Blog Car Care Advice Why Is My Brake System Warning Light On? (+4 Lights to Know)
Car Care Advice

Why Is My Brake System Warning Light On? (+4 Lights to Know)

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A lit brake system warning light on your dashboard is something you should never ignore (and we’re not just talking about the one with an exclamation mark in a circle.) Knowing what each dashboard light means could be the difference between a quick pit stop and a nasty accident.

Want to know why one of those brake light symbols turned on or what each represents? 

In this article, we’ll look at the four types of brake warning lights, including the ABS light, parking brake light, and those that could mean a low brake fluid level or brake pad wear.

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Let’s begin.

Why Is My Brake System Warning Light On?

Brake system warning lights are there for your safety — to let you know when something is wrong with your braking system. A dashboard warning light related to your brake system could get triggered for various reasons, including a worn brake pad, a faulty rear brake light bulb, damaged brake lines, etc.

Remember, knowing what a particular brake light means is vital for understanding what’s wrong with your car. Similar to the check engine light or the tire pressure warning light, paying immediate attention to this signal could help you avoid accidents and costly future repairs.

So, before we understand what triggers them, let’s look at four crucial lights relating to your car’s braking system and what they symbolize. 

4 Types of Brake System Warning Lights

The number of dashboard warning lights will differ depending on whether it’s a modern car or a high-end model. For example, older and low-end models may have just a brake and parking brake warning light indicator. 

However, most cars today have these warning lights to indicate a brake problem:

1. Brake Light

When the indicator that says “Brake” or an encircled exclamation mark lights up on your dashboard, it could signal a low brake fluid level. A low brake fluid level could be from not filling up your brake fluid reservoir (typically once every 30,000 miles.) Your system could also have a brake fluid leak — the hydraulic fluid (brake fluid) in the master cylinder is low or leaking.

Note: A fluid leak can dramatically reduce the brake pressure and braking effectiveness when pressing the brake pedal. If this light flashes continuously, it needs immediate attention. So, book your car in ASAP.

2. ABS Light

The anti lock brake system (ABS) is a handy and life-saving feature, especially in rainy and snowy conditions. Your ABS system prevents the wheels from locking under heavy braking by measuring tire rotation and compensating when it detects the wheels slipping. Measuring tire rotation helps maintain control and improves traction and braking ability when you ram the brake pedal.

Your vehicle’s computer monitors the ABS system to detect anything from faulty wiring or damaged wheel speed sensor to an iffy ABS pump — triggering the ABS warning light. The warning light for your anti lock braking system will either appear as text or have “ABS” encircled.

In this situation, you’ll still be able to brake normally. But with a failing anti lock brake system, heavy braking can cause your wheels to lock up.

3. Parking Brake Light

The parking brake or emergency brake is typically located on your car’s rear brakes and is the most common dashboard warning light. The encircled “P” warning light usually indicates an engaged parking brake. The warning light could also signify a worn parking brake mechanism.

Note: If you have an older model vehicle, worn gears in your emergency brake system may activate the parking brake light. It only needs to be up with one click to trigger the warning light. 

Driving with the parking brake even partially on is a terrible idea as you’d wear out the brake pads faster and possibly compromise your brake system. 

4. Brake Pad Wear Indicator Light

A circle inside dotted brackets signifies worn brake pads. If that’s the case, your braking ability will begin to suffer. For reference, brake pad thickness varies depending on the make and model of your vehicle. Your brake pad wear indicator will usually light up when the brake pad sensor detects that it’s less than a ¼ inch thick.

While worn brake pads are just a part of regular usage, grit and grime on the brake pads could wear out your brake pads even faster. If debris causes your brake caliper piston to get stuck, you’ll hear a deep grinding metal sound and know it’s time for a brake repair.  

Note: Modern car dashboards generally feature this warning light. 

Keeping that in mind, how do you address the brake warning light? 

4 Ways to Resolve the Brake System Warning Light

Want to tackle your own brake service? 
While it’s best to leave complex repairs to the experts, there may be an easy solution:  

1. Check the Brake Fluid

If the fluid levels marked on the brake fluid reservoir are below the minimum threshold, topping it up might solve the issue. If not, your mechanic will check the brake pressure for a brake fluid leak. 

2. Check that the Parking Brake Is Down

Firmly press the parking brake button and lower it. If the parking brake warning light is still on, get a mechanic to see if the brake problem stems from faulty wiring or worn gears in the parking brake mechanism.

3. Anti Lock Braking System Check

The Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC) log all ABS errors, so you can use an OBD-II scanner to find out more about the codes. This is a starting point for the rest of the troubleshooting process to determine what causes the ABS dashboard light to flash. 

4. Consult an Expert

Brake repair jobs like replacing worn brake pads, a warped brake disc, and damaged brake lines are best left to the experts. Not only do you minimize the risk of irreparably damaging your vehicle, but it also saves you the effort of sourcing parts for your brake system — which can be tedious.

Have more questions? 
Let’s address them next.

4 FAQs about the Brake System Warning Light 

Here are some common queries about the brake system warning light and their answers:

1. Can I Drive with a Brake System Warning Light?

You shouldn’t ignore a brake warning light. Driving with this warning light is dangerous and can cause extensive damage to the braking system. If left unchecked, it can lead to complete braking system failure.

2. What Causes a Faulty Brake Sensor?

There are several sensors in your car monitoring the braking system. The ABS sensor may become clogged with metallic debris, brake dust, or dirt, triggering the ABS warning light. 

Meanwhile, the brake pad sensors in your car monitor the wear of your brake pads and let you know when they’re wearing down. With time, heat from the brakes can damage the wiring and clips. They’re also susceptible to damage when installing new brake discs. 

It’s also possible it’s just a faulty brake light bulb causing the problem. But if it is something more serious, it’s best not to delay. 

3. How Much Does it Cost to Fix a Brake System Issue? 

It depends on the issue, but a standard brake pad replacement should cost between $115 to $300 per axle. However, a complete brake system repair could cost up to $800. 

4. How Often Should I Have My Brakes Checked?

Most manufacturers recommend having your brakes inspected every 20,000-60,000 miles or every six months by a trained mechanic. However, if you notice a brake warning light, signs of a fluid leak, or any other brake problem, it’s essential to book a service immediately. 

Wrapping Up

If you see a red brake warning light after checking for an engaged parking brake or low brake fluid, it’s likely an issue with the car’s braking system that requires professional help. 

That’s where AutoNation Mobile Service comes in!

AutoNation Mobile Service is a convenient mobile vehicle maintenance and repair solution that’ll fix your red brake warning light in a flash.  Whether it’s a tire service, check engine light diagnosis, worn brake pad, or brake shoe repair — we can help.

Here are some reasons to pick us:

Contact us today, and our expert technicians will have your vehicle’s braking system back to 100% in no time!