Every car fanatic knows that the most impressive vehicle is the one that gets the details right, and nothing helps accent the beauty of those new rims like a set of painted calipers sitting right behind them.
In the past, a car’s brake calipers toiled in the darkness behind the spokes of smaller-diameter rims. With the development of reliable, low-profile tires and larger rims, a car’s brakes have come out from the shadows and into the spotlight. Body-colored or contrasting-colored brake calipers are a not-so-insignificant detail that really make a car stand out from the crowd.
Manufacturers of performance parts understand that their customers want to show off their vehicle’s upgrades, so Brembo’s famous red brake calipers have become the performance standard for the automotive aftermarket world. This was a brilliant bit of marketing on Brembo’s part, because car fanatics around the world would look at a fast car, scan down to the wheels and immediately make the association: “All the fast cars have Brembo brakes.”
But Brembo is hardly the only manufacturer of high-quality, high-performance brake pads.
High-performance car manufacturers have followed the trend, and now, many offer colored brake calipers straight from the factory. But what are your options if you can’t afford a six-figure supercar? If you’re proud of your ride and you’re looking for ways to improve the little details, you can paint your own brake calipers or install caliper covers.
What’s the difference? Let’s take a look.
Several companies offer special-purpose brake caliper paint that can give your car’s brake calipers that extra pop of color that would give even a Brembo brake job a run for its money. Painting your car’s calipers gives them a factory-fresh look. For that truly custom look, nothing will beat painting your existing brake calipers.
The thing to remember with caliper paint is that it’s not regular paint. Think about the environment it has to survive: extreme heat and poor weather conditions, plus rocks and other debris constantly kicking up off the road. You can’t expect to grab a can of spray paint and expect satisfactory results. Dupli-Color and VHT have been producing high-quality caliper paint products for quite some time now, so they know what it takes to make a durable paint job.
Dupli-Color’s paint products are designed to provide a tough coating that will resist chipping and cracking from road debris and heat stress. They have several paint color options, which you’ll likely have to consider as a contrast to your car’s paint color. Don’t bet on finding an exact match to your car’s paint, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
VHT has made their name, literally, as the company that produces caliper paint that can withstand the high heat put out by your brake system. The company’s name is an acronym for “Very High Temperatures.” Their paint is designed to withstand temperatures of up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit. Their paint options are similar to Dupli-Color, so plan to look for a contrasting color.
Brake paint kits include all of the specialized tools you’ll need to complete the job: caliper cleaner, paint, stirrer, masking tape and a brush.
Speaking of paint brushes, you do also have application options when you begin to compare paint kits. Some paint kits use spray paint, and some give you a can and a brush. Buying a spray paint kit realistically commits you to removing the calipers from your car, because you’ll never be able to contain the overspray and keep your wheel well clean.
Conversely, using a paint brush will make it easier to paint the calipers without disassembling them, but you may run the risk of leaving behind visible brush marks on your finished product. It all depends how handy you already are with a paint brush.
The bottom line is this: The paint is not expensive at all, but the job itself will require an investment of other resources on your part, including tools, skills and time.
Painting your brake calipers sounds like a straightforward job, but you have some important decisions to make before you get started.
You could paint them without removing your calipers, but the amount of prep work to keep your other brake system parts and wheels paint-free is often more trouble than it’s worth. Consider also the fact that paint prefers to adhere to a clean surface. It’s hard to adequately clean the surfaces of a brake caliper when they’re still surrounded by the rest of the parts in the wheel well, and it’s hard to overestimate the importance of a thorough cleaning of the brake calipers. It would be a shame to spend all that time and money on a paint job that falls apart within a year.
On the other hand, if you want to remove the calipers, you’ll have to work with the hydraulic lines and the brake fluid system. That’s at least as much work as the prepping of the area to execute a clean paint job. Removing the calipers nevertheless gives you complete access to all of the nooks and crannies of your calipers, and it gives you absolute control over the quality of your cleaning and prepping.
So, which is the best choice for you? Well, how comfortable are you with the brake job? Removing the brake calipers will undoubtedly give you a better finished product, but if you aren’t comfortable with that kind of work, a passable job is better than no job at all. And when it comes to your brake system, you definitely want to make sure you get the job done right.
As with any automotive product, a wide spectrum of quality exists in the world of brake caliper covers. Plastic ABS caliper covers can offer that vibrant, eye-catching pop of color behind all four wheels that some people are looking for. Plastics won’t oxidize or discolor with age, and thanks to the inclusion of high-heat silicone, they’ll be able to handle just about anything you can throw at them.
Quality, custom-fit aluminum caliper covers will be considerably more expensive, but in this case, you’ll absolutely get what you pay for.
MGP is the iconic manufacturer of high-quality caliper covers. Their reputation is hard-earned and well-deserved. Their calipers are made from aircraft-grade aluminum and are designed to fit one model of brake caliper only. When you order your caliper covers for your specific vehicle, they are guaranteed to fit perfectly.
Why Would You Choose Caliper Covers Over Paint?
If your calipers are nothing special to begin with, a new coat of paint isn’t necessarily going to be your best solution. We’re reminded of a famous adage about cosmetic products on a certain farm animal. Sure, you’ll always have the option to upgrade your brakes, which will reap other benefits as well in the performance department. But purchasing performance brakes with more attractive calipers means committing yourself to a lifetime of more expensive pads and rotors. This investment is worthwhile if you plan to put your car on the track. But will you ever actually put your car on the track?
What if you’re simply interested in a cosmetic upgrade? Caliper covers might be the solution you’re looking for. Caliper covers are a snap to install, and require only simple hand tools and access to the calipers behind the wheels. If you have a reliable jack stand and the tools to remove the wheel, you can install these caliper covers in an afternoon.
Ease of installation is only one advantage caliper covers have over paint. Caliper covers can also help to keep your wheels clean from brake dust. The caliper covers redirect the dust that comes off your brake pads toward the rear of the vehicle, so less of it flies out onto the outside surfaces of your wheels. You spent a pretty penny on those wheels, so wouldn’t it be nice to save yourself from having to spend every weekend cleaning all the brake dust off them?
As anyone with a rudimentary understanding of physics will tell you, brakes work by converting kinetic energy into heat through the use of friction, which is created between your brake pads and your brake rotors. These systems can only handle so much heat before their friction-generating capabilities are diminished, which will in turn compromise performance. Adding additional layers of material to your car’s brake system must be detrimental to their performance, right?
Wrong. Calipers actually dissipate heat from your brakes, improving your braking performance. Because high-quality calipers are made of aluminum, they’re essentially a bolt-on heat sink. Aluminum is an excellent conductor of heat, which explains its popularity in cookware. Computer manufacturers also use aluminum heat sinks to keep CPUs cool.
In an instrumented test, MGP found that their brake caliper covers actually lowered the heat of an active braking system by between 30 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. There aren’t many cosmetic upgrades that can provide such an important performance improvement.
Installing Caliper Covers
Your caliper cover package will include specific instructions, but the basics are simple. The first step is to remove the wheel. Then, you will install the clip for the caliper cover and, lastly, the caliper covers themselves. Perhaps you’ll install the caliper cover first and the clip last, but either way, the job is that simple.
How Do You Choose?
At this point, you should have a good sense of the advantages and disadvantages of both brake caliper paint and brake caliper covers. Now, it’s time to make sense of how they stack up to each other.
In terms of straight dollar amounts, a set of quality brake caliper covers will be five to ten times more expensive than a kit of caliper paint. However, the overall cost of the paint, when you factor in the time, tools and expertise required to do a quality job, is arguably higher with the caliper paint. It’s hard to declare a winner here, because it depends entirely on your capabilities and your willingness to provide the sweat equity that makes the caliper paint so affordable.
An alternative to consider is a set of ABS plastic caliper covers. This fills the gap between paint and aluminum covers quite nicely, offering the affordability of caliper paint and the ease of installation of the caliper covers.
Another factor to consider is the long-term cost comparison. A quality caliper paint job can reasonably be expected to last for three or four years, whereas a set of high-quality aluminum caliper covers can be expected to last seven to ten years. In the long run, the costs of the two options is much more comparable than at first glance.
Ease of Installation
Brake caliper paint requires a very thorough dismantling and cleaning job to achieve the best results, and at the very least, a meticulous preparation of the wheel well for a stand-in-place paint job.
Brake caliper covers require you to remove your wheels and use some common hand tools to put the covers in place. The caliper covers win here, hands-down.
The Finished Look
Cost and installation are important, but the true worth of a cosmetic upgrade will always come down to how good the finished product looks. What’s the point of spending money if you aren’t happy with the result?
Looks will always be quite subjective, but there are a few standards we can use to judge the two options.
Some people in the car mod community appreciate the “factory” look, and will go to great lengths to downplay anything that would even suggest “aftermarket.” If this describes you, a painted brake caliper will give you the best opportunity to create that “factory” appearance.
However, you might not have a car that began its life as a dedicated performance vehicle. If that’s the case, your car’s brake calipers may not have been designed to see the light of day. Painting an ugly brake caliper isn’t going to change much. Installing brake caliper covers can make sure your wheel wells look just as good as the rest of your car.
Some enthusiasts will argue that caliper covers look tacky and scream “aftermarket,” but that’s a decision everyone should make for themselves. And truthfully, these naysayers are probably unaware of the exciting new options available in the brake caliper cover market. A near-factory look is certainly possible with brake caliper covers.
Ultimately, there’s no clear winner here. Your choice depends entirely on your goals and priorities.
The Final Word
As with just about everything in this world, there’s no definitive, one-size-fits-all option here. Caliper paint offers several advantages that you just can’t match with caliper covers. On the other hand, caliper covers make more sense for a lot of people. If we had a clear-cut winner between the two, the other product would have no reason to exist.
Whatever your final decision might turn out to be, we have options to fit every requirement and budget. Browse our selection of caliper covers and caliper paint kits, and contact our customer service representatives with any questions or concerns you may have along the way.