How Far Can You Drive with a Stuck Caliper?   

While you need an engine and a drivetrain in a vehicle to get you down the road, most folks would agree that your brakes – and all the components that make up a brake system – are a pretty important piece of the puzzle, too.

Your calipers in specific are designed to help you control how quickly you slow and stop your vehicle. They do the “heavy lifting” on it comes to applying pressure with your brake pads to your rotors. If they aren’t working right you’re not going to have full control of your vehicle.

Unfortunately, even the highest quality break systems (and calipers) can become locked up and frozen over time. A stuck caliper won’t disengage from your brakes. That doesn’t necessarily mean that your car is going to be cemented in place, but it’s usually not a good idea to drive on a stuck caliper for a couple of different reasons.

We get into those reasons below!

Just How Far Can You Drive with a Stuck Caliper, Anyway?

As a general rule of thumb, it’s never a good idea to drive any amount of distance on a stuck caliper.

When your caliper freezes up, locks your brake pads to your rotor, you are going to lose complete and total control over that component of your braking system.

That means you lose 25% of your braking capabilities and have no chance of “unlocking” them until you fix the frozen caliper issue.

At the same time, though, if you only have to drive your vehicle around the corner to a garage, or you only have to drive it down the driveway and into your own garage, you’re probably not going to do too much damage to the vehicle.

Any further than a couple of miles or so, though, and you’ll be causing a lot of extra wear and tear (possibly even warping your rotors) that’ll make the fix a whole lot more expensive than simply jacking it up in place, freeing the caliper, and then addressing the rest of your issues.

What Causes Brake Calipers to Lock up and Freeze?

There are a couple of reasons that brake calipers might lock up and freeze on you, but the overwhelming majority of these situations are caused by the master cylinder in your brake system failing and not releasing the caliper itself.

Sometimes this happens simply because the master cylinder is old, worn out, and just doesn’t have any life left in it.

Sometimes, though, this issue can be caused by brake lines popping, calipers mechanically failing, or even just hard breaking that warps or deforms your caliper to your rotor (causing a sticking situation to be much more likely).

This is why it’s so important to have your brake system inspected by legitimate mechanics at least twice a year (and ideally even more often than that).

You don’t want to play any games when it comes to your brakes!

Is It Safe to Drive with a Locked Up Caliper?

As we mentioned a moment ago, if you have a single locked up caliper on your vehicle you are going to lose 25% of your braking capabilities right out of the gate.

Obviously, anything less than 100% braking capabilities increase the risk factor of something nasty happening when you are behind the wheel. But maybe those chances of something that you feel comfortable with – at least for a couple of miles (especially at slow speeds).

Making things even riskier, though, is that a frozen caliper can compound environmental issues that would have already made driving your vehicle a little riskier.

You don’t want to be driving on a locked up caliper a ton of rain is coming down. You definitely don’t want to be driving around on a locked up caliper when there’s a lot of snow or a lot of ice on the roads, either.

Mud should be avoided, too!

Another thing you have to worry about is a locked up and frozen caliper causing your tire to light on fire.

This is somewhat rare, but it can happen – especially if you really push how far you drive your vehicle with the caliper that is stuck in place.

Think about the kind of friction that you’re going to be generating with a stuck break locked onto your rotor.

Driving “normal” speeds – anywhere between 30 miles an hour and 40 miles an hour (or maybe even faster) – for 10, 15, or 20 miles on a stuck caliper is inevitably going to cause so much heat and so much friction that you might ignite the rubber on your tire.

That’s a dangerous situation!

No, it’s best to keep your travel time with a frozen caliper as low as possible and your speed as low as possible. If you can fix the situation in place you’ll be much better off!

How Do You Free a Frozen Caliper?

In a lot of situations, the only thing you need to free a frozen caliper is a C clamp and a little bit of time.

You’ll want to jack your vehicle up (kind of like you were replacing a tire) and then you’ll want to put the C clamp on the caliper piston and then apply pressure.

Depending on how stuck the piston is you may have to apply just a little bit of pressure or run the C clamp almost all the way “home” – but eventually the piston will pop free, the clamp will release, and you won’t have a frozen caliper problem any longer.

This doesn’t mean that everything is completely fixed, though.

You still need to address the underlying issues that caused the caliper to freeze to begin with.

Truth be told, it’s not a bad idea to replace a caliper that has frozen in the past completely even if you’re getting relatively normal functionality from it after using the C clamp.

There’s just no reason to play games with something this important.

Closing Thoughts

So there you have it – everything you need to know about fixing a frozen caliper situation all on your own.

Yes, you can probably drive on a stuck caliper for a couple of miles (at slow speeds) while understanding that your braking capabilities are going to be diminished.

At the end of the day, though, it’s best to keep driving on a frozen caliper as limited as possible. A whole bunch of other issues can pop up and it’s not the safest thing in the world to do, too.

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