brake lamp

What Does The Brake Lamp Warning Light Mean When It Comes On?

If you go to turn your car on in the morning and the brake lamp warning light comes on with it, it can be a pretty annoying way to start your morning. Partially, because the brake lamp warning light is incredibly ambiguous.

It has got a few different potential meanings all of varying levels of severity. If that has left you a little confused, don’t worry, this quick but incredibly thorough blog post will answer all of your brake lamp warning light questions (and maybe even some you didn’t know you had).

What Does A Brake Lamp Warning Light Look Like On The Dashboard?

The brake lamp warning light is often displayed clearly as the word “BRAKE” in red lighting. Simple, right? Except it can also be displayed as an exclamation mark “!” in a red circle or the letter “P” in a red circle. In some cases, it is a combination of the three. Or even all three together. Does whichever light appears indicate a different specific warning? Sometimes, but not always.

What Does The Brake Lamp Warning Mean?

The brake lamp warning has a few specific meanings. However, in general, it means that there is some kind of issue with your braking system. Which unsurprisingly, is a pretty crucial safety feature when driving your car.

brake lamp

When your brake light appears it means there is an error within some aspect of the system that is considered urgent and should be dealt with as soon as possible.

Brake Lamp Warning For Parking Brake Being On

Sometimes the brake lamp warning light is purely there to indicate to you that your parking brake (or E Brake as some countries call it) is on. This is to let you know that you should disable the parking brake before you try to set off. However, should this light come on while you are driving it could indicate that you haven’t fully disengaged the brake and it has slipped back down or that you have an issue with your parking brake sensors.

Brake Lamp Warning For Low Brake Fluid

Another reason your break lamp warning light might come on is if you are running low on brake fluid. Brake fluid runs through all four of the brake lines in your vehicle to all four wheels. As you press down on the brakes the brake fluid allows your brakes themselves to be engaged. Without enough brake fluid, you will find that your brakes are spongey and unresponsive due to air being inside the brake lines instead of brake fluid.

Brake Pressure Differential In Hydraulic Brake

In an ordinary car, when you press the brake, you are applying equal brake pressure among all brakes. However, with a brake pressure differential, you can apply different levels of braking pressure to different brakes. This is especially useful when using the anti-skid system as you may need more or less brake pressure in certain wheels to keep the car straight. If the differential brake lamp warning light comes on it could indicate that this system is failing which could be hugely problematic should your anti-skid system need to come on.

How To Check My Brake Lamp Warning Light Is Working

If you have owned a used car before you should be well aware that not every warning light is a death sentence. Nor is it even a warning, it sometimes just comes on for the heck of it. Faulty wiring, mistakes with the onboard computer, you name it. While you should absolutely come at the brake lamp from a position of assuming there is an issue until proven otherwise, you may find that there is nothing wrong.

First, turn the car off and on again. If that doesn’t remove the brake lamp warning, try engaging and unengaging the parking brake slowly and to its fullest limitations. If this turns your brake lamp warning light off, great.

Conversely, if you are concerned that your brake lamp warning light is not on but you feel like it should be, here’s what you should do. First, turn off the car. Then, turn on the ignition but do not start the engine. When in this position all of the warning lights on your dash should be turned on to let you know they are working. If the brake lamp warning light is not on then you know it is faulty.

Can I Keep Driving If My Brake Lamp Warning Came On While Driving

So, you are driving along and suddenly the brake lamp warning light comes on. First, it is a good idea to test your brakes. Give them a little pressure and make sure that they are at least somewhat responsive. If they are, great. Check your parking brake isn’t accidentally engaged and if it is not, you can probably keep on driving to wherever you were going. If you feel like the brakes are very unresponsive, you should probably pull over to the side of the road.

Can I Drive With My Brake Lamp Warning Light Won’t Turn Off?

If you find that your brake lamps won’t turn off but there is nothing wrong with your car (so you think) it is still not a good idea to undergo any journeys other than to visit the mechanic. Or to purchase more brake fluid. It may be tempting to just go for it if there is seemingly no major issue. But, given how important being able to stop is to the driving process it isn’t advisable. You won’t know for sure if it’s just a faulty warning light until you speak to a mechanic. And at that point, they will be able to reset it for you.


Hopefully, you now feel like you know everything you could ever need to know about the brake lamp warning light. Why it comes on, what it could mean for your car, and why it is so important to pay attention to. There is always a nagging part of our brain that tries to convince us that a warning light doesn’t mean anything. And sometimes that may be true. But when it comes to your brake system you don’t want to take any risks.

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