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Did the Brake Light on Your Dashboard Come On? Here’s What To Do

Handbrake warning light sign illuminatedIs the brake light illuminated on your dash? You’re probably beginning to worry that your brakes are failing. It could be something as simple as accidentally leaving the parking brake engaged (oops!) and towing to the shop may not be necessary. While you may consider ignoring the brake light and continuing on your way, that is not a wise choice. The lights on your dashboard are your vehicle’s direct communication with you. Brake lights come on for a few different reasons. If yours comes on, first, don’t panic. Follow our easy guide on what to do next.

When you press down on the brake pedal, a force is created and transferred to the brake with the aid of brake fluid. Brakes need an incredible amount of force to stop your vehicle, so the force is multiplied. Then, by friction and resistance, the brakes transfer motive energy into thermal energy with a hydraulic force. The fluid then moves through the brake lines creating pressure to force the brake pads or shoes to force down on the rotors or drums, stopping the car.

Why Is My Brake Light On The Dash Lit Up?

The brake light on your dashboard can come on for several reasons, for example, if the parking brake is the reason, it can simply be disengaged, and the light should automatically turn off. If the light remains on, it’s time to have an expert determine why. Here are the steps to take if your brake light comes on:

  • Check to ensure the parking brake is not engaged. Although using your parking brake while stopped is a good driving habit, and protects your transmission, leaving it engaged while driving is counterintuitive. If the parking brake is engaged, even if it appears not to be, it will trigger the brake light to come on. It may also be accompanied by a noise to alert you to the problem. Your vehicle knows the parking brake is in the on position due to a sensor that recognizes when it is in use.
  • If you have confirmed your parking brake is disengaged, you’ll need to do some further checks to see what the cause may be. If you are moving, pull over to a safe area.
  • Check the brake fluid level in the reservoir. The brake master cylinder has a sensor that discerns how much fluid is in the system. If the fluid drops beyond a certain level, the sensor will signal the brake light to illuminate. Here’s how to check your brake fluid:
    • Locate the reservoir, most often found toward the rear of the engine, near where the brake pedal is mounted on the other side of the firewall partition.
    • On newer vehicles, a translucent reservoir makes identifying the level easy with a clearly labeled “Full” line. This prevents having to remove the cap and risking moisture or dirt from entering the area, contaminating the fluid.
    • If the level is below the “Full” line, remove the cap and add the correct fluid for your vehicle, to the fill line. Do not overfill.
  • Once brake fluid has been added, turn on your vehicle. If the light turns off, you may continue driving to your destination. If the light doesn’t turn off, it’s time to call in the experts.
  • Arrange for a tow truck to tow your vehicle to your favorite automotive service center. Once there, your Certified Technician will begin an inspection of the brake system to determine the cause of the issue. Here are the other possible causes that the Technician will look for during the inspection:
    • Worn Brake Pads – After time and frequent use, the friction material on the pads begins to wear down. If worn down entirely, you risk pads going metal to metal on the rotors, which could result in further damage to the brakes and hefty repair costs.
    • Leaks in the Hydraulic System – After determining the state of the brake pads, the Technician will search for leaks looking around the brake fluid reservoir, brake mechanisms, brake lines, rubber hoses, and connections.
    • Failed Sensors – Sensors made to estimate brake fluid levels and determine if the parking brake is engaged can fail, falsely causing the brake light to come on. The technician will test the sensors to ensure they are functioning properly and replace if necessary.
    • Check Rear Brake Lights – Some vehicles have multiple bulbs to illuminate rear brake lights. If just one bulb goes out, the car’s internal computer may detect a change within the circuit, causing the light to come on.
    • Anti-Lock Brake System – Sensors in the system communicate with the car’s computer. When something in the ABS system fails, the vehicle produces a code that the computer stores. The technician will look at the codes with a scan tool to help determine where the problem lies.

Driving with brake issues could be a risk to your safety and others. If your brake warning light is on and your vehicle has other symptoms including brake noises and vibrations, or worse, the brake pedal goes all the way to the floor, you notice clear or an amber-color fluid on the ground, brakes are unresponsive, or you notice any other abnormalities, do not drive your vehicle and have it towed to a brake specialist immediately.

Now that you know what to do if your brake light comes on, you’ll be relaxed and confident knowing what steps to take next. If your brake light is and you need service, just reach out to our experts at Sun Auto Service. Our Service Centers offer a free brake inspection that includes a check for leaks in the hydraulic system and a measure of the thickness of rotors/drums and pads/shoes. Our expert Technicians have the expertise and credentials to repair and maintain your vehicle’s brakes. That’s not all, though, we specialize in all makes and models of cars and light trucks and can perform services from oil changes to the building and installing of transmissions. When you need the experts, call on Sun Auto Service!