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The brake caliper is a critical part of your car’s braking system. While it doesn’t get the attention garnered by braking components like pads and rotors, it’s an essential piece of equipment. If there’s a stop sign ahead and you need to bring your vehicle to a halt, the caliper plays an important role in making this happen.

Below, we examine what brake calipers are, how they work and how they interact with your vehicle’s overall braking system. We’ll also share guidance on how to determine whether your calipers need attention.

Defining Brake Calipers

Your car’s brake caliper serves as a housing unit for its pistons and brake pads. It’s designed to rest securely over the rotor of your vehicle’s wheel. If you need to slow your car down or bring it to a stop, the caliper facilitates this by interacting with the vehicle’s brake rotors.

There are two types of brake calipers: floating and fixed.

Floating calipers are equipped with one or two pistons positioned on the inboard side of the rotor. These pistons move the caliper when you press the brake pedal.

Fixed calipers are stationary and have many pistons arranged on opposing sides of the rotor. They offer superior performance compared to floating calipers.

Creating True Friction

Brake calipers work by using friction to restrict the rotation of your car’s wheels; this friction slows the vehicle or brings it to a standstill. Each caliper contains a pair of brake pads, and these pads connect with the wheel to stop it from turning when your foot hits the brake pedal.

Depressing the brake pedal triggers the release of brake fluid, which the braking system uses to apply pressure to pistons contained in the brake caliper. This pressure guides the brake pads to make contact with the rotor. This contact creates friction that slows the wheel and helps the car to decelerate.

If you have a performance vehicle, then brake calipers become even more important. As luxury and sports vehicles are built to be quicker than the average car, they need powerful brakes that have the goods to initiate a swift and effective slowdown. Some performance cars feature fixed calipers that house as many as six pairs of pistons.

Starting the Stopping Process

Your car’s braking system is intricate and complex. At the heart of it is a hydraulic pump called a master cylinder, and its key role is to dispense brake fluid. This fluid moves through the brake lines and creates hydraulic pressure that activates the caliper every time you press the brake pedal. Releasing the brake pedal forces brake fluid back into the master cylinder.

Giving You Fair Warning

Your car’s braking system generates quite a bit of heat, and this can damage the calipers over time. If your vehicle exhibits any of the following symptoms, it may be time to get your calipers repaired.

  • Continuous squealing and grinding during braking

  • Jerking or drifting to one side during braking

  • Brakes that need to be pumped harder than normal to slow the vehicle

  • A brake pedal that feels softer or firmer than normal

  • Leaking brake fluid from the wheels or engine compartment

If your vehicle is exhibiting any of these signs, talk to your local NAPA AutoCare right away. There are some brake jobs that you can do at home, such as bleeding your brakes, but serious repairs are best left to the pros.

Your brake caliper deserves respect for its role in stopping your car. Taking care of your calipers will help you maintain your ride’s safety and performance.

Check out all the brake system products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on brake calipers, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

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