When your dashboard brake light illuminates, take note. It’s your car’s way of telling you something’s amiss with its brakes – don’t ignore this warning sign. Your brakes serve a vital function and must always function perfectly to stop its journey smoothly and safely. Ignoring the brake light on the dashboard could result in major repairs costing hundreds of dollars. Or worse yet, your brakes might simply give out.
Now, let’s discuss why your brake light is acting up and what solutions might exist to make sure both you and your car stay safe on the road. Let’s uncover its secrets together. Let’s dive right in.
Types of brake lights on dashboard and meaning
Back in the day, vehicles came with only one brake light that alerts drivers when there is an issue with the braking system. However, as cars got more complex the need for other braking systems came into play. Hence the need for more brake lights to notify drivers of brake issues.
Today, there are four brake lights in your car’s dash—brake service light, ABS, parking brake light, and brake pad wear indicator light. So when you say your brake light popped, which brake light are you referring to? Let’s find out.
Brake service light
Your car’s braking system is what helps stop your car every time you need to stop under normal driving conditions. The illumination of the brake service light is an indication that there is an issue with your car’s main braking system. This brake symbol looks like an “i” written upside down.
Activating your parking brake can also make this light appear. However, if your parking brake was never engaged or the light didn’t go off after turning off the parking brake, chances are your brake system is faulty.
Anti-locking brake system (ABS) light
Your car’s anti-locking braking system helps prevent your car from sliding and helps you gain traction during a hard stop or when driving on slippery terrains. The anti-locking brake warning light symbol written as ABS on your car’s dash alerts drivers when there is an issue with your car’s ABS.
So when the ABS light pops, try checking your anti-locking braking system. A faulty ABS not only causes wheel locking and losing control of your steering during a hard stop. But it also causes your car’s brakes to act weirdly, even under normal conditions. You may also hear weird noises when braking.
Parking brake light
Your car’s parking brake, also called emergency brake, helps keep your car in a stationary position when parked. But it can also be used to stop your car when your normal brake fails. While some cars’ parking brake symbol is the PARK light, others use the BRAKE or P indicator light.
The illumination of the parking brake light on your dashboard is an indication that your parking brake is either engaged or faulty. Generally, the parking brake lights should turn on when the parking brake is turned on. If, however, the parking brake has been disengaged, but the light remains on, your parking brake may be faulty.
The brake pad wear indicator light
Brake pads provide friction used to stop a car. Typically, this pad contains a frictional material that helps it grab the rotors when the brake pedal is pushed. However, over time, they can wear down, prompting the light to come on. The brake pad wear indicator light (for cars that have one) is used to tell drivers that their brake pads are worn down and need to be replaced.
What would cause the brake light on the dash to come on?
Generally, your brake lights and other lights would turn on when you switch on the ignition but should go off shortly after you start the engine. In fact, these brake lights turning on when you switched on the ignition is a good way to verify they are actually working. You need these lights to be working, as they are what alert you if there are issues with the brake system.
If, however, these lights refuse to come off after a while or turn on when driving, there are likely issues with your braking system.
So, what causes the brake light on the dash to stay on? The brake light coming on your dash either means your brake fluid is low, the parking brake is activated, or your ABS is faulty.
The parking brake is engaged.
The most common reason your brake light turns on while driving is leaving the parking brake on. When the parking brake is activated, the parking brake light usually comes on. However, people use this brake during emergencies or when a car is parked to prevent it from rolling.
If, however, you don’t turn it off before driving, the light will come on.
Most vehicles come with sensors that monitor whether the parking brake is on or not. If you engage it even a little, the sensor will trigger the light to turn on. The light can also come on if the parking brake is faulty or the lever is loose.
Failing anti-locking brake system (ABS)
The anti-locking brake light will generally pop when there is an issue with the ABS. Note that the ABS keeps you in control of the steering during a hard stop or when driving on slippery terrain. So you don’t want to drive with a failing ABS.
Low or leaky brake fluid
The master cylinder houses the brake fluid and supplies it to other brake components when you hit the brake pedal, providing the pressure needed to stop your car. There is a sensor attached to the master cylinder that helps monitor your brake fluid level. When it senses the fluid is low, it triggers the brake light to turn on.
An easy way to know if the illumination of the main brake light is caused by low brake fluid is if this light pops when you hit the brake pedal. Hydraulic loss on one side of the vehicle can also cause the brake light to turn on when you hit the brake pedal.
The brake fluid sensor is attached to the master cylinder and helps monitor your brake fluid level. If this sensor is faulty and unable to read the fluid level correctly, it may trigger the brake lights to come on even when the brake fluid level is intact.
So, if the main brake light on the dashboard in Toyota and any other model pops, you may need to check this sensor.
Worn brake pads
Another reason your brake lights turn on is worn pads. The brake pads provide the friction needed to stop your car when you hit the gas pedal. When they get bad, the braking system alerts drivers by triggering the brake pad indicator light. (Not all cars have this feature).
Aside from the brake pad indicator light turning on, you should also know your pads are bad when you see the brake pad wear indicator. The wear indicator will also emit a high-pitched noise from the wheel that goes away when you use the brake pedal. These are just simple ways to let you know your pads are due for replacement.
A brake light on while driving may also indicate a stuck or loose pedal. The brake pedal is a component of your car’s braking system used to start the braking action. When it gets loose or bad, the brake light turns on, telling you that one of the braking components needs attention.
Burnt brake light
Aside from the brake warning light on your dash, your vehicle also uses brake lights at the rear of your vehicle. These brake lights are used to alert other drivers that a vehicle is about to stop. Invariably helping to avoid collisions and generally keeping you and other road users safe. When any of these lights get burnt, it triggers the brake warning light on your dashboard to come on.
How to fix my brake warning light
The best way to fix the brake warning light is to address the issues that caused the light to turn on at first. With proper inspections done, here is how to fix the brake light on the dashboard of any car.
Start with the parking brake.
One common reason the brake light turns on is the activation of the parking brake. By disengaging it, the light should go off. If the light doesn’t go off at a go, engage and disengage it a few times; the light should go after this. You may also need to adjust the parking brake lever if it’s loose.
Top the brake fluid or fix leaky master cylinder.
If your brake fluid is low, try adding more fluid to it. Also, take this time to know why the fluid level is low. While low brake fluid could result from using the fluid for a long while, it could also stem from a leak in the master cylinder, caliper brake pot, or any way in the brake line. Check to see if the master cylinder, brake pots, caliper, and the brake lines are in good shape.
Topping brake fluid in the leaky situation will bring you back to where you Started. Moreover, continuously driving with low fluid causes the brake system to lose pressure. Thus, leading to other damages and worst-case scenarios —brake failure.
A contaminated fluid may also trigger the brake light. Check the condition of your fluid and change it if needed. This leads to the question, what color is brake fluid? A healthy brake fluid has a clear yellowish look but turns brown, dark, or oily when contaminated.
Inspect the antilocking brake.
The ABS utilizes several components that enable it to function effectively. Check to see if all components of the ABS are in good condition. The fastest way to spot ABS issues is by using an OBD II scanner.
This tool will reveal some fault codes that will tell you which ABS component to repair or replace. However, ABS issues are a bit tricky to fix, so you may need to visit an expert. Moreover, these professionals have the right tools to fix ABS issues.
Replace bad brake pads.
Check the conditions of your brake pads. If they are worn, replace them as soon as possible. When pads get completely worn down, they eat into your rotors and damage them, invariably increasing repair costs.
Adjust the stuck brake pedal.
Inspect the brake pedal. If they seem loose or stuck, adjust as needed. You may also need to replace it if it is bad. If you know you are not comfortable doing this, reach out to your mechanic.
Replace burnt brake lights.
Check the brake lights at the back of your vehicle. If any bulb is broken or burnt, replace it immediately. The brake warning light on your dash should disappear after if this was the cause.
Replace bad sensors
Also, check that the brake fluid sensor attached to the master cylinder is working well. If it’s not, replacing it should help turn off the light.
If doing all the suggested above doesn’t help, take your car to an expert to make a proper diagnosis so the real culprit can be fished out. Moreover, if you are not confident doing any of these, please take your car to your mechanic to avoid more damage.
Is it OK to drive with brake light on?
While your vehicle will still function with the brake lights on, it’s not safe to drive in that condition. I have explained how to turn off the brake light on the dashboard, some of which are easy, and you can do it yourself.
It could be as simple as engaging and disengaging the parking brake or just shutting off the engine.
In other cases, it could be an issue with one or more brake components, which must be fixed if you want to reach your destination safely. So when you see the light, first stop the car, and engage and disengage the emergency brake. If this doesn’t help, don’t drive the car anymore. Have the car towed to your garage and apply other methods explained above.
If, however, you’re not confident doing it, have your car towed to a mechanic or have them check the car. Driving with the light on not only puts other components in harm’s way but can also result in brake failure, endangering not just you but other road users.
The brake light on the dashboard is uniquely used to inform drivers of potential issues with the braking system. Knowing what each brake light means is one step to knowing how to fix any braking issues. In many cases, when the brake lights pop on your dash, it’s either you forgot to disengage the parking brake or your brake fluid is low.
It could also be caused by worn pads, stuck pedals, burnt rear brake lights, and even failing sensors. Whatever the cause is, making a proper diagnosis and finding the issue will help prevent more damage and brake failure.