Wind back calipers are a pain in the ass, especially when you don’t have the right tool for the job. And hey, I don’t blame you unless you do a ton of brake jobs; why would you want to buy one? I’m a mechanic, and I’ll show you how to MacGyver the crap out of a pair of long nose grips and a G clamp; buckle up!
To wind back a rear brake caliper without a specialized wind back tool, use a needle nose vice grips to grab and turn the piston clockwise while simultaneously pushing the piston into the caliper housing.
In this post, you’ll learn how to wind back your rear caliper pistons MacGyver style, and you’ll also learn how to handle an electronic parking brake controller.
Tools You’ll Need To Wind Back Calipers
The piston needs to be twisted but also pushed and ideally at the same time. And that’s exactly what the wind back tool does.
But we will nail this without the correct tool, so ideally, we’ll have the following tools to hand.
- Hand light, if working indoors
- Work gloves
- Jack and axle stand
- Long-handled flat screwdriver
- A good quality long-nose set of vice grips
- G clamp
You’ll find all the tools I recommend here on the “Brake repair tools page.”
Retract Electronic Parking Brake Caliper Piston
At the outset, I’ll point out that if your vehicle has an electric parking brake fitted, you’ll need to place the calipers into service mode. You’ll know if you have an electric parking brake as you’ll apply the brake by pressing a button located on the dash or center console instead of a manually operated foot or hand brake lever.
The parking brake control module (computer), known as the EPB (Electronic Parking Brake), controls the parking brake and must be placed into service mode.
Most electric parking brake calipers employ a caliper-mounted actuator to wind the piston in and out. (some employ one motor to pull two cables).
Placing the controller in service mode retracts the actuator motors and allows the rear caliper pistons to retract, but they won’t do it by themselves; the repairer will still need to push the pistons home.
To set a brake controller into service mode, you will need an EPB-equipped repair tool. You’ll find one I recommend here on the “Brake Repair tools page.”
To set the EPB into service mode, use the following steps:
- Plug the handheld EPB into the OBD socket located under the driverside dash panel
- Turn ignition to position II (ignition on)
- Turn on the handheld EPB tool
- Scroll to EPB service
- Confirm “Place EPB in service mode.”
You’ll hear both rear caliper-mounted motors operate for a few seconds. After they have stopped, you may turn the ignition off and begin pushing home the piston.
Most EPB calipers pistons may be pushed home without twisting, a pair of channel locks works great.
Retract Manual Parking Brake Caliper Piston
The manual parking brake caliper piston will need to be turned clockwise while pushing on the piston. Calipers can be stubborn, try turning counterclockwise and clockwise to help get the piston moving.
MacGyver wind back procedure steps as follows:
- Pop the hood and open the brake fluid reservoir cap
- Remove the rear wheel and use an axle stand (never trust a jack alone)
- Remove caliper fasteners and, using a long-handled flat screwdriver, lever the caliper off the pads
- Rest the caliper on the top of the rotor
- Using your long-nose set of vice grips, adjust them to fit the recesses in the piston, and lock the grips in place.
- The piston twists clockwise to retract. Attempt to twist the grips clockwise; if it doesn’t move, attempt to turn counterclockwise to help loosen its grip.
- If it still refuses to budge, we’ll need some leverage – place your long-handled screwdriver between the vice grip’s teeth and turn clockwise. If it’s not cooperating, you may open the bleed valve, but know that you’ll need to bleed the brakes afterward; I wrote a post about brake bleeding here.“How to bleed brakes without bleeder.”
- Once moving, turn 1/4 to 1/2 and then fit an appropriate size G clamp and apply just a little pressure to push the piston inward.
- Revert to twisting the piston clockwise again by 1/4 to 1/2 turn and then back to the G clamp
- Repeat this process until the piston is fully retracted
- You are now ready to fit brake pads and refit your caliper
Note if your vehicle has an EPB, the controller will need to be placed back in Active mode.
If your caliper piston turns out to be a real ball breaker, go ahead and buy the wind back tool, they make the job almost enjoyable.
You can check out the tool I recommend here on the “Brake maintenance tool page.” And check out this post about winding back rear calipers; I do use the tool in this guide, “Rear caliper won’t depress.”
To retract rear caliper pistons without the specialized wind back tool, use a pair of long nose vice grips to grip the caliper piston and turn it clockwise. Initially, the piston may be stubborn, so you may need to turn it counterclockwise a little to get things moving.
While turning the piston clockwise, it is necessary to push it into the caliper. Depending on how stubborn the piston is, you may need to use a G clamp or similar to move the piston inward. Alternating between tools will retract the piston.
You may find the brake resources page useful, it’s a fluff-free guide to DIY brake repairs.
You may also find the following posts helpful:
- About the Author
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John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. He’s been a mechanic for over twenty-five years and has worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Land Rover, and Jaguar dealerships.
John uses his know-how and experience to write fluff-free articles that help fellow gearheads with all aspects of vehicle ownership, including maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting.