Why is my brake light on?

Why is my brake light on?

The lights on your dashboard serve to keep you up to date on whatever your vehicles need. Different dashboard lights require different urgency and actions. With something as important as brakes, having a brake light appear can be alarming. So, what does it mean when your brake light comes on?  

Before we dive in, it's important to note that every manufacturer will have different indications for various brake lights. More sophisticated cars may have a different light for each type of brake problem you may run into, while some vehicles may have the word "BRAKE" appear, and it's your job to dive into the deeper issue. For cars with ABS lights, or the letter P to indicate the parking brake, you can follow the guidelines from the owner's manual for the next steps to take.

The cars with just a general brake light are tricker to understand, so today, we're going to focus on that. If you're about to drive and see the brake light appear, the parking brake is the easiest to check. It's easy to forget you have it on, and the light should disappear once released. If the parking brake is disengaged and the light remains, you know it's a different problem. These next steps are interchangeable, but next, you may want to check for brake fluid. A low amount of brake fluid will trigger the brake light. Your brake pedal going to the floor or behaving differently than usual can also provide feedback.  

Once the parking brake and brake fluid are in proper condition, it's time to look at more alternatives. Low brake pads or a bad sensor will prompt the light to appear, depending on the vehicle. 
Typically, a fresh pad should have 12mm of material, but over time they wear down by design due to the materials used. Another braking issue to monitor is your Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS). Most modern vehicles use ABS for greater braking control. In most cases, you'll have a different ABS light to let you know there's an issue with your system. You'll likely get a general brake light for those vehicles without it.  

Today we covered the most likely things to set off a brake light. These common issues are only part of the equation. The braking system is complex using friction, hydraulics, and more. Several different components can trigger a light, so when in doubt, don't hesitate to call your mechanic for a diagnostic. For a diagnostic you can trust, feel free to bring your car to Ferber's Automotive and Body, where no job is too big or small!