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Buying a New Brake Caliper

By Ralph Kalal

Different cars of the same model may use calipers with different part numbers, depending on the options with which the car is equipped. Often there will be a factory code given on the “service parts identification” sticker that specifies the brake option used on the vehicle. Of course, you won’t recognize it unless you’ve done some research first.

Start by checking with your parts store or checking an Internet auto parts site to see if more than one caliper is listed for you’re your make and model car. If so, it will probably specify the code. Then, you’ll need to find the “service parts identification” sticker or its equivalent on your car. That will list the various parts codes applicable to your car. It is usually located on the driver’s door jam, under the console lid, on the glove box door, under the trunk lid, or under the spare tire cover.  

Replacement calipers are sold either “loaded” or “semi-loaded.”  “Loaded” means that brake pads and all hardware associated with the caliper and necessary to install it are included. Loaded calipers must be replaced in axle sets, i.e., both front calipers or both rears, for the same reason that pads must be replaced in axle sets: to ensure even braking.  

brake caliper

“Semi-loaded” calipers include all of the necessary hardware, but do not include the pads. Because the existing pads are used, it is acceptable to replace only one caliper. Some professional mechanics prefer to replace both calipers (both fronts or both rears) at the same time on the theory that when one goes, the other is likely to follow. Bearing in mind that there is a fine line between preventive maintenance and unnecessary expense, you can decide that one for yourself.  

There is one other term you will encounter when replacing a caliper: the “core charge.”  If you’re not expecting it, it can be a surprise if it wasn’t mentioned when the price was quoted. A core charge is a deposit charged in addition to the price of the replacement caliper that is refunded when you return the old caliper and its hardware to the parts store. Replacement calipers almost always entail a core charge because the old caliper can be remanufactured to become a replacement caliper for someone else. Essentially, the old caliper is a trade-in on the new one. The old caliper must be turned in with all of the associated parts, such as caliper mounting bolts or pins that came with the replacement caliper. The box in which the replacement caliper came usually must be returned with the old caliper, as well.  

How much does a new caliper cost? Remanufactured replacement calipers cost between $30 and $100, depending on application. OE calipers can cost twice that or more. A typical core charge is about $50.

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