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Tech Tip: Can Loaded Brake Calipers Boost Productivity?

Some technicians like loaded calipers because everything they need comes in one box. They don’t have to worry about mismatched parts from different suppliers and the complete assemblies are quick and easy to install. Most importantly, they see fewer comebacks because of brake noise or other problems.

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By Larry Carley

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Some technicians like loaded calipers because everything they need comes in one box. They don’t have to worry about mismatched parts from different suppliers and the complete assemblies are quick and easy to install. Most importantly, they see fewer comebacks because of brake noise or other problems.

Loaded calipers do provide a variety of benefits when doing brake jobs on customer’s vehicles. Most brake suppliers have a loaded caliper program today so availability is seldom an issue. Price, though, remains the main hurdle to selling loaded calipers to your customers.

One of the main advantages for the vehicle owner is that loaded caliper assemblies help restore the brakes to like-new condition. Not only do they get new friction, but also a professionally rebuilt caliper and properly matched hardware (shims, bushings, slides, etc.). This significantly reduces the risk of future leaks developing, and uneven braking or pad wear caused by calipers hanging up or dragging.

Caliper piston seals don’t last forever, and once they start to leak, it’s the end of the road for the caliper and the pads. Fluid leaks are dangerous because they can lead to a loss of hydraulic pressure in the brake circuit that may cause the brakes to fail. Brake fluid leaking from a caliper can also contaminate the brake linings and cause them to grab or pull.

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A caliper may also have to be replaced if it is sticking. Internal corrosion can cause pistons to jam or freeze preventing the caliper from working normally or releasing completely. External corrosion on the caliper mounts, bushings or slides can cause problems too by preventing a floating caliper from moving normally when the brakes are applied. The result here may be uneven pad wear, uneven braking, dragging or a pull. With a loaded caliper, the caliper is replaced along with the pads.

Many technicians have learned the hard way that attempting to rebuild old calipers is often a waste of time. In many instances, the old calipers are so badly corroded or worn, they can’t be rebuilt or they leak when they are put back on the vehicle. Disassembling a caliper to replace the piston seal and dust boot is a messy job, and may be difficult or impossible if the piston is stuck in place. Steel pistons often can’t be reused because they’re too badly corroded, and scratches or pits in the caliper bore may cause the caliper to leak even after a new piston and seal are installed. That’s why most technicians prefer to replace old calipers with new or remanufactured calipers.

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Replacing the hardware is important, because old corroded hardware can cause braking problems. We’ve heard of shims that have worked loose and caused a rotor to fail by rubbing and cutting through the rotor hat! If a technician forgets to install an anti-rattle clip or installs one that doesn’t fit properly, the newly installed pads may be noisy. Loaded calipers reduce these risks by providing the proper hardware and replacing everything that should be replaced.

The type of friction material that’s included with a loaded caliper assembly is critical because it should be the same, or better than the original. If a vehicle was originally equipped with ceramic pads, the loaded caliper should have the same type of friction material. The same goes for semi-metallic pads.

To avoid a mismatch of friction side-to-side, when installing loaded calipers on a vehicle, both calipers should be replaced at the same time. If only one caliper is being replaced, be sure to use the same friction pads on both sides.

When a loaded caliper is installed, the brake system should always be flushed and refilled with clean, fresh fluid that meets the OEM requirements for the application (DOT 3 or 4 fluid).

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Caliper slides and bushings should be lubricated with a high-temperature brake grease, and related brake components, such as hoses, lines, rear wheel cylinders and the master cylinder, should all be inspected to make sure these components are in good working condition and are leak-free.

WHY REMANUFACTURED PARTS?
Everybody knows remanufactured replacement parts are usually less expensive than brand new parts, but are they as good? The answer to that question depends on who supplies the parts and how much expertise and effort they put into remanufacturing their products.

There are top-quality remanufacturers who are QS-9000 certified and who turn out reman products that are just as good as many brand new parts. Their prices may be 20 to 40 percent less than a comparable new part or an OEM part, and they typically offer warranties ranging from a year up to a limited-lifetime warranty.

There are also bargain-priced, low-quality remanufacturers. Their prices are extremely competitive, but they may provide nothing more than a short-lived, cheap fix. Warranties typically range from 30 days to 90 days, at most. These kinds of parts might be OK for a do-it-yourselfer who has a very limited budget, but these "second line" reman parts may be no bargain for professional installers who take a chance on them.

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The issue of quality is an important one for our readers because comebacks can really hurt your business as well as your reputation. If a reman part fails, your customer will blame you — not the parts supplier. After all, you were the one who chose the part and installed it on their vehicle. These kind of comebacks not only cost you the goodwill of your customer, they can also hit you hard in the pocketbook — even if your supplier offers you a free replacement part because most warranties do not cover installation labor. On some parts like a clutch, labor is the lion’s share of the repair bill. The same goes for many steering racks. Calipers, wheel cylinders and master cylinders, on the other hand, are easier to replace. Even so, who wants to replace the same part twice, but only get paid for the job once?

When you fix a customer’s vehicle, you want it to stay fixed. Replacement parts don’t necessarily have to last as long as the original equipment parts to provide good value to your customers. Most OEM parts today are engineered to last up to 150,000 miles. Often they do, but sometimes they don’t. The point is reman replacement parts don’t have to provide the same durability as OEM parts because most vehicles that are six to 10 years old, probably don’t have another six or 10 years left in them. Consequently, a reman replacement part that’s engineered to go another 50,000 to 75,000 miles will probably last long enough to satisfy most customers.

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Another benefit of using reman parts is that it recycles metal that would otherwise be thrown away. This may require exchanging the old part to receive a core credit with your parts supplier, or it may not if your supplier sells reman parts outright with no exchange.Remanufacturing typically reuses castings and other major components that can be cleaned, remachined and returned to like-new condition. Items that are subject to wear and corrosion, such as seals, bushings, caliper and wheel cylinder pistons, valves, bleeder screws, springs, etc., are usually replaced with all-new components. Most quality remanufacturers then test the parts to make sure they function correctly before they are boxed and shipped for distribution.

Most quality-conscious rebuilders have few warranty claims. On relatively simple components like brake calipers, wheel cylinders and FWD halfshafts, there are few problems. But the more complicated the part, the greater the risk of a warranty return. Unfortunately, this is often because it was installed incorrectly or the underlying problem was misdiagnosed and the wrong part was replaced. This happens more often than it should with electrical and electronic components, but less often with brake, steering and driveline components.

The bottom line is this: Reman parts may or may not be your first choice for the repairs you do, but they generally provide good value for the money and can lower repair costs when price is an issue. When you do choose reman parts, choose a supplier who has a good reputation and who stands behind their products. The longer the warranty, the better.

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