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Car Care Advice

What A Brake System Warning Light Means: 4 Types, 4 Solutions, & FAQs

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A lit brake system warning light on your dashboard is something you should never ignore. Knowing what each dashboard light means could be the difference between a quick pit stop and a nasty accident.

Want to know why your brake light turned on or what each symbol 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.

This Article Contains:

Let’s begin.

Why Is My Brake System Warning Light On?

Brake system warning lights are installed 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 improper wiring, a faulty rear brake light bulb, damaged brake lines, etc.

Remember, knowing what a particular brake light means is vital in knowing what’s wrong with your car. Similar to the check engine light or the tire pressure warning light, you don’t want to ignore this signal as it could help you avoid costly future repairs.

So, before we understand what triggers them, let’s look at 4 crucial brake lights and what they symbolize.

4 Types Of Brake System Warning Lights

Depending on whether the car is an older model or high-end, the number of dashboard warning lights will differ. For example, older and low-end models tend only to have a brake and parking brake warning light indicator. 

However, most cars generally have these warning lights:

1. Brake Light

When the indicator that says “Brake” or an encircled exclamation mark lights up on your dashboard, it could indicate a low brake fluid level. 

A low brake fluid level could be from not filling up your brake fluid reservoir (typically needed once every 30,000 miles.) Your system could also have a brake fluid leak — i.e. the hydraulic fluid (brake fluid) in the master cylinder is low or leaking.

Note: Loss of hydraulic pressure dramatically reduces the brake pressure and braking effectiveness when you step on the brake pedal. Contact a mechanic ASAP if you see this light flash continuously.

2. ABS Light

An anti-lock brake system is a handy and potentially life-saving feature in rainy and snowy conditions. 

Your ABS system prevents the wheels from locking up under heavy braking, 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 engine computer monitors the ABS system to detect anything from faulty wiring, damaged wheel speed sensor, to an iffy ABS pump — and triggers 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 the parking brake isn’t adequately disengaged. The warning light could also signify that the parking brake mechanism is worn or the sensor is malfunctioning.

Note: If you have an older model vehicle, the parking brake light might be on because the gears on your emergency brake system are worn. 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          

The brake pad light is indicated as a circle inside dotted brackets, and it warns you when you have 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 normal 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: This warning light is usually found on the dashboard of a premium vehicle but helps in the troubleshooting process. 

Keeping that in mind, how do you fix your warning light? 

4 Ways To Resolve Your Brake System Warning Light

Want to tackle your own brake service? 
Brake disc repair is best left to the experts, but there are some fixes you can try yourself. 

1. Check Your Brake Fluid

Fluid levels are marked on the brake fluid reservoir; if it’s below the minimum threshold, see if topping it up the fluid solves 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, a mechanic will see if the cause is faulty wiring or worn gears in the parking brake mechanism.

3. Anti-Lock Braking System Check

Diagnostic trouble codes (DTC) log all the errors reported by the ABS system. Service professionals use a scan tool or code reader during your brake service to retrieve the DTCs stored in the memory of the ABS control module. 

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 

Worn brake pads, a warped brake disc, and damaged brake lines are no joke. Brake repair should be left to the experts. Not only do you minimize the risk of irreparably damaging your vehicle, it also saves you the effort of sourcing parts for your brake system — which can be a tedious business.

That’s where RepairSmith comes in!

RepairSmith is a convenient mobile vehicle maintenance and repair solution that’ll have your dashboard warning light fixed in a flash. 

Here’s why you should contact us:

Have more questions? 
Here are a couple of common FAQs.

2 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. Ignoring a problem can cause more damage to the braking system and is dangerous. 

If left unchecked, it can lead to partial or total failure of the braking system. 

2. What Causes A Faulty Brake Sensor?

Your car has several sensors monitoring your brake system.

The heavy impact from driving on rough roads could damage your ABS system, triggering your ABS warning light. Clogging from metallic debris, a faulty brake light bulb, a damaged brake caliper piston, or dirt due to exposure to elements can all lead to sensors malfunctioning. 

Wrapping Up

If you see a warning brake light flash after checking whether the parking brake is down, and checking for a low brake fluid level, it’s time to call the professionals. 

RepairSmith brings the repair shop to you! 
Whether it’s a tire service, check engine light diagnosis, brake pad, or brake shoe repair — we can help you out.

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