It's funny how we spend so much time working on race cars, yet some parts are almost universally undermaintained. Brake calipers definitely fall into that category. Maybe you have a good set of racing calipers that is so dependable that a failure not caused by a wreck is a rarity. But that doesn't mean there is nothing you can do to ensure top-level performance from your braking system throughout the season.

Karl Bush of Wilwood recommends a caliper rebuild every time you have done enough racing to wear through a set of brake pads. This may seem extreme, but it is actually a very good idea, because it should help you catch potential problems before they become expensive ones. If you have never rebuilt your brake calipers, it's quite simple and only requires common shop tools and a steady hand. For this article, Bush walked us through the rebuild process for Wilwood's Forged Superlite calipers, which are extremely popular among Dirt Late Model and Asphalt Modified racers as well as competitors in many other classes. No matter which brand you run, this information will apply to you. You should, however, check with your manufacturer to see if any additional steps (or special tricks) are required.

The first step is to remove all four calipers from the car. Although we will only cover calipers in this article, consider making caliper rebuilds part of a routine, comprehensive brake system checkup. Since the calipers have to be removed from the brake lines, plan on flushing and bleeding the brake fluid in the lines. With the calipers off, it's also an excellent time to perform a visual inspection of the rotors for any signs of cracking, warping from excessive heat, or other forms of damage.

When pulling the calipers, it's important to cap or plug the ends of the brake lines to prevent fluid from dripping onto the shop floor. The bleed screws on the calipers must be closed. Once the calipers are free from the car so that you can get them to your workbench, pull the pads and set them aside. While you have your pads out, check them for even wear. If you plan to run them again, make sure they aren't glazed over. Next, drain the calipers and give the body of the caliper a preliminary cleaning to avoid contaminating anything once the interior components are exposed.

Before pulling the calipers apart, you need to manufacture a tool for yourself. Break out your high school shop skills and prepare to shift from metal to wood. You need to cut a piece of wood that can fit inside the caliper where the rotor normally goes so that it acts as a piston stop. It needs to be approximately the width of the rotor and two pad backing plates and have enough length to cover all the caliper pistons. The piston stop should be wood and not metal to protect the pistons from being damaged when they are removed.

Once you have fabricated your wood block, you can begin removing the caliper pistons. Insert the block into the caliper. Using an air chuck with a rubber tip, place the top against the fluid inlet and apply low air pressure (Bush recommends setting your compressor at 40 psi). This should extend the pistons until they hit the block of wood. Be careful to keep your fingers out of the way; at even 40 psi inlet pressure, the pistons can clamp down with over 240 pounds of force. Once the pistons are extended, remove the wooden piston stop and finish removing the pistons by hand. This may be difficult to do if there is extreme wear, but resist the urge to use a set of pliers or anything else that can scratch the metal.

Once the pistons are out, use a small flat-blade screwdriver to remove the rubber piston seals in each of the piston bores. Again, be very careful not to scratch the interior of the piston bore. At this stage, you can also pull the bleed screws.

Now that the pistons are removed, they need to be cleaned so that they can be properly inspected. It's best to use a parts washer, but you can also use brake cleaner in a pinch. Bush recommends using a Scotch Brite pad to gently clean the outside bore of the piston. Normal use causes some buildup around the piston, but it should come off fairly easily. He also says that a visual wear line is acceptable as long as the outside bore of the piston is smooth to the touch. Pitting or scratches that can't be buffed out warrant replacing the pistons; otherwise, leaks will occur.

Next, turn your attention to the calipers. It may be tempting to clean the calipers in your parts washer, but doing so leaves cleaning fluid inside the caliper that will contaminate the brake fluid. You pay enough as it is for the good stuff, and you don't want anything in there that will impede performance or lower the fluid's boiling temp. Instead, clean the caliper in hot, soapy water, rinse it thoroughly with hot water, and use an air hose to blow it dry. You should also use the same method to clean the bleed screws.