Brake warning light stays on: 5 Possible Causes & How to fix it

Updated Apr 01, 2021 | Same topic: Handy Maintenance Tips

It’s more than an engaged parking brake.

Brake warning lights are installed in the instrument cluster to remind drivers that their parking brake is engaged. With this simple feature, it will refrain car owners from driving their vehicles with the parking brakes engaged to avoid damage to the braking system assembly and tires.

Unfortunately, a brake warning light sometimes stays on while driving even after disengaging the parking brake. The brake warning light is located on the instrument cluster behind your car’s steering wheel. You might think that it’s not much of a concern since you can tell whether the parking brake is engaged or not. But, a brake warning light not turning off can be caused by other factors that can damage your car.

With that being said, we have listed down five possible causes as to why brake warning lights won’t turn off. We have also inserted some ways you can do to turn it off if it continues to stay lit even after disengaging the parking brakes.

An illuminated brake light

An illuminated brake warning light demands your attention

Why my brake lights won't turn off: 5 Possible Causes

Cause #1: Worn brake pads

One of the car components that face harsh operation conditions is the brake pad. A brake pad is responsible for slowing down your vehicle whether in slow or high-speed runs. Over time, these brake pads wear which means that you should have them replaced to get the desired braking power.

With a worn brake pad, the electronic sensor wires within your car’s braking system will trigger the brake warning light on your instrument cluster. You don’t have to wait for the screeching or high-pitched noise your car makes before concluding that your brake pads are already worn.

Man servicing a braking caliper

Replace your worn-out brake pads to avoid accidents

Cause #2: Low brake fluid

Inside the braking system, there is a sensor that determines the level of the brake fluid left in the master cylinder. Once the brake fluid level drops to a certain level in the master cylinder, it will flash the brake warning light on to tell you that you need to have it refilled.

On average, brake fluids last for around two years, or around 40,000 km. Brake fluids don’t last long as compared to other car components so running to a brake warning light staying on for a long time is a common occurrence. 

>>> Related: Never ignore these 3 common symptoms of low brake fluid

Cause #3: Engaged parking brake

An engaged parking brake will automatically trigger the brake warning light on your car’s instrument cluster. This obviously means that you t need to disengage the parking brake before driving. Driving with an engaged parking brake will damage most of your car’s braking system components such as pads through overheating.

Most modern cars come with an alarm that tells you that your parking brake is still engaged when you are on the move even at low speeds. So if you drive a car without these alarms, then you better pay more attention to the position of your car’s parking brake.

A parking brake in a car

If the brake warning light stays on after disengaging the handbrake, then there must be a faulty component within the braking system

Cause #4: Faulty ABS and sensors

An anti-lock braking system (ABS) is installed in most of today’s cars to prevent them from losing traction especially on slippery roads. Within an ABS, there are speed sensors that determine the speed of the wheels. A dirty or malfunctioning speedy sensor can either illuminate the brake warning light or ABS light on. To save costs from replacing your car’s speed sensors, you can have them clean which costs almost half as compared to a new one.

Cause #5: Defective brake light bulbs

Some vehicles can sense that the brake light bulbs located at their rear end are either defective or completely blown. If your rear end brake light bulbs are getting faulty, you should have them replaced immediately as driving without proper lighting especially at night can cause fatal accidents.

To make sure that your car has defective brake light bulbs, have someone stand at the rear end of your vehicle. If your car won’t light the brake light bulbs after stepping on the brake pedal, then it means that it’s time for a replacement. Remember to disengage the parking brakes first before doing this simple inspection.

A car's instrument gauge

Make sure that the brake warning light is turned off before heading out

>>> Related: Safety first! Anti-lock Braking Systems - What else you need to know?

How to fix brake lights staying on

Knowing the different causes can help you determine the fix you need to do to stop the brake warning lights from staying on while driving. For example, if your car is low on brake fluids, then have it refilled. If your car has worn-out brake pads, then have them replaced. 

If you aren’t familiar with how to replace these braking components, then it is recommended that you visit your local automotive shop as the braking system comes with various sensors which you don’t want to tamper with. The good thing about these braking components is that they are not as expensive to maintain or replace as compared to other components so it is best to keep them in good condition at all times.

You can get a new set of brake pads in the Philippines for around Php 3,000 to Php 5,000, depending on the model that you are driving. Brake pads should last for around three to six years. The lifespan of your brake pads can depend on your daily driving condition such as the usual number of passengers and road steepness.

A car's instrument gauge cluster

Don't underestimate an illuminate brake warning light

FAQs about brake lights

Q: What is a brake warning light?

A brake warning light is installed on a car’s instrument cluster which illuminates if it detects faulty braking components.

Q: How much is a brake pad in the Philippines?

One brake pad in the Philippines can cost around Php 900 to Php 1,000. However, it is best to have all brake pads replaced.

Q: What happens if I drive with my brake light on?

You could lose some braking power on the road which can lead to accidents.

Q: How long do brake fluids last?

Brake fluids tend to last for around two years only.

Q: What can cause the brake warning light to turn on?

Some causes of brake warning lights not turning off include low brake fluids, worn brake pads, and an engaged parking brake.

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Rex Sanchez

Rex Sanchez

Author

Rex started off his career in the aviation industry before entering Philkotse as a staff writer. Two things excite him the most: first is staying up to speed with the latest news in the industry that uses engines as their heart and soul. The second is imparting them in a well-detailed manner. His passion for anything with wheels started when he was young – from Tamiyas to family-friendly sedans, and anything in between.

Someday, Rex only wishes to drive on random highways with friends in a third-gen Mitsubishi Delica with aftermarket sunroofs, if he couldn’t get the Starwagon Super Exceed edition.

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