Brakes frozen--mechanic says needs new calipers?

jasonmi7October 22, 2005

Let me give you a little background.

We get huge discounts on ALL Ford products. In 2001, we bought a 2002 Mazda Protege5 wagon. Not a bad little car; perhaps a little young for us (okay, it's tinny). But it did okay for a while. Enter MIL. MIL needs car. MIL LOVES our car. So we sell it to her for what we owe (after six months, and after our discount, everyone is happy).

Anyhow; that's not the story. Here it is in a nutshell. MIL (who lives in a very small town, in a very Northern Climate), takes the car in for it's 'winterization checkup'. Mechanic does the usual, but tells her the rear calipers are frozen, they need to be replaced, and he can't find the parts to do it. Mechanic states that he needs new brake calipers for the car, and it'll cost literially hundreds of dollars to fix this, as there aren't many refurb parts out there.

I am kind of suspicious; I mean, I've seen brakes freeze before on cars. Almost always, it's the brake piston at the wheel that does it. And they're cheap. Rebuild kits for brakes are even cheaper.

So what do you think. Can a caliper actually 'freeze', or is it another component, such as the brake caliper piston that's the culprit?

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ericwi

Disk brakes have calipers, and piston/cylinder assemblies are part of or mated with the caliper. Since the piston/cylinder assembly is exposed to the elements, including water and salt found on the road, it will corrode, and eventually freeze, or stick in one position. I have heard parts people refer to the piston/cylinder assembly as the "caliper."

Calipers are used for measuring things, and they are used when operating a lathe, to control the diameter of the workpiece. The caliper brakes used on bicycles bear some resemblance to calipers used as measuring tools, so the nomenclature makes intuitive sense.

I don't understand why someone would call a hydraulic cylinder, or piston/cylinder assembly a "caliper."

    Bookmark   October 22, 2005 at 9:48PM
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earthworm

Seized calipers on a 3 year old ??? Possible if this car is never driven AND subject to a very hostile environment(salt and moisture)..

Some parts men are just barely literate, they may not know the definitions of many of the words they use....In the field, their pay is the lowest, or close to the lowest..

Many cars use a sliding or pivoting caliper- this can seize in place, but it should not be that hard for a mechanic to fix, but I suspect the man is a parts replacer, rather than a mechanic.
Get a second opinion..

    Bookmark   October 23, 2005 at 12:54AM
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jemdandy

Most likely, the caliper is stuck on its support pins and fails to slide on these anymore. (The amount of sliding moton, when the brakes are appplied, is very small.) When the caliper is "frozen" on the pins, one brake pad wears much more than the other, and puts undue side thrust on the rotor. This is a common problem in the "rust belt" where road salt is present (and yes, it can happen over just one winter season). If everything else about the caliper assembly is ok, the fix is to install new pins, bushings, pin seals, and brake pads. Also, lub the pin parts with appropriate grease at assembly.

However, the mechanic may not wish certify the repair job when re-using the caliper assembly (for insurance or liability reasons) depending on his state laws. But re-using the caliper is done regularily when replacing only brake pads.

If the holes in the caliper where the pins pass through are worn oversize, then a new caliper and pins are required. Except in cases of early failure of one caliper, calipers are often replaced in pairs, the logic being that if one caliper has failed, the other one is not far behind. It all depends on the nature of the failure.

If you have shoe brakes at the rear wheels, its a good idea to inpsect these for proper operation of the adjusters, too. Very often, these will be stuck too if the calpers (up front) have stuck. Sometimes, these can be refreshed by cleaning and re-lubing the adjusters. While there, look for any broken or badly corroded springs. Replace as necessary. Also, the parking brake cable should be free to move in its sheath else the adjusters may not work well. Replace the brake cables as ncesssary. (One thing seems to lead to another, hey!)

    Bookmark   October 23, 2005 at 3:25AM
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john_g

First, a brake caliper is a device that squeezes the pads from the sides against the rotor. If you think of a "vernier caliper" where you are measuring the thickness of an object from the sides, you get the picture of a motion that the brake caliper reproduces, hydraulicly.

Second, brake calipers do seize and often times parts are available to rebuild them, as well as there are replacement calipers, both new and remanufactured. It comes down to considerations of cost, availability, and a fair profit for the shop doing the work, while limiting potential warranty exposure. As some others have mentioned the parking brake is often part of the rear brake calipers on many cars, and without seeing one, I would expect this is the case on the Mazda. IMO the rear calipers that incorporate the parking brake have been a weak link, and very troublesome poprtion of the brake system on four wheel disc. The movement to systems that use small brake shoes that fit inside the rotors in the rear have been a major improvement, except for the fact that we are seeing these rear shoes delaminate in high road salt areas, but thats a different story. The addition of the parking brake to the rear caliper makes it more difficult to repair in the feild. Plus no regular shop is going to have an acid bath that will allow them to completely remove all of the rust and scale that builds up in the caliper slides. So a tech has to improvise the routine and tools that he/she will use to service that portion of the caliper. Trust me, it's not easy in many circumstances and can take a considerable amount of time and not always produce a satisfactory, if not durable result. So given that single point, a shop/tech has to ask why even bother spending the time attempting a difficult task, where the outcome is not assured? Plus we have not even disscussed the actual servicing of the piston and the e-brake components in the caliper! Combine that with the fact that the "cheaper, faster, etc. attitude also applies to how many shops try to hire techs and you will see this becomes even more complicated.

"It takes less talent, and less time to replace a component than it does to remove a component, rebuild it, and reinstall it" Think about that, less time means of course more time to do more work, as in other cars. Less talent means a less expensive work force. That actually means an over all a cheaper cost of doing business, and to a degree a cheaper form of auto service to the consumer. But this comes at a trade-off to some other consumers who might be better served on an individual basis. Jason, in your position, where you think having the tech repair the caliper would be cheaper for your MIL you are partially correct. But, for a shop to routinely do that level of a repair, they would have to hire a more expensive tech, who quite often would be doing more difficult work, which means he/she would turn fewer labor hours a week. The shop would in fact have to use a much higher labor rate and the net result ultimately would be you would get the caliper rebuilt onsite, but the end cost to your MIL, might be the same, if not higher than the bill as it's presently being quoted! By repairing the caliper, the shop wont be making as large of a profit on the parts either, yet the profit margin per hour that the shop needs must be met or the shop will fail as a business.

If this all seems like doubletalk, I'm not suprised. But the bottom line is, the shop is making the correct call by replacing the calipers instead of repairing them. There are techs out there that can and do rebuild calipers on a fairly regular basis. (Me) It's actually expensive to do it that way in most cases, so it's done more out of necessity. Frankly having looked at this many times and quoting replacing calipers VS repairing them, I can actually make more money repairing them dollar wise for a single job. But since we can normally replace them in a fraction of the time for slightly less gross profit, and have all that extra time to do a different car. It becomes a wise choice that ends up costing my customers less in the long run to routinely replace instead of repair calipers.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2005 at 11:50AM
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john999

Often the internal bore of the caliper assembly is damaged when the seal blows out and the piston gets jammed in the bore.

Generally, it's cheaper and easier to replace the entire assembly with a secondhand/recon unit.

Some mechanics will only replace brake components with new components because of liability issues.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2005 at 1:22AM
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noelmarchestra

Apologize for reviving this thread. Jus want to share my past experience about the said issue. Months ago, i ended up with a problem. It just happened that my car wheels weren't turning. I thought it was a problem with the parking brake or some ice that jammed up the wheel but even worse. The brakes got frozen and thus i ended up dragging a tire about a km before giving up and pulling into another parking lot. I took the tire off and could turn the brake drum a quarter inch in either direction but no further. I bent the lug nut wrench trying to pry the wheel around. There was no store out there that sell auto parts and besides my cell phone is dead and we're a half hour drive from home. So I resorted to plan b, swearing and hammering the part. With a couple of blows from the lug nut wrench, the wheel spins just fine. I think some water got inside, melted with the heat of the brakes, then re-froze. I finally decided to bring it to the auto repair shop here in hillsboro and the mechanic named jarvish made the diagnosis. According to him the brakes were affected by the cold weather in our place. he replace everything the pads as well as the brakes and the car was running again...

Useful links: Oregon auto repair

    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 12:22AM
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PR59_COMCAST_NET

I TOOK MY HUSBANDS CHEV 4x4 TRUCK FOR MAINTENANCE. THE MECHANIC SAID THE REAR BRAKE ROTORS WERE RUSTED. I TOLD HIM TO PUT IN THE REAR BRAKES AND NEW ROTORS. I PICKED UP THE TRUCK AND IT SAT AT WORK FOR A FEW HOURS. ON MY WAY HOME, AFTER ABOUT 20 MINUTESN AND SEVEN MILES, I LOOKED IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR AND BILLOWS OF SMOKE WAS COMING FROM THE TIRE AREA. WE HAD IT TOWED TO THE MECHANIC WHO SAID THERE ARE BRAKE HOSES WHICH NEED TO BE REPLACED. IT IS NOT HIS FAULT, THEY JUST WENT BAD. CAN YOU REITERATE? MY HUSBAND IS FURIOUS.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2011 at 11:48AM
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