What Does the Brake System Warning Light Mean? | What Causes a Brake Warning Light to Illuminate?

The brake system in your car is an essential part of your car that requires regular maintenance to avert accidents or even worse outcomes. Your vehicle dashboard contains multiple warning lights and symbols. When there is something with your braking, the brake system warning light starts to illuminate. Ignoring the warning light can have dire consequences. This article explains the brake system warning light meaning, its causes, and how to fix it.

What Does the Brake System Warning Light Mean?

The brake system warning light is triggered when your vehicle’s main computer monitors a problem with the braking system. This warning light may also trigger if your parking brake is engaged.

Brake System Warning Light

When the brake light comes on, it indicates that there may be a low level of brake fluid, a problem with the brake sensor, there’s an issue with the ABS unit, or the parking brake is engaged. It is important to have your car examined by a professional as soon as possible, as driving with a malfunctioning brake system can compromise stopping ability and increase the chances of an accident.

Attending to the brake system warning light promptly is essential for ensuring the safety of yourself, your passengers, and other road users. Additionally, neglecting certain brake issues may lead to severe damage if left unaddressed.

Types Of Brake System Warning Lights

The brake system warning lights have the following types:

  • Brake Hydraulic System Warning Light
  • Brake Pad Wear Indicator Light          
  • Parking Brake Light
  • ABS Light

1) Brake Hydraulic System Warning Light

The Brake Hydraulic System Warning Light indicates an issue with the hydraulic braking system. If it flickers irregularly or appears to activate only when steering, it might suggest low brake fluid levels. However, if it remains illuminated, it may point to a more severe issue.

Brake Hydraulic System Warning Light

2) Brake Pad Wear Indicator Light          

This light, represented by a circle inside dotted brackets, alerts the driver about worn brake pads, which can negatively impact your braking ability.

Brake Pad Wear Indicator Light

The thickness of the brake pad depends on the vehicle’s make and model, but the brake pad wears light typically illuminates as the brake pad sensor monitors a thickness of lower than ¼ inch.

Although worn pads are a normal part of car usage because contaminants may accelerate the pads’ wear. If contaminants force the brake caliper piston to become stuck, a clear grinding metal noise will be heard, signaling the need for brake repair or replacement.

3) Parking Brake Light

The emergency brake, also known as the parking brake, is usually connected to the rear brakes of your vehicle. The parking brake light is one of the most usual dashboard warning lights.

Parking Brake Light

This light typically signals that the parking brake of your vehicle hasn’t been fully disengaged. It may also signal that the parking sensor or parking brake system is damaged.

In conventional vehicle models, the parking brake light may also illuminate due to worn gears in the emergency brake system. Even a single click of engagement can illuminate the warning light.

However, driving with the parking brake, even partially engaged, is highly inadvisable, as it can cause quick wear of the brake pads and potentially damage the brake system.

4) ABS Light

The Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS) works in conjunction with the overall braking system to ensure control while driving on uneven, slippery, or wet areas.

This system helps to prevent the brakes from locking up when the vehicle’s tires miss traction with the ground as you apply the brake pedal. The ABS feature is especially useful on snowy roads or while you drive the vehicle on gravel or loose sand.

The primary function of the Anti-Lock Brake System is not necessarily to assist you in stopping sooner, though that can sometimes be the case, but instead to allow you to maintain steering control while braking.

By ensuring the vehicle wheels continue to roll even when the tires slip, ABS makes it possible to steer effectively, even if stopping takes slightly longer. In emergency situations, steering control is crucial.

To achieve this, your vehicle contains a wheel speed sensor that monitors the rotating speed of the wheels. The wheel sends this data to the ABS module, which constantly analyzes the data.

When one or multiple tires stop rotating or lock up due to a slippery surface, your vehicle’s main computer monitors the absence of spinning. It then connects the ABS actuator to stop the wheels from skidding or locking up. The ABS actuator is a hydraulic pump that shares information to the ABS module.

The actuator pump rapidly applies and releases the brakes instead of just gripping and holding them. This allows the wheels of your vehicle to slow down without the tire skidding.

ABS Light

The ABS warning light illuminates to inform the driver about an issue with the ABS system. If this light is illuminating, your vehicle will still have functioning brakes, but the anti-lock feature will be compromised.

Read More: Tire Pressure Warning Light Causes

Causes of Brake System Warning Light Illumination

  • Insufficient brake fluid
  • Damaged wiring to the brake system
  • Worn or damaged brake pads
  • Bad ABS system
  • Faulty master cylinder
  • A leak in the brake system
  • Faulty brake booster
  • Bad brake light switch
  • Bad ABS control module
  • Damaged wheel cylinders or brake calipers
  • Damaged or corroded connectors

How to reset a Brake System Warning Light

To reset the brake system warning light, it is recommended to consult your vehicle’s service manual. However, the following are general steps that you may follow to reset your illuminating brake system light:

  • Find a safe location to park your car.
  • Examine the brake fluid level and top it off with the appropriate brake fluid if needed.
  • Inspect the wiring connected to the braking system and repair the damaged wiring.
  • While the vehicle is parked, press the brake pedal firmly. If it gradually sinks to the floor, you may have a brake fluid leak.
  • Repair the damaged sensor.
  • Replace the faulty ABS control module
  • Inspect for any yellowish fluid beneath the car. If you detect a leak, stop driving instantly and seek assistance at the nearest repair shop.
  • Ensure that the parking brake is completely disengaged.
  • If the brake light switch is damaged, replace it.
  • Verify that the brake lights on your vehicle are properly functioning.

FAQ Section

What is a brake system?

The brake system of your vehicle is a mechanical component engineered to decelerate and halt a vehicle’s movement. To achieve this, the kinetic energy of the car is transformed into heat through various brake system components, using friction as the means.

Can I drive with the illuminated Brake Warning Light?

Driving with the brake system warning light illuminated is strongly discouraged. This warning indicator signals an issue with the braking system of your vehicle, which may compromise its braking performance and increase the likelihood of an accident.

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

  • At the earliest opportunity, park your vehicle in a safe place and contact the nearest professional mechanic.
  • Inspect the brake fluid in the fluid reservoir. If it is lower than the specified limit, add more fluid.
  • Check the ABS system and fix the issues related to this system.
  • Check the braking system for a leak.
  • Ensure that the parking brake is completely disengaged.
  • If the brake light switch is damaged, replace it.

What can cause the red brake warning light to illuminate?

The red brake warning light comes on if your parking brake is engaged. This may be due to low brake fluid or a fluid leak. As other systems rely on properly functioning brake hydraulics, they are often disabled when the red brake light is active.

Can a faulty parking brake cause the brake warning light to come on?

Yes, a bad parking brake is one of the major causes of the brake warning light illumination.

How do I know if my brake fluid is low?

  • Illuminated brake warning light
  • Overheated braking system
  • Spongy brake pedal
  • The vehicle takes longer to brake than usual

How do I know if my brake pads are worn?

  • Squealing noise while braking
  • Extended stopping distances
  • Grinding when you drive and brake
  • Pulling to one side
  • Grooves in the rotor surface

Can low brake fluid cause the brake warning light to come on?

Yes, low brake fluid is one of the major causes of the illuminated brake warning light. When the brake fluid level becomes low, the performance of the braking system starts to reduce which causes to trigger the brake light.

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