Auto Service World
Feature   August 1, 2000   by Auto Service World

COVER STORY: Calipers: A Loaded Question

No one seems to have a clear idea of just why loaded calipers are so popular in some regions and so unpopular in others.

Getting firm, consistent figures on their popularity is difficult, too, though they are most popular on the West Coast and particularly California, where 90%+ of caliper sales are said to be loaded. The most generous estimates for the east put those figures at 60%, and some estimates put it as low as 1% to 3% of the total.

The reason for this gulf is elusive, but a quick check of labor estimates may shed some light on one factor: Mitchell’s Labor Guide provides an estimated time of 1.7 hours to replace a caliper assembly on a 1999 F-150, versus a book rate of 1.2 for pad replacement alone.

In truth, neither of these labor times is indicative of real-world job performance. The fact is that installers are likely charging real time when it comes to brake pad replacement–how else can you charge $99 for a brake job?–but balking at the estimated labor of a caliper assembly replacement. This may be affecting the market in two ways: installers opting to replace just one caliper, instead of two as they should, and in shying away from the overall assembled cost of the loaded caliper.

“Some may think that buying the parts separately will save money, but then they’re spending all that time installing the hardware and pads,” says Greg Melecca, Canamotive Remanufacturing. Melecca says that, in an early test on a Cavalier, installing a loaded caliper took less than five minutes. That’s a good sight faster than even the best tech could build up a bare caliper.

“And the comeback rate is much less. If you think about it, it is hard to get comebacks when the customer is putting everything brand new on.” Melecca says that when a jobber has bought in to the advantages of loaded calipers and sold his customers on the greater efficiencies and job quality that can result, they never want to go back. It’s a question of building awareness, a point agreed on by ARI’s Zemlicka. “It’s a matter of getting used to it. Out west, we’ve been doing it since 1980.”

It may be a case of shops trying to save the consumer money, by replacing only one caliper, reusing old hardware, and purchasing low-priced friction, offers Dana’s Russ Walker. Particularly with today’s ABS systems and their reliance on good caliper response to inputs from the modulator, replacing just one caliper is not a good service decision. “In a lot of cases, the technician is making up the mind for the customer, and this is something they shouldn’t do.”