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The brake caliper is the assembly which houses the brake pads and pistons. The pistons are usually made of aluminum or chrome-plated steel. There are two types of calipers: floating or fixed. A fixed caliper does not move relative to the disc. It uses one or more pairs of opposing pistons to clamp from each side of the disc, and is more complex and expensive than a floating caliper. A floating caliper (also called a "sliding caliper") moves with respect to the disc, along a line parallel to the axis of rotation of the disc; a piston on one side of the disc pushes the inner brake pad until it makes contact with the braking surface, then pulls the caliper body with the outer brake pad so pressure is applied to both sides of the disc.

Floating caliper (single piston) designs are subject to sticking failure, which can occur due to dirt or corrosion entering at least one mounting mechanism and stopping its normal movement. This can cause the pad attached to the caliper to rub on the disc when the brake is not engaged, or cause it to engage at an angle. Sticking can occur due to infrequent vehicle use, failure of a seal or rubber protection boot allowing debris entry, dry-out of the grease in the mounting mechanism and subsequent moisture incursion leading to corrosion, or some combination of these factors. Consequences may include reduced fuel efficiency, excessive wear on the affected pad, and friction-induced heat warping of the disc.