In this (Part 2 of 2) guide series on repair vs performance brakes, we'll clarify the differences between "replacement" (OE factory style) and "performance" (aftermarket) brake calipers and flexible brake hoses. We'll discuss the appeal of each, their general advantages, and factors to consider when shopping for each of them. We'll also look at a "sample" customer that's based on actual shoppers we've worked with - discussing their vehicle and choices available for consideration.
Other Related Articles That Can Prove Helpful
For starters, our article Is It Time For New Brakes? can help you recognize the warning signs that old brake components are worn out and in need of replacement. For a quick read on the subject of tools specifically designed to help you replace brake components and service a brake system, take a look at our article Special Tools Used In Brake Service. And if a quick brush-up on brake terminology would be helpful, we've got you covered with our helpful Glossary of Brake Terminology.
A brake caliper, found only on disc brake systems, houses pistons which use the force of hydraulic brake fluid to squeeze brake pads against the rotor and create stopping force. Calipers can contain a varying number of pistons, and feature a "fixed" or "floating" mount design.
Replacement Calipers - Floating Style
The majority of newer vehicles on the road use floating calipers. A "floating" caliper slides so that a single piston on one side of the caliper puts pressure to pads on both sides. As the piston is applied, the inboard pad contacts the rotor first, causing the caliper to slide over until the outer pad makes contact with the rotor.
Floating calipers are chosen by automakers as OE equipment for the majority of their models that aren't equipped with high-performance factory packages. This is because they are smaller, lighter, and cost less than "fixed" type calipers. Under our Replacement calipers section, you'll find a great selection of high-quality calipers made to match original equipment specifications.
Performance Calipers - Fixed and Floating Styles
In contrast, a fixed caliper remains stationary over the center of the brake rotor. By definition, there are a minimum of two pistons, one on each side of the housing. But because this type of caliper is geared specifically for high performance, you'll come across 4-, 6-, and 8-piston fixed calipers most commonly in our Performance calipers section. In short, fixed calipers are larger, stronger, and exert more stopping power.
In our Performance section, you'll also have a choice of viewing performance floating calipers that are designed to bolt in place of your original ones. While performance floating calipers won't match the strength of fixed ones, they will work in the same fashion as OE calipers while bringing advantages such as reduced weight, additional pistons, and increased grip.
Flexible Brake Hoses
Whether you're upgrading your vehicle's stopping power with a just a new set of pads or rotors and calipers, we strongly recommend replacing your flexible brake hoses at the wheels as well. These are the short sections that serve as a connection between the wheel calipers and the solid, rigid metal brake fluid lines running down the frame of the vehicle from the master cylinder (generally these metal lines don't need replacing).
In order to allow for suspension travel, connecting hose sections are designed to flex and move whenever the vehicle's moving. Most cars and trucks are equipped with OE rubber hoses consisting of a fluid-resistant inner liner surrounded by several thick layers of protective rubber. These are great for flexibility and easy routing through tight spaces. For extra protection in certain spots, protective metal or PVC sleeves are sometimes fitted around rubber hoses when there's a risk of direct contact with hot engine or transmission components.
OEM Flex Hoses Wear Out Over Time
Regardless of how much or how little you drive, OEM rubber flex hoses become compromised and need replacement eventually. Heat and moisture in the brake fluid causes rubber to degrade from within - leading to a hose that breaks apart or collapses because structural strength is lost. If the fluid-resistant inner lining should crack, brake fluid works its way up through the outer layers of rubber where it may cause visible bulges or cracks.
Brake lines that have collapsed in one area means that particular line is effectively pinched and shut off. As a result, brake fluid which is supposed to flow to that specific wheel cannot make it there. Reduced fluid pressure at the caliper means reduced braking action, and the uneven levels of grip from left to right will cause the vehicle to pull to the side. For more helpful hints on how to spot flexible brake hose problems, see our article When Is It Time To Replace My Brake Lines?
Rubber Brake Hoses (Replacement)
In our Replacement Brake Hoses section, you'll find a number of quality rubber brake hoses that match or improve upon OE specifications. These are good if you're installing replacement brake pads, rotors, or calipers that provide a slight upgrade in stopping power.
Stainless Steel Braided Hoses (Performance)
Stainless steel brake hoses, found in our Performance Brakes category, feature a sealed inner hose typically constructed from flexible Teflon surrounded by Kevlar and other protective layers in addition to a woven tapestry of braided steel strands (for strength). While these cost more than rubber brake lines, they are much stronger and offer a higher level of protection against flying rocks and other foreign debris found on roadways.
We've grouped stainless steel brake hoses in the Performance category, because they swell a lot less than rubber ones do when brakes are applied and fluid pressure spikes. For this reason, changes in fluid pressure reach the wheels faster and more efficiently - leaving the driver with a responsive-feeling brake pedal. However, the total amount of actual fluid force (torque) reaching the wheels is not affected by the type of brake line, so overall braking strength will be the same in either case.
Sample Customer - 2004 Chevy Silverado
Chuck has owned his beloved Chevy pickup truck since it was new. It's been his daily driver for the entire 14 years of ownership, and he's one of many Silverado owners who's proven just how tough these trucks are - his just turned 250,000 miles.
He's always felt that the brakes were "OK". In other words, they were adequate for the job, although he certainly noticed a difference if the bed was full, or if he was pulling his trailer. Chuck had lost count how many times he had replaced the pads and rotors on it, but he wasn't complaining. He always felt that his brakes had given him good service.
This time, his local shop told him that his front calipers were done, which was no surprise since they were the same units that Chevy bolted on back in '04. Since he had every expectation to keep driving this rig, and since he didn't mind spending money when he felt it was appropriate, Chuck decided to review his options at CARiD.
On the OE side of the equation, he really liked the AC Delco Specialty Loaded Calipers ("loaded" meant that the pads were included). His mechanic did warn him, however, that the condition of his original rotors was such that he might not get his core charge refunded. Chuck factored that into the price comparison.
Under Performance Brakes, he felt lucky to find an incredible set of SSBC Tri-Power HD Quick Change front calipers. The "tri-power" indicated that there were THREE pistons in each caliper, a nice step up from the two pistons in the factory jobs. Although powdercoating was available, Chuck didn't feel the need to spend for the color upgrade. The base calipers have a clear anodized finish on them.
While Chuck believed that the SSBC calipers were worth every penny, he also looked at reality, and in the end, decided to stay with the AC Delco parts. However, he has plans to pick up a newer Silverado to supplement this one, and if he does, he's sure he's going to go with the 3-pot calipers.
In closing, we say if you're happy with the lifespan, dust output, fade resistance and stopping power of your OE brakes, you'll be pleased with the value and quality of our "repair" components - many of which provide an improvement over factory grade parts.
If not, you'll see big improvements in one or more of those areas with "performance" calipers and flex lines. As we stated earlier, if you've modified your vehicle in any way, or, intend to get maximum use from its towing or trailering capability, then performance brake components are worth your while.
We understand you may have questions regarding any of these items. To help make your shopping experience easier, we've got knowledgeable product reps on call seven days a week that will be glad to listen and share any expert advice possible - without high-pressure sales tactics. We look forward to hearing from you!