The brake warning light is a warning that the brakes may not be functioning properly and so can be a cause for worry for many drivers. In this article, we cover what an illuminated brake warning light means and what to do next.
There are 2 main warning lights for the brake system, though many manufacturers combine these to simplify things. One lets you know the handbrake is still on, and will have a “P” symbol, whilst a “!” means that there is an issue with the braking system.
You should see all the dashboard lights come on when you first start your car. This is the bulb and systems check and they should go out in a few seconds and if a light doesn’t go out, then the system is alerting you of a potential problem with the car. In the event that a light doesn’t light during the bulb check, you need to replace the bulb.
This is what the brake warning light symbol looks like:
To understand what different warning lights mean, you can refer to our ultimate guide on dashbaord warning lights. Additionally, your vehicle handbook will have a detailed overview of each dashboard warning light and what it means.
What does the warning light mean?
If you have a single warning light, then it could simply be that the handbrake is still engaged. Ensure that it’s fully off, and if the warning light remains, then it’s likely there is an issue with the braking system. Usually, this is an issue with the brake fluid.
There is a sensor in the brake fluid reservoir that helps to ensure there is enough fluid in the braking system. Over time, your brake pads wear down and this means more fluid is pushed into the brake calipers. This means more fluid is in the system and therefore the reservoir will dip below the level required to trip the sensor. It could also be indicative of a leak in the system, which will cause the fluid level to drop.
The brake warning light can sometimes also indicate problems with worn out brake pads, brake discs or associated sensors.
What should I do if the warning light comes on?
When the light comes on, first check that your handbrake is fully disengaged. If that doesn’t fix it, check the fluid level in the reservoir. It could just be a case of it needing a brake fluid top up.
If your fluid level is low, then have the car inspected for leaks or worn out brake pads or lines. If the fluid level is fine, then you should get your parking brake cable inspected.
In some cases, the brake warning light, most commonly occurring in tandem with brake grinding or squeaking noises, could mean the brake pads have been worn down and probably need replacing.
Is it safe to drive my car when the brake warning light is on?
This depends on how severe the issue is. Low fluid levels will mean that the braking system won’t be working as effectively as possible, and you could have trouble stopping the vehicle safely. If the handbrake isn’t fully disengaged, the constant resistance can cause damage to your vehicle’s drivetrain and could lead to a costly repair down the line.
If the brake warning light comes on while driving and you find that it is harder to slow or stop your car then the best thing to do is stop on the road as soon as it is safe to do. Check if the brake fluid levels are low and seek professional assistance.
Besides the brake warning light, there is also an ABS (Anti-lock brake system) warning light which is related to the braking system of a vehicle. This indicates a problem with the ABS system rather than the mechanical aspects of the braking system. If this light comes on while driving it is generally safe to continue the journey taking extra care and being extra cautious. Nevertheless, it is important to get it checked as soon as possible.
If the ABS warning light, as well as the brake warning lights, illuminate simultaneously then it could indicate a more serious problem. This could be dangerous so the best thing to do is stop at a safe spot as soon as possible and call for roadside assistance.
If you’re unsure about your issue, book an inspection and one of the mechanics on ClickMechanic will diagnose the issue for you and get your car sorted.