What Should I Do If My Brake Warning Light Comes On?

It can be worrying for any driver if any of the dashboard warning lights illuminate while driving. The important thing to remember in this situation is to not panic. When a warning light appears, it may be safe to continue driving for a while and get help as soon as possible. However,  in some cases, you will need to pull over on the side of the road when it is safe to do so.

This is what the brake warning light symbol looks like:

Break warning symbol (!)

To understand what different warning lights mean, you can refer to our ultimate guide on dashboard warning lights. Additionally, your vehicle handbook will have a detailed overview of each dashboard warning light and what it means. 

What does the brake warning light mean?

There are actually more than one brake warning light, depending on your vehicle. Some manufacturers combine these in various configurations to simplify things. The main brake warning light will usually be a “!” with parentheses around the circle means that there is an issue with the system. In some car models, the light may also include the word “BRAKE” next to the icon. The light may be red or amber, depending on the severity of the issue.

A vehicle can also have a brake warning light for the parking brake, this will usually be a “P” in a circle. The light being on usually indicates that your parking brake is engaged. If it is disengaged but you’re still seeing the light lit up it will generally mean that there is something wrong with the brake system which you should get inspected as soon as possible.

What is the brake ABS warning light?

ABS stands for “Anti-lock Braking System”, a safety feature in vehicles that helps prevent the wheels from locking up during hard braking, allowing the driver to maintain control of the vehicle.

The ABS warning light typically appears as the letters “ABS” inside a circle. The ABS warning light will turn on briefly when the vehicle is started, and then turn off after a few seconds, which indicates that the system is working properly and this is not a cause for concern.

If the ABS warning light stays on or if it does come on while driving, it indicates that there is a problem with the system, such as a malfunctioning sensor or a hydraulic issue. When the ABS warning light is on, the ABS system may be disabled, which means that the vehicle may not have full braking capabilities.

What does a yellow or amber brake light mean?

Typically, yellow or amber brake warning light typically indicates a less urgent issue with the braking system than a red warning light. Most commonly, a yellow brake warning light will indicate that the brake fluid level is low or the brake bulbs need to be replaced. It’s usually safe to drive carefully and for a short distance till you get some help when this light illuminates.

To be extra sure, it’s always recommended to refer to the vehicle’s manual for what the brake light warning looks like as different manufacturers have different specifications and features.

What causes the brake warning light to come on?

Some common reasons for the brake warning light to illuminate while driving are:

    • Fluid level low: This may be caused by a leak in the brake system or simply due to wear and tear over time. A brake inspection will be required to find the cause of the low level.
    • Worn out brake pads: Over time, the brake pads or shoes can wear down, causing the brake warning light to turn on. This means it’s time to get the brake pads replaced as soon as possible!
    • Brake sensor failure: Some cars have oversensitive brake system sensors which can cause the brake warning light to stay on even after the issue seems to have been fixed.
    • Engaged parking brake: An engaged parking brake will trigger the parking brake warning light and is usually accompanied by an alarm to alert drivers about this.
    • Defective brake light bulbs: Some cars have a sensor that triggers the warning light if one or all of the brake light bulbs are faulty or have completely blown

Get an upfront price for brake pad replacement and repair.

What should I do if the brake warning light comes on?

When the light comes on, first check the fluid level in the reservoir. If your fluid level is low, top up to the recommended level and check whether the light goes off when you try to start the vehicle. If the light remains on there will usually be another issue, make sure to have the car inspected for leaks or worn out brake pads or lines as soon as possible.

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 warning light is on and 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 ABS warning light comes on while driving, it may still be safe to drive the vehicle at slower speeds and in a careful manner, but it is not recommended to continue driving for an extended period of time. This is because it may not be able to prevent the wheels from locking up during hard braking, which can increase the risk of skidding.

If both the brake warning light and the ABS light come on while driving, it is absolutely necessary to stop the vehicle as soon as possible in a calm and safe manner. If both lights are on, it is likely that the braking system has suffered from a major malfunction and will need urgent attention before you can drive the vehicle again.

Either way, the braking system warning lights should not be ignored as it’s one of the most important safety-critical components of a vehicle.

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.