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Brake System

3 Types of Brake Calipers You Should Be Familiar With

Types of Brake Calipers
Written by Nick Steiner

Brake calipers are one of the most important parts of the brake system whose job is to apply force necessary to slow down or stop a car completely.

Here we will introduce three different types of brake calipers to you so your technical car knowledge is significantly improved that you can later boast of!

Types of Brake Calipers

Types of Brake Calipers

1. Floating caliper

Floating calipers use a single piston to move the inboard so it makes contact with the inner side of the brake rotor.

The force of the contact between the inboard pad and the brake rotor causes the caliper to float or slide on pins mounted to the steering knuckle or the bracket.

This forces the outside pad to contact the rotor on the outer side. The clamping force on the revolving rotor makes the wheel slow or stop.

The problem is that the braking force becomes insufficient and the inboard pads wear prematurely when the slide pins stick in their bores.

2. Fixed calipers

These calipers are fixed in a place with a bracket that uses pistons on both sides to stabilize them on the rotor.

The brake fluid pressurizes both pistons at a time when you press the brake. The pistons are pushed out to force brake pads that squeeze the rotors.

3. Sliding calipers

Sliding calipers are a type of floating calipers that operate on the same principle with a single piston.

The caliper uses the piston to press the inner brake pad against the rotor. The movable frame caliper then applies force to the outer pad.

Brake Caliper Design and Material Types

Brake Caliper

1. Caliper material

Older vehicles mostly use cast iron calipers while newer ones have aluminum variants. Each construction material has distinctive advantages and disadvantages.

Cast iron brake calipers cost less to produce. They are sturdy and better at dissipating heat. Calipers made from aluminum are known for their lightweight.

2. Piston material

Caliper pistons have more versatile materials than calipers. They can be chrome plated aluminum, steel, or plastic.

Aluminum caliper pistons weigh less but the material is prone to corroding. Another issue is that aluminum easily transmits heat to the braking fluid.

Steel pistons are more robust and the chances of rust or other forms of corrosion reduces when they are chrome plated.

The problem with steel is that it transmits heat easily, and can cause hydraulic fluid boil and other difficulties.

Plastic pistons don’t conduct heat so there’s no brake fade or fluid boil.

The lightweight material is corrosion resistant but can absorb moisture and swell up. This causes the pistons to stick and present problems with braking.

Aluminum and steel pistons can also encounter sticking problems when the material deteriorates severely.

3. Monobloc vs two-piece caliper design

Monobloc calipers are cast from a single metal piece. They are stronger and have a long lifespan.

The only problem is that their durability and strength come at a higher manufacturing cost.

Two-piece variants are made from two metal pieces that are joined by bolts.

These calipers are less expensive and easier to make but lack the strength of the monobloc type.

4. Number of pistons

a) Single piston calipers

Single pistons are one of the most common caliper setups but only possible in floating type calipers.

They are great for conventional brakes where high-performance braking isn’t a top priority.

b) Multi-piston

These are employed for higher braking performance but found in both floating and fixed type calipers. The braking performance gets better with more number of pistons.

Piston numbers are selected based on precise calculation and differ from car to car.

There are at least two pistons on each caliper but high-speed and heavy vehicles require up to a 10 piston setup.

Calipers Based on Brake Disc Sizes

Max disc
diameter
Max disc
thickness
Min disc
thickness
Max pad thickness (mm) Piston Sizes (mm)
255 10 8 14 44
281 31 28 20 29.0/29.0/36.5
284 19 18 18 25.5/29.0
284 20 18 18 25.5/29.0
313 25 20 20 25.5/29.0
323 10 8 16 36.5
323 32 28 22 25.5/29.0
323 32 28 23 41.0/41.0
323 32 28 29 32.0/36.5
323 32 32 22 36.5/41.0
323 35 30 30 36.5/41.0
323 35 32 29 41.0/44.0
323 42 40 30 29.0/36.5/41.0
323/332 32 28 23 36.5/36.5
323/355 32 28 29 25.5/29.0
330 32 30 19 25.5/29.0
330 32 30 19 25.5 / 29.0
355 32 28 21.5 29.0/36.5
355 32 28 21.5 29.0/36.5
355 32 28 18 41.0/44.0
362 35 28 15 36.5/41.0/44.0
373 32 30 16 41.0/41.0
378 32 28 23 29.0/36.5
378 32 30 29 36.5/41.0
378 35 32 28 41.0/41.0
378 37 32 31 36.5/41.0
378/390 35 32 29 29.0/36.5/41.0
380 32 30 29.95 29.0/36.5
380 32 30 20 29.0/36.5
380 32 30 18 29.0/32.0/36.5
380 34 32 29.95 29.0/32.0/36.5
405 36 66.5
405 36 32 23.5 36.5/41.0/44.0
405 36 34 22 29.0/32.0/36.5

What Brake Calipers Should You Use?

Aftermarket pieces may have better chances to get rusted than OEM so use the latter for your safety.

There are reputed aftermarket caliper producers that manufacture parts in the USA or Europe with strict production control. Stick with their products if you need to save some bucks on a caliper purchase.

FAQs

1. Why do some cars have red brake calipers?

Ans. The red color grabs public attention pretty fast and it makes the calipers look clean. The red pops out when the wheels spin and some prefer colors over a rusty metal. A real brake kit or powder coating are better options than painting them red.

2. How can I tell if the brake calipers are wearing down?

Ans. The best way to find the answer is to listen to them. You may want to upgrade your calipers if you hear excessive rubbing or squealing. Uneven pad wear is also a good indication that you need to replace the calipers.

3. Is it possible to replace only one brake caliper?

Ans. This can be done but you want to replace both calipers on the same axle to avoid imbalances in the hydraulic pressure when applied on the brakes. Changing one brake caliper affects vehicle stability on braking.

About the author

Nick Steiner

Nick has been a car nut for his whole life as far as he can remember. His father was a car dealer who used to change and repair his cars himself. As a result, Nick had the opportunity to get around all sorts of cars and learned to get his hands dirty repairing vehicles from an early age.

Nick is a great fan of Japanese quality and German preciosity. His deep passion lies in older models that he believes have a flair that takes him back to his childhood. He also loves their durability and reliability when compared to the modern models.

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