Do brake calipers need to be replaced in the following case?

My car (2003 Honda CR-V, 54000 mile) started to make “sssss” sound from the rear-driver side wheel while driving, but not so severe at the moment. I checked the wheel and found that the pad was worn out: metal to disk. The other three pads are a little bit (2-3mm) left over. I visited some franchise mechanic shop and was told that the pads, rotors, and calipers need to be replaced. But I’m wondering about the caliper replacement. Do you think that my car makes “ssss” sound when brakes not being applied, which possibly means a stuck piston, so the calipers also need to be replaced? Would you please share your insights for this issue with me? I got brake fluid flushed every 3 years, for your information. I think that some air in the side caused by poor recent bleeding might cause the symptom or it might be a normal situation, which means the caliper itself is fine. What do you think about this issue and what do you suggest for a repair? Thank you!

Your description of the issue does not suggest your calipers need to be replaced. Many franchise repair shops suggest calipers with every brake service as a “preventive maintenance measure”, and because they are an easy way to increase the amount of the bill. Your car is nine years old, so caliper replacement is not a bad idea if you are really anal about your car and don’t mind spending the money to ensure that your car gets the best possible brake system repair (if this is you, have the flexible brake hoses replaced too. They are cheap and often forgotten about until they burst, which is quite rare), but it is most likely not necessary.

Just because the rotor is chewed up from metal-to-metal contact is not the reason a caliper needs replacing. The caliper needs to be replaced if it is leaking brake fluid, the dust boots are cracked and damaged, or if the caliper piston is sticking. If your calipers show none of these symptoms, I don’t believe they need replacing.

Thank you for your comments, mark9207 and BustedKnuckles! So the caliper is likely fine. Good to hear that. I want to keep the current calipers if they are fine. I have a quick following question about piston sticking. If the piston were stuck, replacement of pads would not be possible, right? In other words, if a mechanic can replace pads without replacing the caliper, is the caliper likely okay? The brake fluid level doesn’t go down and I don’t see any fluid leaking in the wheel side, so the possible cause of the caliper replacement “suggested/requested by the shop” would be the piston.


Oh, did I miss something? Would you please give me some more info, Honda Blackbird?

My second thought is that your ‘No’ is the answer of my original question, not for the following one, which means that you agree with them. Thanks!

Replacing pads and rotors is fairly straightforward, if you have the inclination. A Chiltons or Haynes manual will help, as will a set of metric socket wrenches. But if you do want a mechanic to do it, go to the ‘Mechanix Files’ here to locate one likely better than the ‘replace everything’ one you talked to.

Chamlux, leaking fluid may not get to the level of seeing fluid levels drop or seeing evidence of liquid on the ‘wheel side’ of the brake caliper. Seeing brake fluid around the dust boot of the piston and finding brake fluid underneath the dust boot IS evidence of a leak that can only be detected with the brakes apart. The piston side is typically on the inboard side of the rotor. Also, cracked and damaged dust boots are only visible with the calipers apart. A sticking piston may sometimes be reset, most of the time not, though, but will not provide even braking force from side to side, causing a pull to the non-sticking piston side. This would be noticeable if the piston requires considerable more force to reset than the other side.

Texases and BustedKnuckles, thanks for the info and the detailed, very helpful explanations!
By the way, if the caliper turned out to be bad, do you suggest to replace both rear calipers or the bad one only? I checked some threads for the issue but the answer is somewhat unclear. If each brand caliper piston has different diameter, both side calipers might need to be replaced together in order to apply the same amount of force to pads. But I have no idea about whether there are common auto brake standards.

The replacement caliper SHOULD have the same working dimensions of the original equipment. I had a piston get stuck on my old Toyota Pickup truck with 150,000 miles on it. I only replaced that one caliper with a remanufactured part that had the exact same dimensions. The other side I kept. It lasted until I lost the truck in an accident with 325,000 miles on it. Any replacement part SHOULD meet the OEM design unless you’re upgrading to a high-performance set of brake calipers with a different design than OEM. At that point., all bets are off.

Oh, that’s right. I missed that each brand provides different dimension items for the reason. So replacing only the bad one with the same dimension part to OEM should be fine. Thanks!

You say that you visited a “franchise mechanic” and this, to me, denotes a chain operation like Midas, Firestone, etc. The standard operating procedure at these places is to replace everything except the kitchen sink, and even that’s up for debate.

It’s very simple to determine if a caliper is faulty and they can fail in 2 ways.
One is the piston seal hardens and causes the piston to stick. On an '03 Honda with only 54k miles I don’t buy into that theory.
Two is that the caliper can stick on the sliders. This is possible but it does not mean the caliper needs to be replaced. Servicing the sliders is the cure (easily done) and should be part of a proper brake job.

Regarding Number One above, if the piston retracts into it’s bore easily then it’s fine. A bad caliper will have a piston that is impossible or difficult to compress the caliper piston.

There is an argument for replacing the caliper that had the pad with no lining left: the steel-on-steel contact of the disk to the worn out pad could have overheated the caliper. That could have potentially damaged the caliper’s seals. I personally might consider replacing that caliper, but I see no reason to even consider the other for replacement.

As ok has mentioned, lots of places will suggest you replace everything they can think of. They get away with it because it works so well, all they have to do is say the word “safe” and the customer starts thinking of his wife and kids in the car, etc., etc.

As for replacing the one caliper, it’s really your choice.

I appreciate all the comments! FYI, I visited a local independent mechanic shop and learned that the caliper is fine. So I replaced the pads and rotors only. Happy new year!