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[Warning] Dash Brake Light On: Causes & Solutions

What Does a Brake Light Warning on Your Dash Mean?

When you notice a red brake warning light illuminating on your dashboard, it’s a crucial sign that there’s an issue with your braking system. This warning might appear as an exclamation point within a circle or as a message that explicitly spells out the word “BRAKE”. This isn’t the only brake-related light you might see; your dashboard can also illuminate different problems within the brake system. You might encounter a Parking brake light, symbolized by a “P” within a circle, an ABS warning light marked as “ABS”, a Brake pad warning light depicted as a circle with outer dashed lines, or a Brake service light flashing a “SERVICE BRAKES SOON” message. Understanding what causes these different brake lights to come on is essential for maintaining your vehicle’s safety and performance.

Why Is My Brake Light On?

Seeing your car’s brake warning light stay illuminated can bring you to an immediate halt, signaling that something is wrong with the braking system. This isn’t a warning you can put off or ignore until later; the price for doing so could be expensive and dangerous. When this light appears, it tells you that immediate action is necessary to ensure your safety and avoid potentially costly repairs down the line.

6 Reasons Your Dashboard Brake Light Is On

When your dashboard brake light stays on, it could signal bad wiring, a faulty brake sensor, or a blown LED bulb among the most common culprits. This warning light serves as a crucial indicator, suggesting that a closer inspection into your vehicle’s braking system is urgently needed to ensure your safety on the road.

An Engaged Parking Brake

An engaged parking brake is a primary reason why the brake warning light stays illuminated on your dashboard. If you don’t fully release the hand brake, the parking brake sensor prompts the light to illuminate, signaling that the brakes are still activated. This oversight can overheat the brakes, accelerate wear on brake shoes and pads, and even cause brake lockup. Moreover, the increased temperatures can speed up hydraulic fluid degradation, significantly reducing the efficiency of your braking system. Always ensure the parking brake is disengaged completely to avoid these issues.

Low Brake Fluid Levels

When the sensor in your brake master cylinder detects that the brake fluid level in the system is below the minimum threshold, it will trigger the brake light to illuminate on your dashboard. A low brake fluid level can often indicate a potential fluid leak in the brake line, a serious issue that needs addressing ASAP to maintain the safety and efficiency of your braking system.

Worn Brake Pad

A worn brake pad can lead to a drop in brake fluid level as the caliper pistons need to reach further to contact the rotor, thus triggering your brake warning light. In some cars, once the brake pads are worn, a brake pad sensor wire contacts the rotor and forces the brake light or brake pad warning light to light up. Additionally, noticeable squealing or grinding brake noise serves as an early indicator of brake pad wear.

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ABS Malfunction

Vehicles with an anti-lock brake system (ABS) may experience an ABS malfunction, leading to the ABS warning light illuminating on the dashboard. This system problem can trigger the brake light due to various issues such as an electrical malfunction or a dirty wheel speed sensor. It’s crucial for an auto professional to review the ABS codes to accurately determine the issue and ensure the safety and functionality of the braking system.

Defective Sensors

Within your vehicle, numerous sensors are integral to the brake system, including the hand brake sensor, master cylinder sensor, ABS sensor, and brake pad sensor. When any of these critical components malfunction, they can trigger the dash brake light to illuminate as a warning. This serves as an alert that one or more aspects of your vehicle’s braking system may not be functioning correctly, necessitating a thorough check or professional diagnostics to identify and rectify the underlying issue.

Faulty Rear Brake Light Bulb

In modern vehicles, car computers monitor the rear brake light bulb, which can be a single red light bulb or an LED bulb array. When this bulb goes out or dims, it can cause the brake warning light to turn on on the dashboard. This mechanism is crucial to prevent rear-end collisions, as drivers may not realize when their rear brake lights are not working. While you can attempt to swap the rear brake light bulb yourself, it’s often recommended that a mechanic handle it due to the different light bulb type and varying bulb socket access in each motor vehicle.

What Should You Do if the Dashboard Brake Light Comes On?

When the dashboard brake light stays on, first ensure the parking brake is fully released. If the light remains, check for low brake fluid or worn brake pads. For ABS issues or sensor malfunctions, professional assistance is recommended. Ignoring the light can lead to serious safety risks and brake system failure.

The Dashboard Brake Light Turns on Before You Drive

When the dashboard brake light illuminates before you drive, ensure the handbrake is fully released. If the light persists, check the brake fluid level; it may need topping off. However, it’s advisable to consult a mechanic as the braking system might require bleeding to remove air.

The Dashboard Brake Light Turns on While You’re Driving

If the dash brake light illuminates while driving, closely monitor the brake pedal for any unusual feel, indicating a potential brake fluid leak. Safely stop and check the brake fluid level at the earliest opportunity. In emergencies, topping off with fresh brake fluid is a temporary solution, but ensure to visit a trusted mechanic for a comprehensive brake checkup.

The Dashboard Brake Light Is Always On

If the parking brake is disengaged and the light remains on, this could signal issues such as worn brake pads, hydraulic brake pressure problems, or a need for parking brake adjustment. It’s crucial to seek a mechanic for immediate replacement and adjustment, as ignoring these signs can compromise safety and may result in weird brake noise from your vehicle.

The Dashboard Brake Light Turns on When You Press the Pedal

If your brake light illuminates only when you press the brake pedal, this could signal hydraulic loss on one side of your vehicle or low brake fluid in the brake master cylinder, risking a total loss of braking ability and endangering both you and others on the road. In such instances, it’s advised to reduce your speed and find a safe place to pull over. Opt for calling a mobile mechanic for a thorough system inspection and brake repair, or consider getting your car towed for safety.

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The ABS Light Comes On and Stays Lit

When you start your engine, the ABS light should briefly flash for a few seconds and then turn off, signaling normal operation. However, if the ABS light stays on, it points to an issue with your ABS, crucial for preventing skidding and brake lockup. Though driving with the ABS warning light on is possible, it’s recommended to take your vehicle to a repair shop for a thorough checkup.

I Started My Car And The Brake Light Is On – Now What?

If you’ve just started your car and notice that the brake system warning light is on, don’t take the risk of driving the vehicle. First, ensure that the parking brake is completely disengaged, as some cars share a common warning light for the brake system and the parking brake. Check your parking brake and use the release mechanism to confirm it’s fully released. If the dashboard light persists, it indicates a brake system problem that could jeopardize your ability to stop the vehicle. In such a case, turn off the engine and plan for the vehicle to be taken to a trusted mechanic.

I Was Driving And My Brake Light Came – What Should I Do?

If you’re driving and the brake warning light illuminates or stays lit after pressing the brake pedal, there’s no need to panic. Your vehicle is equipped with two separate brake hydraulic systems that connect the brake pedal to the wheels, ensuring you can still safely stop your vehicle even if one system fails. However, be prepared for the possibility that it may not stop as quickly using only one hydraulic system.

Drive your car to a safe area or onto the shoulder of the road as safely as possible, and gradually press the brake pedal to bring your vehicle to a halt. Once safely stopped and clear of traffic, it’s essential to make arrangements to have your vehicle transported to your preferred repair shop.

Brake Light Comes On While Driving

When the brake light illuminates while driving, it often signals low brake fluid. There’s no need to panic, as most vehicles are equipped with a backup hydraulic line to prevent brake failure. Activate your emergency lights and safely pull over. Check the brake fluid level either through the clear reservoir or the brake fluid dipstick. If the fluid is low and you don’t have the necessary supplies, it’s safest to have your vehicle towed. Should you have the correct fluid, top up to the fill line and head to a mechanic; a leak could be the culprit needing repair. If fluid levels are adequate, the issue might lie with the master cylinder sensor malfunctioning. Don’t drive if the brake light stays on after starting the car; it’s a sign to seek immediate professional help.

Brake Light Comes On When You Press the Pedal

If your brake light illuminates every time you press the brake pedal and your brakes are functioning properly, it’s likely a broken or stuck brake switch is at fault. Positioned under the brake pedal, this switch activates the brake lights upon depression. A malfunctioning switch might signal to your vehicle that the brakes require servicing. While certain vehicle makes and models might display a brake service warning on the dash, a brake light warning is more common. Although this could also point to hydraulic loss or low brake fluid, a faulty switch is the usual suspect.

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Why Is The Parking Brake Light On?

When the parking brake light remains illuminated on your dashboard, the first step is to ensure that the parking brake isn’t engaged. This light signifies that your vehicle’s e-brake or emergency brake might have been accidentally activated. Notably, the presence of this light, without the “brake” or “brake service” light, typically means the parking brake is on. Vehicles feature three main types of parking brakes: pedal brakes, commonly found in older manual cars, are located to the far left under the steering wheel; press this pedal to release the parking brake. Lever brakes, identified by a lever with a button on the center console, require you to press the button and lower the lever to disengage. Lastly, button brakes, prevalent in newer models, can be deactivated by pressing a “parking” or “P” button found on the center dash. Identifying your vehicle’s parking brake type and correctly disengaging it is crucial to extinguishing the parking brake light and ensuring safe driving conditions.

Be Proactive – Verify That Your Brake Light Is Working

Thinking of the brake light on your dashboard as a vigilant companion is wise, alerting you to potential brake issues that could compromise safety. However, this system is only effective if the warning light itself is operational. To ensure its functionality, adopt a proactive approach by checking the brake warning light each time you start your car. Initially, upon ignition and before the engine roars to life, all dashboard warning lights, including the brake light, should briefly illuminate. This self-test phase is critical; if any light fails to shine, it signifies a malfunction, possibly due to a burned-out bulb or another issue, rendering the warning system ineffective.

Given the diversity in dashboard designs and warning light locations across different vehicle models, it’s beneficial to familiarize yourself with your specific vehicle’s layout through the owner’s manual. This knowledge is crucial not only for daily checks but also for troubleshooting should a light fail to illuminate. Should you discover a non-functional brake warning light, your manual will guide you in identifying and replacing the necessary bulb or component, ensuring that your dashboard continues to serve as a reliable indicator of your vehicle’s health and safety.


The appearance of a brake service warning light on your dashboard can signal a range of potential issues, from hydraulic problems and worn brake pads to the necessity for a parking brake adjustment. Given the variety of possible causes, consulting a brake specialist for an accurate diagnosis is highly recommended to ensure your vehicle remains safe and functional.

When your brake lights stay on, it’s typically due to a faulty brake light switch or sensor. Other potential culprits include a faulty brake pedal or an electrical system malfunction. Interestingly, if the issue arose shortly after replacing the rear light bulbs, there’s a chance that incorrect bulbs were installed, which can also trigger this persistent illumination.

If your Parking Brake light refuses to turn off, it might signal several issues such as the parking brake not disengaging, a failed parking brake switch, or low fluid in the master cylinder reservoir. For the sake of your safety, getting this problem diagnosed and promptly fixed is crucial.

Driving with the brake warning light on should be avoided as much as possible. It’s imperative to contact a brake specialist to diagnose and repair the issue. Should your vehicle be unable to reach a repair shop, consider utilizing a mobile brake repair service that can come directly to you for diagnosis and repair.

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