Skip the auto shop - Our mechanics make house calls

What Does the Brake System (Hand Brake, Parking Brake) Warning Light Mean?

What Does the Brake System (Hand Brake, Parking Brake) Warning Light Mean? - main image

There are 2 main types of warning lights for the brake system. One lets you know that the parking brake is engaged, symbolized with a “P” and the other to warn you that there is an issue with the system, symbolized with a “!”. Many car manufacturers combine these into one light to simplify things a little bit. Usually there will be the word “brake” written out as well.

What the brake warning light means

As mentioned before, the brake light may be on because the parking brake is engaged. If disengaging the parking brake doesn’t turn off the light, then the computer has detected an issue with the braking system. Most commonly, this may be due to an issue with the brake fluid.

The brake fluid reservoir has a fluid level sensor built in to make sure there is sufficient fluid in the system at all times. As your brake pads wear out, more fluid is pushed into the lines which lowers the overall level in the system. If the pads get too thin, the fluid level will go down too much and trip the sensor. A leak in the system will also cause the sensor to trip and the light will illuminate to warn you of the low levels.

What to do when the brake warning light is on

If the light is on, first check to make sure that the parking brake is fully disengaged and then check the fluid level inside the reservoir. If neither of these seem to have any issue, then you should have your parking brake cable inspected and adjusted, if necessary. A cable that is out of adjustment may not completely disengage the parking brakes even if the handle is released. If the vehicle is low on fluid, have the pads and brake lines inspected for leaks or worn out parts.

Is it safe to drive with the brake warning light on?

Depending on how severe the issue is, the car may or may not be safe to drive. If the light comes on, you should pull over safely out of traffic to check the parking brake and fluid level. With a severe fluid leak, you will not be able to use the brake pedal to stop the car quickly and you will have to use the parking brake to slow the vehicle down. This is risky as the parking brake is not nearly as effective at stopping the vehicle as the brake pedal.

If your parking brake isn’t fully disengaging, it is recommended that you get your car towed as the constant resistance is not good for your vehicle’s drivetrain.

If your brake warning light is on and you can’t find the reason, one of our certified technicians would be able to assist you in diagnosing the issue.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Skip the repair shop, our top-rated mechanics come to you.

At your home or office

Choose from 600+ repair, maintenance & diagnostic services. Our top-rated mechanics bring all parts & tools to your location.

Fair & transparent pricing

See labor & parts costs upfront, so you can book with confidence.

12-month, 12,000-mile warranty

Our services are backed by a 12-month, 12,000-mile warranty for your peace of mind.

Get A Quote

Ask a Mechanic
(100% Free)

Have a car question? Get free advice from our top-rated mechanics.

Ask A Mechanic
Over 10,000 questions answered!

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.


Post a question and get free advice from our certified mechanics.


More related articles

P0121 OBD-II Trouble Code: TPS "A" Circuit Range Performance Problem
P0121 code definition Throttle Pedal Position Sensor/Switch (TPS) A Circuit Range Performance Problem What the P0121 code means P0121 is a generic OBD-II code which indicates that the Engine Control...
P0052 OBD-II Trouble Code: HO2S Heater Control Circuit High (Bank 2 Sensor 1)
P0052 code definition HO2S Heater Control Circuit High (Bank 2 Sensor 1) What the P0052 code means This code is seen when the Engine Control Module (ECM) tries to control the...
How to Get a Louisiana Driver's Permit
s licensing program. The first step in this program is to obtain...

Related questions

Q: my trans malfunction warning light came on and 1st and second gear is slow. what can i do

When a module illuminates a warning light, generally there is a fault code that accompanies it. there can be many reasons for the concern like a low fluid level or a failing internal transmission component. Fluid leaks are common as...

Q: How do you set the parking brake?

Setting the parking brake ensures that your car stays where you park it on an incline and also takes the load off the transmission. Never leave your car only in park on a hill, or in gear on a hill...

Q: Front brakes drag and bind up

Hello. It sounds like the vehicle's brake master cylinder may be faulty which could cause the front calipers to lock up. There could also be a problem with the proportioning valve in the brake system. This is known to cause...