What Are Calipers on a Car?

Brake calipers convert hydraulic pressure into friction, slowing the movement of your tires. Here’s what you need to know about calipers.
Written by Bonnie Stinson
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Brake calipers on a car convert hydraulic pressure into friction, helping slow the movement of a vehicle’s wheels. When your brake calipers fail, you might struggle to brake consistently. 
The brake system in your car is highly complex. A single faulty part could throw off the entire system, leaving you with a costly and dangerous problem. So, what are calipers on a car? How do they work and how do you know if there’s a problem?
Here’s a quick guide to brake calipers from
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What are brake calipers?

Calipers are part of the disc brake system. The caliper assembly is usually located inside the wheel, where tubes and hoses connect it to the master cylinder. 
The caliper houses the brake pads and pistons, and the caliper fits like a clamp over the rotor. Together, these parts use the pressure from brake fluid to create friction that helps slow down your car’s wheels.
There are two main types of brake calipers: fixed calipers and floating calipers. Fixed calipers are attached to the axle assembly, with two opposing pistons. Floating calipers have pistons on only one side of the metal disc. Most OE (Original Equipment) calipers are floating, although fixed calipers may provide better performance.

Brake components

Here’s a quick overview of all the brake parts in a brake disc system. 
A disc brake system includes wheel bearings, wheel studs, calipers, pads, brake rotors, master cylinders, brake lines, hydraulic fluid, brake fluid reservoir, and the brake pedal. If you have an ABS system, you also have wheel speed sensors and an ABS module.
With drum brakes, the system creates friction with brake shoes and a circular drum instead of pads and a rotor.

How do brake calipers work?

In simple terms, brake calipers work by converting hydraulic pressure on the pistons into friction against the rotor. The result is pressing the brake pads against the rotor, which slows the wheels.
There are two types of caliper pistons: single piston and dual piston. Front brake calipers are usually dual piston and rear calipers are usually single piston.
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How to tell when your calipers go bad?

A faulty brake caliper may trigger a variety of brake problems. Some can be observed easily by the driver whereas others might need close examination by a trained professional.
Here are some of the symptoms of a bad brake caliper:
A caliper may begin to wear down due to pad wear or warped rotors. When heat cannot dissipate properly, friction will end up damaging the calipers. Over time, the calipers could become rusty with corrosion buildup.
If you experience any unpredictable performance from your car’s brake system, please call your auto repair mechanic immediately. Brake repair may be more affordable than you expect—and your safety is at stake.

How much does it cost to replace brake calipers?

Expect to spend
between $100 and $500
to replace your brake calipers. If you drive a smaller passenger vehicle, you will pay closer to the lower end of that price range. 
A single caliper costs approximately $100, but you should always replace both calipers on the same axle.

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No! You may hear a significant clunk if the caliper or caliper bracket breaks. This means that you should stop driving immediately and get your vehicle towed to a repair shop.
To replace calipers, the vehicle must be lifted onto jack stands. Then, the wheel with the offending caliper must be removed to access the brake system. It’s a complex process best performed in an auto shop by a skilled technician.
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