Possible problem with caliper

By now my money is being bled from me with 6 attempts on the SAME issue. I do not know if it is a sticking caliper or caliper pistons. Nevertheless, it has not been fixed. It has been going on for 5 years. It happens intermittently and when it does, it is red hot and stinks, and it is all of the sudden bumpy, like the brakes are dragging, but slamming on the brakes seems to relieve it. How can I know if it is the caliper, the piston, the hoses or the master cylinder? I have resorted to this post since the local mechanics have not figured it out. If slamming on the brakes stops it, what does that mean??? I was told today that it could be the hoses and the master cylinder but may not solve the problem I was told. I did not want to spend 600 on a maybe. This is a great frustration since I am bed ridden and on SSI and need my car to get to doctors, and I can be stranded for a month, because I do not like driving my Toyota Tercel because I do not know when it will occur, and going to all these mechanics is cutting into my food money, …thanks

Can you list the vehicle make, model, year, and miles?

What parts did they replace in the 6 attempts? (For example, did they just replace the caliper 6 times?)

It is also common for the hose leading to the caliper to also breakdown internally, and lead to the same symptoms as a frozen caliper. Has the hose been replaced yet?

What year Tercel. It could have the wrong rotors on it.

If the caliper piston will retract smoothly and with little effort WITH THE BLEEDER VALVE OPEN, then replace the flex-line (rubber hose) that feeds the caliper. After 15 or 20 years, these hoses can swell up internally to the point they become a one-way check valve for brake fluid, causing the caliper(s) to not release and drag the brakes…

If you discover that is the case, I would replace ALL the flex-lines…

I agree. But I’d also find another mechanic. I don’t see how the MC could be causing this issue. That he suggested it was is troubling. Also as Caddyman pointed out, you can do a fairly reliable test to see if it’s the line. Saying “Uh, I guess it might be the lines, gimme $600 to find out” doesn’t really fly.

Hello, thank you for responding. I was quite touched that people cared enough to respond. Thanx
My car is a Toyota Tercel 1993, 108,772 miles. I bought it used. The first time it started was on the drivers side, I thought I must have driven with the hand break on, I doubt it, since I am a super careful driver, but… a year later and another mechanic came to my home, and changed the calipers, then it happened a year or so later on the passenger side. I am reporting all the stupid things I did, this may relate or not, I drove over Highway 17 from santa cruz to san jose airport and when I got there I saw my tire was flat!!! Not sure that messed things up more. Then when I was in SF I made a left sharp turn and drove about 3 miles and when I came to my destination, I saw smoke coming from the passenger wheel. I had to cancel my event I was going to and parked my ass with my tools about to pull of the wheel and see if I was going to pry something, what I did not know. It was then a security man saw what I was about to do, and I told him my tale, and he said just slam on the breaks and it will release the caliper. I had no other choice. I drove slowly and carefully and stopping every few miles to feel if it was burning. It was not. I took to another mechanic and he said oh it was a wrong nut and that cost 100, that he diagnosed it, rather expensive to put the new nut on the bolt, then another guy he adjusted the breaks and that was the second time with him, I think he bleed the breaks, not sure, I sat in the drivers seat pumping the breaks when he told me, is that bleeding the breaks? And then early am 3 months later on my way to doctor the car was dragging, and jerking, and when I got to my doc, I saw it burning hot again, I wanted to sit on the cement and cry since it is bleeding my money that I need for the doctors and food. So the next mechanic said he could not see what was wrong, but said the master cylinder and hoses might be the problem for 500-600 dollars but could not guarantee the problem solved, which I wanted to cry again but refrained in front of strangers. I know nothing about cars, but would the master cylinder to that once in a while? I feel it might be the caliper piston, I also drive the last part of my way home about 100 yards on a dirt road. Not sure dirt got in somewhere??? Grasping here. ):
thank you

I agree with the other posters here and would suspect the flexible hoses leading to the calipers. In addition to these, I would also suggest that the brake fluid be changed as well at the same time.

I doubt that it’s the master cylinder. That would not affect one wheel at a time.
I also agree with Shadow that you need a new shop.

It would help us to know exactly what wheels were worked on. Your '93 has drum brakes in the rear, and the cylinders for drum brakes can stick just like the calipers for disc brakes. Drum brakes can also be subject to the shoes sticking to the drum surfaces under certain conditions that, based on the age of your car, you might have. They’re designed to press themselfes into the drum surfaces from the friction, and if the cylinders are seeping and not sliding smoothly and the return spring shot they can drag. Beyond that, the parking brake cable can become rusted and keep them engaged.

And yes. the flex lines swelling is another possibility.

This “incorrect nut”, is he talking about the “castle nut” that holds the hub on? If so, your bearings and/or hub could be damaged and binding.

Money being a problem, check with the local Community College or trade school that offers an automotive program and see if they’ll look at it for you. Often the labor is free, the parts discounted, and since the work is done under the guidance of an instructors whose goal is to teach proper technique, the work is generally as good as the best shop.

It could be the master cylinder. This car uses a cross system, one chamber feeds the RF and LR and the other feeds the LF and RR. The rear brakes wouldn’t stop a bicycle, especially if the shoes have been changed. You would see the problem as a front brake problem.

BTW, your front rotors should be the vented type and not the solid type. The solid type were used through 88, vented after that.

While it could be the master cylinder or the hoses, I wouldn’t bet on either of these. Since jabbing at the brake pedal frees them up, I would look at the caliper bushings. A big clue here would be if the outside pads are wearing out faster than the inner pads.

The caliper bushings are little tubes that the calipers float on. The mounting bolts go through the center of the tube and the caliper surrounds the tube. It had rubber boots at each end. If the mounting bolts are ever tightened down too much (over torqued), it will warp the bushings and the calipers won’t float properly.

Another possibility that hasn’t reared its ugly head yet, is brake fluid contamination. I’ve seen a few cases of this where somebody mistakenly added power steering fluid to the master cylinder. Turns rubber components to mush.

I’ve seen rebuilt aftermarket calipers and other parts bad right out of the box.
You might need to bite the bullet and order some Toyota calipers online.

Do this. Block the wheels and jack the problem wheel off the ground. With the brakes released, it should turn with little effort…If not, remove tire and wheel and briefly open the fluid bleeder fitting on the top of the caliper piston. If fluid squirts out for a moment and the wheel hub now turns freely, CHANGE THAT RUBBER FLEX-HOSE that supplies the caliper with brake fluid!! Should you discover a bad hose, I would change ALL the brake flex-lines as the problem is likely to happen again on a different wheel…

If opening the bleeder for a moment DOES NOT release the brake, the caliper is stuck or jammed and an expert should sort it out…

Thank you all. I will copy and paste this and study it, and show it to the next mechanic I hire. It was not power steering fluid unless one of the mechanics made the mistake, I fill it with brake fluid when I check the water and oil, and check the tires monthly.
Now the rebuilt calipers might have been it, the man who put them in was a come to your house mechanic, and who knows how honest he was, sometimes when you are poor you look for deals and you end up paying more in the long run, hence why I went to the last one who had a shop and yelp with 125 good comments, and someone I can track down when they screw me, they suggested the master cylinder which only affects one wheel? Maybe it likes that wheel. But I would think it would affect both, and it could be the brake cable as I adjusted it myself once long ago. I do not recall what I did as I had the Toyota manual and followed instructions, mind you, I do not like working on cars, but poverty prompts one to do as much as one can by oneself. Is it true if I drive it, the brake fluid could heat so much I will lose the brakes? I do want it fixed, as it causes stress as I am driving wondering if I will die or worst kill someone.

Oh Caddyman, I will try your suggestion, I need to crack open the manual as I do not even know where the calipers are exactly and especially the fluid bleeder fitting, sounds a little scary, but I will try, not today, I have to save up my energy to do anything as I mentioned I am bedridden. I hope to do it on thursday. love and blessings,

Caddyman’s advice is good, but based on your response, I strongly recommend that you have a friend who knows more about car repair do his test for you. Brakes are not something that someone who doesn’t know where the calipers are should be messing with alone for the first time.

With most repairs, if you screw something up the car won’t go. With brakes, if you screw it up, the car won’t stop. Much worse situation.

Thank you all

I second Shadow’s recommendation emphatically. No job ever goes as planned, and if you truely don’t even know where the calipers are located there’re numerous mistakes you could make that will either cost $$$ to correct or possibly cost you your life. Something as simple as letting air into the caliper and not knowing how to bleed it, or overtorquing the bleeder fitting and having it fail under the pressure of braking.

Have you called your local community college?

Hey thank you all, I do appreciate it. I realized by the same mountainbike comment that I do not want to chance me tinkering with brakes as I do not know about cars. I am going to throw myself at the mercy again with the next mechanic, I saved up last month and will use minimal of my ssi check this month, and accumulate and go at it again. Will keep you posted. Will take all these comments, and hopefully I find a open minded mechanic who will read the comments. I will also call the first man who put in the calipers, he has no presence on the web, to snoop into his workings, so he really turned out to be a backyard mechanic, who knows if he sold me rebuilt calipers, not sure what I expect from him this late in the game, 4 or 5 years later and a few thousand dollars wasted. You all were the most helpful. It does matter when people care.

Hello Aradia,
I bet if you tell us what town you live in someone will have a friend or know someone who might be willing to go over and help you pro bono, you won’t know if you don’t ask.


I live in Santa Cruz, I used to do pro bono my whole life, but most people do not know the concept, but maybe I have a little accrued good karma. Just ask they know more then me when it comes to car.