Brake Maintenance

What Does the Brake Warning Light Mean (and How to Fix It)


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Depending on the make and model of a specific car, the brake warning light can serve many functions and may indicate a fault in the braking system. The brake warning light is located on the instrument console of every car and should be given attention when lit. It is not normal for this indication light to be on all the time, and it should not be confused with the ABS warning light found on cars equipped with an anti lock braking system. Although both indicators are related to the braking system, the brake warning light is particularly delegated to the braking system alone, and is not shared by the anti lock brake system of the car.

Brake Warning Light Functions

The primary function of the brake warning light is to indicate that the parking brake or service brake is engaged. You will notice that every time the parking brake is used, the brake warning light will come on. This will serve as a reminder to the driver that the service brake is applied and should be disengaged when the vehicle is in motion. Failure to address this issue will result in early deterioration of brake pads and linings that are connected to the service brakes.

Consult the owner's manual for a complete list of the functions of the brake warning light in your car, because the system may differ from one car to the next. One of the most common traits shared by most model cars is to indicate the level of brake fluid that is present in the braking system. The brake warning light will come on in the event of an empty or low brake fluid level in the master cylinder, and should be checked once the warning light is lit. Loss of brake pressure may result in a serious threat to safety. Replenishing the amount of fluid in the master cylinder reservoir will usually solve the problem. Remember to take precaution when handling brake fluid, because it can cause stains or damage on most painted surfaces.

Other Functions of the Brake Warning Light

The system may be designed to indicate the amount of wear on brake pads and linings. Although most brake pads have a wear indicator that is audible when the brake pedal is pressed, the brake warning light may remain lit until the brake pads are replaced.

The braking system is designed with diagnostic functions in the event of a malfunction and is divided into two hydraulic circuits as a safety precaution. When one of the hydraulic circuits fails or loses fluid pressure, the system could still provide stopping power to increase the margin of safety. Regardless of the situation, you should bring the car to a mechanic or service center once the brake warning light is on, or when a noticeable difference is felt in the braking system.

In some cases, the brake warning light is caused by a faulty switch on the service or parking brake. Considering all factors are normal, a simple adjustment of the switch will solve the problem.

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