One consequence of the trend toward larger diameter wheels is that previously hidden mechanical components are now clearly visible. We are referring, of course, to your brake calipers. These dirty, dusty, and rusty parts used to function in obscurity, but with plus-size thin-spoke wheels, they're now on display for all to see. If you happen to drive a late model performance car with a nice set of multi-piston Brembos, this is not an issue. Nor is it a concern if you have the coin for an upgrade to a performance brake kit. But what about the regular Joe who just blew his wad on wheels and tires; what can he do?
You have two choices if your desire is to "pretty up" your ride's brake calipers, and those choices are to either paint them with a coating especially made for calipers, or cover them with caliper covers. Let's tackle the painting option first.
Brake caliper paint has been around for a while, and has proven to be popular for several reasons. In recent years, vehicle manufacturers have coated their calipers from the factory, which has drawn attention to them as a visible feature. The cost of a spray can of paint is also quite reasonable, although as we'll see in a few moments, there is significant labor.
The Dupli-Color paint company has been in business since the 1930s, manufacturing all kinds of automotive coatings. Their Caliper Paint is a durable coating designed to resist chipping, road dirt, and harsh chemicals. Dupli-Color gives you a choice between an aerosol paint in 6 colors (gloss black, matte black, red, yellow, silver, or blue), or a Caliper Kit which includes a special cleaner plus a can of brush-on paint in gloss black, racing black satin, red, blue, or silver.
Caliper paint is also available from VHT, who state that theirs is heat-resistant to 900 degrees F (VHT, after all, stands for Very High Temperature). Available in aerosol cans in 8 different colors plus gloss clear. VHT also makes an aerosol caliper cleaner available separately (see choices in Product Options). Check it out in gold, a caliper paint color not available from Dupli-Color.
If you're planning to paint your calipers, be prepared to put some effort into it to achieve a quality job. As mentioned previously, the cost of the material is very attractive, but now it's decision time. The first and probably biggest decision is whether to remove the calipers from the car or not. If you are replacing the calipers as part of a brake job, this is a good time to paint them, while they're off the car. Unbolting them gives you the advantages of allowing a more thorough cleaning, spraying without risk of overspray, and thoroughly painting all 4 sides. The biggest downside is the time and effort to disconnect, reconnect, and bleed the hydraulic connections.
Don't want to mess with brake fluid? You can certainly paint them in-situ; BUT you will do some significant masking of the pads, rotors, inner fenders, etc. to avoid overspray. Brushing on the paint can help avoid that, at the risk of leaving brush marks. You will also likely be unable to reach every nook and cranny if you paint the calipers in place.
Whether you paint the calipers on or off the car, you MUST clean them as completely as possible, or the paint just won't stick. We've done it both ways, and while it's more work, spray painting them off the car will yield the more professional results. (Whatever you do, do NOT disassemble, or "split" the calipers! There's no need for it, and you may never get them back together again. We've read forum entries about some poor souls who did this and ended up needing to buy new calipers.)
Budget at least one hour per wheel for the cleaning, masking and painting, and that's if you leave them bolted in place. Removing them could double that time. Like any job: take your time, put in the effort, and try to do your best. When it's done, you can proudly look back at your beautifully colored calipers and congratulate yourself on a job well-done.
Don't want to paint? (Maybe your calipers aren't that good-looking to begin with, no matter what color they could be.) Let's take a look at caliper covers. First off, you can always count on caliper covers to look great, regardless of the caliper they're attached to. The MGP brand of caliper covers offers a tremendous choice of colors and options, whether you drive a '60s muscle car, or the newest late-model high-performance machine.
There is MGP's basic offering: for just about any year, make & model vehicle, you can buy a set of caliper covers in your choice of gloss red, gloss black, or matte black, engraved with the MGP logo. The color is actually powder-coating onto the aluminum cover, a long-lasting and durable combination. They're guaranteed to fit (provided you are installing them on OEM brakes with OEM wheels which meet the indicated "minimum wheel size").
Want more? Easy: custom colors are available to match your ride's paint, or match any color of your choosing. You can choose engraved "bolts", or engraved make/model names, symbols, images, etc. You then also get to pick the color of the engraving, making for a nice contrast. (Please see the website for options for your specific car or truck; choices may be restricted by licensing agreements.) With MGP, it's almost not an exaggeration to say that "the sky's the limit".
Installation is rather simple: all necessary hardware is included, and once you have the vehicle raised and the wheels off, you only need simple hand tools. The caliper covers are attached with clips, and no vehicle modifications are needed. (Again, we must stress that these covers are designed to work with factory-installed brakes and wheels. They may be able to be installed with aftermarket components, but please give us a call first to discuss particulars.)
Caliper covers also have additional benefits beyond appearance and ease of installation: They reduce the amount of brake dust that gets on your wheels, so your car will stay looking cleaner between washings. And contrary to some opinions, they can actually reduce caliper temperature. MGP ran tests with an infrared thermometer gun and found that their caliper covers acted as a heat sink, reducing caliper temperature by 30°-50°F.
We have installed MGP caliper covers on several vehicles at the CARiD office, and were pleased with the ease of installation, as well as the almost-instantaneous improvement in appearance. (More than one stranger has stopped an employee with these covers to inquire about them.) We also have first-hand experience with how they help keep brake dust from collecting on the wheels!
ACC (American Car Craft) also has a selection of caliper covers, for a limited number of late-model high performance vehicles like the Chevy Camaro & Corvette, and Dodge Viper. ACC's covers serve more as a caliper "highlight", to provide a bright stainless-steel accent for your ride. Check them out if a subtle but noticeable accent is more to your taste.
To conclude, the choice (as always) is yours. Here, the "painting" option can be the better selection if you're performing major brake work anyway, or if you like the way the factory calipers look, or if the pride that comes with a DIY solution is important to you. On the other hand, caliper covers carry a higher initial outlay, with the benefits of easier and quicker installation, the ability to hide an unsightly mechanical device, and plenty of options for a true customized look. Be very honest with yourself, and you'll know which path is right for you.