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Smoke after brake job: what to do next?

I had my Ford Ranger’s ball joints and front brake pads replaced at a reputable shop on Friday. On the highway on the way home from the shop, I noticed smoke from the wheels after a few miles, and it started to feel sluggish, like the brake was being applied slightly (it wasn’t the parking brake–I checked). There was a lot of smoke when I first pulled off the highway. I was almost at home by that point, so I limped it home and called the shop. They told me they’ll look at it first thing Monday, but they can’t imagine there’s anything wrong because the tech drove it after the alignment and didn’t notice any problems. Google tells me a stuck caliper is most likely.

I have three concerns: 1. Should I drive it the 7 miles back to the shop (on slower surface roads) or have it towed? I don’t want to do further damage that the shop will refuse to repair, but part of me thinks the damage is already done. What if I try to un-stick the caliper, gently with a hammer, before driving it in? I do have a roadside assistance plan with towing service…

2. What is the likely damage and what do they need to do to fix it? If they made a mistake, I want to make sure they fix everything that could have been damaged. Should they replace or repair the pads, calipers, rotors? Something else?

3. How does a stuck caliper usually happen? I’m a little worried that they’ll deny that they did anything wrong and refuse to fix the problem at their expense.

I’d have it transported on a flat-bed. I don’t think it’s safe to drive. The brakes could fail completely.

This sounds like more than just a stuck caliper. How many wheels were smoking?

I would guess that it was both front wheels, but I couldn’t say for sure because the smoke was minimal by the time I pulled in to the driveway. It wasn’t obviously one side or the other, and I didn’t notice any pulling to one side. It felt like the brakes were being applied on both sides. What might it be other than stuck calipers?

Smoke after brake job: what to do next?
This Reminds Me Of A Joke. A chick was asked if she smoked, after sex.
She said, “I don’t know, I’ve never checked!”

Sometimes when the caliper pistons are pressed back into the caliper bores, which is necessary to allow for the new brake pads, which are thicker, the piston(s) will stick. They will probably charge you to replace the caliper(s). All that heat didn’t do much for the brake pads and rotors, either. I’ve seen bonded pads depart from their backing plates. How much is 7 minus a few, anyhow?


7 minus a few is about 2 miles. Before I got off the highway (at 55), I told myself it was probably just a little fluid they spilled that was burning off, and when I pulled off the highway and the smoke caught up to me, I was only a few blocks from home anyway.

I had it towed back to the shop today, so they’ll probably look at it first thing tomorrow. I climbed underneath and didn’t see any fluid leaks or anything that was glaringly different between left and right.

If it is just a stuck caliper, is it more likely the shop’s fault, or is it one of those unavoidable things? I want to be reasonable, but I also don’t want to pay for something they could have avoided with a little vigilance. It was Friday afternoon when they finished it, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they were less careful than usual.

I may have to get back to you on that other question.

A stuck caliper isn’t the shop’s fault. It does happen sometimes when the brakes are done. If the rotors are not warped, there is nothing that will push the brake pads away if the pistons in the calipers are tight. You pay them to change the calipers (labor too) and hope that if the pads need changing, that they charge you their cost for the pads. I would call that fair.