The braking system of your vehicle cannot stand alone and requires brake calipers to keep the system together, which is the primary reason why they are so important. These components join your brake pads together, allowing both sets to make contact with the surface of the brake rotors, allowing the car to slow down and stop completely. To fully understand how important brake calipers are, you must first understand the brake system and components that make it up.
Most modern cars only use disc brakes for the front wheels, though some cars and trucks do use disc brakes at the bake. The calipers look like clamps that sit above the rotor, which is an easy way to determine if both sets of wheels have disc brakes.
When you look at the caliper, the two metal plates connect to a particular material which helps initiate friction. The metal plates are called brake pads. There are two options, including inboard and outboard. Outboard pads are on the outside of the rotors while inboard pads are inside the rotors.
When you press the brake pedal, fluid causes hydraulic pressure in the pistons of the calipers. The process pushes the brake pads closer together to touch the rotor. The material is so strong, it affects the movement of the rotor, and because the rotors are connected to the wheel, it slows and stops the vehicle.
Drum brakes are only found on older model vehicles and uses a rotating drum with the brake shoes inside. The brake shoes create the friction which slows the wheels. However, their use in newer models isn’t efficient because the friction caused by the brake shoes causes heat and gas build-up, which results in loss of power or brake fade.
However, some newer models do use drum brakes for the rear wheels only.
Brake Caliper Types
There are two types of brake calipers, including fixed and floating versions. Fixed calipers have pistons on both sides of the rotor (inside and outside), but they do not move at all. The downside is the cost of the pistons, as many fixed calipers have more than two pistons on each side and the rotor itself can have up to 12 pistons surrounding it.
Floating calipers do use movement, which is in an in-and-out motion. They only have two pistons on the inside of the rotor, so the piston compresses the entire caliper, producing friction on both sides because of the brake pads.
Signs of Damage to the Brake Calipers
If you’re worried about your brake calipers, there are some things to consider. If the calipers are damaged, your vehicle may not be able to move in a straight line. If one wheel is slower, your vehicle is likely to move from side to side while you try to stop. You may also feel vibrations when pressing on the brake pedal, though that can be a sign of something else amiss.
You can also hear strange noises when the brake calipers are damaged. For example, thuds or high-pitched noises can mean that a caliper is stuck or loose.
Brake fluid leaks can also signal damage to the brake calipers. The brake fluid should be sealed inside of a rubber boot. Brake calipers have to use it to operate correctly, but the seal can wear down from heat while braking.
Brake calipers are so essential to your vehicle, which is why you should pay close attention to abnormal movements and strange noises, having them checked by a technician at your earliest convenience.