For

1. Grinding Or High Pitch Noise

In this instance, the brake caliper is seized so that it is constantly rubbing the brake pad on the face of the rotor.

The constant friction can wear out the brake pad quickly, but the affected brake or brakes will make horrible grinding or high-pitched screeching sounds.

Once the pads are worn through, and its metal on metal with the backing plate of the brake pad meets the brake rotor, get ready for even worse-sounding screeching.

Here is an excellent example of a brake caliper dragging the brake pad on the rotor:

Brake Rotor Noise Sticking Caliper

2. Clunk Or Thud Noise When Pulling Away

When the brake caliper is constantly dragging on the rotor with the brake pad, there will be instances where you pull away from a dead stop and hear and feel a loud thud or clunk noise.

The brake pad and rotor are so hot that they can temporarily bond when standing still.

When you pull away, this bond is broken, but through a loud thud or clunk, it will feel like the parking brake is half engaged.

3. Resistance when accelerating and slowing down.

Since one or more brakes are semi-engaged due to being seized, the car will feel like it lost power when accelerating, and when coasting, it will slow down much faster than usual.

The extra friction caused by the brake pad dragging on the brake rotor causes this issue.

An easy way to test this is to stop the car on a steady slope, between 1 to 4 degrees incline, get off the brake, and release the parking brake. 

A brake caliper is potentially seized if the vehicle does not start rolling.

Cars require minimal effort to start rolling on a flat surface and no effort going down a hill.

4. Vehicle Pulls To One Side When Braking

Since the brake caliper is seized, it can no longer push out the piston; thus, when applying the brakes, the wheel with the affected caliper won’t experience the same braking force as all the other wheels.

This uneven brake force distribution causes the vehicle to pull to one side and can even cause cars with ABS to lose some functionality when braking hard.

Under emergency braking, the car can easily lock up and swerve severely to a side, causing a loss of vehicle control.

5. Brakes Wear Unevenly

When a car’s brake system has no issues, the lifespan of the brake pads is generally the same, especially on the same axle.

When one of the brake calipers seizes up, it can either eat away much faster through the brake pad or, in infrequent occurrences, doesn’t even come into contact with the rotor.

So if you inspect your brakes and the front/rear axles have more brake pad life on one side than the other, it is a telltale sign that one of the calipers isn’t working as it should.

6. Loss Of Brake Fluid

It is a very infrequent occurrence, although I have seen brake calipers that are seized up, break free again, and start leaking brake fluid past the piston seals.

This can happen through many heat cycles, and the debris or rust inside the caliper to brake loose but score up the piston sleeve and piston seals.

The brake warning light on the instrument cluster will illuminate to indicate that there isn’t enough brake fluid in the system.

If you inspect the wheels of the vehicle, you might find one of the wheels covered in brake fluid.

bad brake caliper symptoms

Final Thoughts On Bad Brake Caliper Symptoms

With brakes being the most relied-on feature of a vehicle, we always want to ensure that it is functioning with no troubles.

When your gut tells you that the vehicle isn’t performing as it used to or you feel the car swerving to the side when braking, pull over in a safe area and inspect the brake pads; they can easily show when there is one of the calipers that isn’t working.

Hopefully, you found this article helpful in identifying the symptoms of a bad brake caliper and helping you experience safe, trouble-free miles of driving.


What Happens If You Drive With A Bad Brake Caliper?

It is not suggested, but if you drive with a brake caliper that is not fully functional, your braking performance will significantly decrease, and the car will be prone to pull to a side when applying the brakes.
Prolonged periods of driving with a dragging brake caliper can also cause a fire hazard as the temperature of the brake rotor can become red hot.

What Does A Bad Caliper Sound Like?

A brake caliper dragging or a seized caliper sounds like two metal objects grinding on one another or emitting a high-pitched screeching sound.
This is because of the friction caused by the brake pad running on the rotor for a prolonged period.

Is It OK To Replace Just One Brake Caliper?

If the budget allows you to, replacing the calipers in pairs is better, but it is acceptable to replace only one caliper.
It is better to have fully functioning brakes than to drive a few months with non-fully operational brakes to save up to buy a pair.