Brake Disc and Caliper Kit Buyer's Guide
- Selecting the right brake disc and caliper kit for your car will not only restore the brakes, but also improve its performance and last longer than the previous parts.
- The brake disc connects with the wheel hub and spins along with the tire. It serves as the contact surface for the brake pads.
- The brake caliper is a mechanical assembly that surrounds the brake disc. It comes in two types, floating calipers and fixed calipers.
- Brake disc designs include plain surface, vented, drilled, dimpled, slotted, and waved discs. Popular materials for making these discs include cast iron, ceramic, and carbon fiber ceramic. Both designs and materials affect the performance and durability of the brake disc.
- Getting a new brake disc and caliper kit to replace your old one can cost you anywhere between $119 and $1,127.
Vehicles equipped with disc brakes rely on brake discs and calipers to slow down or stop outright. These components undergo intense abrasion and heat whenever you step on the brake pedal. If you use them often, they can wear out or break down earlier than designed.
While it’s possible to replace specific parts of the disc brake, such as the brake pad, you may need to replace the entire assembly. Selecting the right brake disc and caliper kit for your car will not only restore the brakes, but also improve its performance and make it last longer than the previous parts.The basics of disc brakes
Disc brakes include a disc or rotor attached to the wheel and calipers with brake pads. When the driver hits the brakes, pressurized brake fluids drive the pistons inside the calipers. The calipers clamp on the rotor and press the brake pads into the rotor’s surface. Their physical contact produces friction that slows down the spinning motion of the wheels.
What is a brake disc?
Also spelled “brake disk” and alternatively called a “brake rotor,” the brake disc connects with the wheel hub and spins along with the tire. It serves as the contact surface for the brake pads.
The brake disc improves over the older brake drum design. It sheds heat faster, applies more braking force, and delivers more consistent performance even when it’s slippery. Drivers will also find it easier to determine just how much pressure they need to apply to the pedal to stop smoothly.
Most brake discs feature a single disc. High-performance units feature a pair of connected rotors in a side-by-side arrangement that helps the brake disc cool even faster and improves its ability to stop the car.
If you own a modern car, its front wheels come equipped with disc brakes while the rear wheels use drum brakes. Luxury vehicles and high-end models feature disc brakes for all four wheels. Finally, classic vehicles use drum brakes, although they can upgrade to compatible disc brakes.
What is a brake caliper?
The brake caliper is a mechanical assembly that surrounds the brake disc. Mounted on a bracket attached to the vehicle, it looks like a c-clamp and works like one, too.
Brake caliper types
Brake calipers come in two types, floating calipers and fixed calipers. Disc brakes get classified according to the caliper they use.
The most numerous type, the floating caliper also goes by the name “sliding caliper.” It can have either one or two hydraulic pistons mounted on the inner brake pad while the other pad attaches to the caliper itself.
When you hit the brakes, the pistons push the inner brake pad against the disc. Meanwhile, the caliper itself approaches the disc to press the outer pad into the rotor. Caught between the two pads, the disk produces an enormous amount of friction.
Fixed/Opposed piston caliper
As its name implies, a fixed caliper cannot move from its mount. Instead, it features one or more hydraulic pistons on each side of the rotor. The brake pads sit on these caliper pistons.
Stepping on the brakes activates the caliper pistons. They push the brake pads into both sides of the brake disc while the brake caliper stays in place.
Disc brake designs
Manufacturers experimented with the surface of disc brakes to make them last longer and work more efficiently. The designs born from their efforts came with advantages and disadvantages.
Solid/Plain surface discs
Essentially a solid block of cast iron, plain surface discs deliver adequate performance. They cost far less than other designs thanks to their cheap material and simple method of manufacture. However, they weigh a figurative ton and don’t shed heat well.
To improve heat management, the vented disc introduced cooling channels that run between the rotor’s faces. The channels radiated heat, thereby extending the part’s service life by reducing the risk of cracks and damage caused by intense heat.
Many modern cars use vented discs. The original straight channels gave way to curvier designs that improved the airflow and cooling.
Drilling holes through the brake disc reduces its weight and provides an avenue of escape for the gases produced by friction between the brake pad and the rotor. They also look fantastic from their spot behind the wheel hub.
Drilled discs still appear on many high-performance cars. While the holes weaken the disc’s structural strength, manufacturers can make it strong enough to withstand cracking.
To get the benefit of drilling holes without weakening the disc itself, this design doesn’t drill all the way through. The “dimples” provide enough space for the gases that often cause brake fade.
Other brake discs feature grooves or slots bored through their surface. Like dimples, the channels allow gases to escape while maintaining the disc’s structural integrity.
They can also clean the brake pads that pass over them, albeit at the expense of wearing out the pads faster. Finally, some groove designs can also reduce the vibrations caused by the contact between the disc and the pads.
Introduced on motorcycles, waved discs recently made their way into some cars. Their surfaces feature shapes that resemble waves to save weight, get rid of heat faster, and look spectacular.
Brake disc materials
The materials that make up the brake disc also affect its cost, lifespan, and performance. Popular choices include:
Many brake discs use cast iron. The metal costs little to produce and form into the right shape. However, iron is heavy and radiates heat less efficiently.
Ceramic brake discs weigh less and vent heat better than cast iron counterparts. They cost more than iron discs.
If you want the best performance money can buy, go for carbon ceramic brake discs. They boast the highest resistance to heat and associated warping, and they also weigh far less than cast iron discs.
For best results, pair up carbon ceramic disc brakes with the right brake pads. They’ll cost a pretty penny, but you get what you pay for and more.
How much does a brake disc and caliper kit cost?
Getting a new brake disc and caliper kit to replace your old one can cost you anywhere between $119 and $1,127. The price tag depends on the manufacturer’s brand, the vehicle’s model, the number of disc brakes, and their performance.
Brake disc and caliper kits come in sets intended for either two-wheel or four-wheel disc brake systems. Some replacement kits match the abilities of the stock parts, others offer better braking power, and still others deliver performance levels found on race tracks.
Replacing Your Car’s Brake Disc and Caliper Kit Like a Pro
Your vehicle's brake disc and caliper kit gets used quite a lot, and this is why it's not really surprising for it to get damaged after a while. There are many reasons why this vital component might fail, including overuse and lack of proper maintenance. If you notice your car pulling to one side or producing disturbing sounds and vibrations when braking, then it could mean that the kit is due for a replacement. Installing a new brake disc and pad kit may be done at the comfort of your own garage. Here are some of the things you'll need and the installation steps to help you out:
Difficulty level: Difficult
Tools that you'll need:
- Wrench set
- Floor jack
- Jack stands
- Caliper brake piston turning tool
- Brake bleeding set
- Drain pan
- Brake fluid
- Caliper lubricant
- Rubber mallet
- Replacement brake disc and caliper kit
Step 1: Park your car over an area with a level surface to make sure that it won't shift while you're doing the rest of the replacement procedures.
Step 2: Lift your car off the ground using a jack and support it with the jack stands.
Step 3: Remove the vehicle's wheel by unfastening its lug nuts.
Step 4: Using a wrench, remove the banjo bolt that's connecting the brake caliper to the brake hose.
Step 5: Remover the bolts that are securing the caliper in its mounting location using a wrench. Place the drain pan below the brake caliper to catch any brake fluid leak while you slide it off from the wheel.
Step 6: With a screwdriver, detach the screws of the brake disc and carefully pull it off the wheel hub. If needed, lightly tap it using a rubber mallet for an easier removal.
Step 7: Put the new brake disc and caliper kit in place and secure it using the same bolts and screws you removed earlier. Make sure that you apply the right amount of torque to keep the assembly from detaching while in use.
Step 8: Set the wheel back and reattach its lug nuts.
The whole process of changing a brake disc and caliper kit may take about two hours for an expert DIYer to finish and almost three hours for a beginner. Don't forget to practice safety precautions while doing this task!