Unlike brake pads and rotors, brake calipers are one of those non-maintenance items on your vehicle that don’t get replaced on a regular basis. You only need to fix them when they fail. Unfortunately, failing brake calipers are not an uncommon occurrence. They are the hydraulic pistons which clamp your brake pads to the rotor when you step on the brake pedal. Being hydraulic, they have rubber parts which are very susceptible to temperature changes. The amount of heat that is built up when braking is intense. That constant temperature change causes quite a few caliper failures every year. The cost of replacing them may not be a bad number to keep in the back of your mind.
How Will I Know if They Fail?
Brake calipers typically only fail in one of two ways; they either lock up (meaning the piston is frozen in place), or they begin to leak. You will definitely know if one of these two things happens because your brake pedal will begin to feel soft, you will notice fluid in your driveway, or your brakes will begin to grind. The only way to determine if it is the caliper, however, is to take the tire off and inspect the braking system. When dealing with the hydraulic system of your brakes, it’s probably best to have a technician perform the job. Unless you have the experience, equipment, and the safety knowhow, this isn’t a job you’ll want to perform in your driveway.
What All Gets Replaced?
That depends; there are a couple of variables at work here. The first variable is, what exactly is wrong with the caliper? Is it leaking or did it simply freeze up? Either way it will need replaced, and in all likelihood so will your brake pads. However, if the caliper locked up, chances are it scored your brake rotor to the point that it will need replaced as well. These are typically replaced as a pair just like brake pads. The second variable is how much heat was built up if the caliper did lock up? An excessive amount of heat can damage not only the brake parts, but the rubber boots and seals on the drive axles, electrical parts like ABS sensors, and steering and suspension parts as well.
What If Nothing Extra Was Damaged?
If the caliper simply went bad and nothing was damaged, then you’re looking at replacement of the caliper alone plus the rest of the brake job (pads and rotors). The average caliper can range anywhere from $60 to $200 depending on make and model. Of course, you’ll need to figure in at least an extra hour of labor as well. After the hydraulic system of your brakes has been penetrated by air, the technician must bleed the air out of the system once the repairs are made. This is part of that added labor. Many repair facilities suggest that both calipers be replaced at the same time. This makes sense only depending upon the mileage of your particular vehicle. If your vehicle has more than 50-60K on it, then the other caliper has been through just as many temperature changes and difficulties as the caliper that failed. In this instance it would be a good idea to replace both. If your vehicle has less than 50K miles, and only one has failed, then you’re probably safe with doing one. However, this is also personal preference.
What Else Might I Need to Replace?
If your vehicle is getting up there in age, or if you live in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, your brake lines may become rusted directly to your caliper. If this happens, you may end up needing to replace the rubber hoses connected directly to the calipers and, depending on how rusted the brake lines themselves are, possibly a couple of brake lines as well. This could run the price of the entire job up anywhere from $50 to $500 depending on how many lines need replaced. If it’s simply one caliper, you’ll be in the area of $200 to $300 plus the rest of the brake job.
(Please remember that these repair prices can also fluctuate based on geographic location, as well as vehicle make and model; and that these numbers represent averages, not actual prices offered at any specific repair facilities.)