You get in your car, hit the ignition, and get ready to drive. Then you notice the nagging blink on your dashboard. Now your day is off to a bad start, and you’ll wonder: Why is my brake light flashing anyway?
It’s annoying and could drain your battery. Most importantly, it might indicate that there’s a serious problem with your brake system!
In this post, we go over the common reasons that can make your dashboard brake lights flash and how to deal with them. Plus, we also go through some maintenance tips that can prevent the issue in the future.
Let’s get this show on the road!
Why Is My Brake Light Flashing: Top 6 Reasons
The first thing to do when you spot the flashing brake lights is to park in a safe spot along the road. Then you can start going through the possible causes one by one.
Once you identify the issue, you might be able to fix it on the spot or call a hauling service to get you to a mechanic.
No matter what you do, never drive with disengaged brakes!
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. Here are some common brake system problems to look into:
1. Engaged Parking Brakes
The little dashboard light usually turns on to show you that the parking brake (you might call it the e-brake or handbrake) is activated.
While some cars have separate lights for the parking brake system and the handbrakes, others have a shared one.
They’re both very similar, either way. So, it’s not far-fetched that someone might mistake the two flashing lights, especially in a rush.
While parked, check if your parking brake is engaged. If the flashing light goes away when you disengage the parking brake, you’re good to go.
However, if it doesn’t, you’ll have to keep making your way down the list before starting your engine and driving off.
We’d highly recommend against driving with engaged e-brakes. It’s a sure-fire way to damage your brake pads. It just might be too much friction for the pad to survive.
2. Low Brake Fluid
If you suddenly get a flashing brake light, odds are that it’s because the brake fluid is running low.
It’s usually symbolized by a small circle on the dashboard with an exclamation mark in the middle. If it’s still yellow, you probably have enough to go on. When it’s flashing red, that’s when you know that the fluid level is critically low.
Keep in mind that the reservoir could also be actively leaking. To test this, park the car and press down on the brake. You’ll feel that there isn’t much resistance on the pedal anymore.
When it comes to flashing warning lights, low brake fluid is one of the most common culprits you can think of. Thankfully, it’s easy to diagnose and inexpensive to fix.
You’ll want to get a professional to do it for you, especially if you don’t have previous experience with brake fluid changes.
It’s not just emptying the reservoir and filling it with a new can. You have to flush out the fluid throughout the system, too. Just be careful around it. It can be potentially toxic!
3. Worn Out Brake Pads
Brake pads are small plates coated with friction material. Recently, more and more companies are heading to find copper-free alternatives, like graphite.
Regardless of the composition, they all work to hold the braking disk and bring the car to a stop. With wear and tear, this coating could thin out and lose its friction power.
It isn’t a good idea to keep driving with a worn-out brake pad. The metallic backing plate could end up grinding against the rotors every time you try to press the pedal. Not only is this dangerous for you, but you’re also potentially damaging the entire system.
Thankfully, cars are equipped with sensor systems to let you know when the pads need a change. This could be the flashing light on your dashboard right now.
The replacement job isn’t all that much of a hassle, but it’s better to replace the front pair together since they usually wear out at the same rate. The same applies to the rear, too.
All you’ll need is a skilled mechanic, some spare parts, and to free an hour or two of your afternoon. The mechanic will have to pick the right pad with the recommended discard thickness according to your car’s model. Then you’re good to go.
If your pads seem alright, but the warning light is still going on, there might be something wrong with your sensor system.
4. Brake Sensor Failure
The brake sensor or indicator is an extra layer of precautionary protection in cars. What it does is let you know if the brake pad’s thickness is sup bar, so you can tend to it.
With heat, sometimes the sensor wiring gives out. This is when problems start. You’ll either have low sensitivity to the pad’s condition or end up with a false alarm. This is a fairly common problem in BMWs.
Keep in mind that brake sensors are also considered single-use. This means that once the pad is worn out and it trips off, you’ll have to replace them both.
Check how much contact is there between the pad and the disc. This could single-handedly fix the flashing light. To do this, press on the pedal a few times in a row, then restart the dashboard lights.
However, if this doesn’t get the job done, you’ll most likely need to replace the sensor altogether.
Some people might opt to bypass the braking sensor, but that can be risky. It’s there for a reason, after all!
5. Anti-Lock System Malfunction
The Anti-lock Brake System or the ABS uses the principles of cadence braking to keep your wheels from locking. In simpler words, it protects your car from skidding around.
Not all cars have ABS as a part of their Electronic Stability Control (ESC) technology. However, if it’s there, it can significantly reduce the risk of fatal crashes.
Yet, the flashing light can indicate a serious problem. For one, the system is susceptible to corrosion and electric malfunctions. Even grime can interfere with the wheel speed sensors and throw the whole ABS off balance.
Because the ABS is such a complex unit, the solution can vary dramatically according to where the exact problem is.
Start with the simplest fixes. If your car has multiple ABS sensors, you’ll have to get them cleaned out, one by one.
Meanwhile, a faulty electric circuit module will be much more demanding and time-consuming to fix.
6. Blown Out Rear Lights
Finally, one of the most overlooked problems that could cause the brake lights to flash is a burnt rear light.
Usually, when you brake, a light in the tail should go off to let the cars behind you know that you’re stopping.
Some car models use the brake lights as a warning that there’s something wrong with the tail bulb. Keep in mind that it’s illegal to drive with a broken taillight.
Although it’s such a logical and simple issue, we don’t always get there as quickly as we should. Probably because it’s hard to consider what lights are going off in the rear.
Get someone to stand behind the car and keep an eye on the taillights while you press on the brake pedal. Ask them if the rear brake light turns on.
If they don’t, then you know why your dashboard lights are giving you those warning flashes. It should be fixed by changing the burnt bulb.
How to Prevent Brake Light Problems
Do you know how they say that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, and it sounds like a really overused proverb? Well, it might be outdated, but it’s true in a lot of cases.
Car breakdowns are such a hassle that even something as simple as a flashing brake light can be time-consuming to fix.
That’s why it’s always better to take some proactive measures to keep your brake system in tip-top shape.
Change Your Brake Fluid Periodically
Since brake fluid is one of the most common reasons for a flashing dashboard light, you’ll need to add it to your periodic maintenance schedule.
As a rule of thumb, ask for a brake fluid check-up with every oil change. You might not need to replace it until 4-5 years, but it doesn’t hurt to check.
Verify That the Dashboard Lights Are Working
Dashboard lights are there for a reason. They warn you whenever something needs tending, but there’s only so much that these safety mechanisms can do if they’re broken down.
Make a habit of verifying the integrity of all dashboard lights every day. Once you start up the car, all the warning signs should light up for a few seconds. If one of them doesn’t blink, get it checked out.
Check the Brake Sensor Between Pad Changes
Brake pads are usually part of any maintenance check-up after around 40,000 miles. What many car owners tend to overlook is the sensor. So, make sure to get the sensor examined as well.
Not only because false alarms are annoying, but because the malfunction can be dangerous. After all, a broken sensor might not be able to indicate that your pads are worn out.
Never Drive With Engaged Handbrakes
We get that driving off in a rush is something that will happen sooner or later to every one of us. However, it’s important to make a mental note of checking a few crucial things before heading out.
For one, you’ll want to make sure you never try to drive with your emergency handbrakes engaged. It’ll put extra wear on the brake system. So, always double-check that the handbrakes are fully released!
Why Is My Brake Light Flashing: FAQs
Here are some frequently asked questions on blinking brake warning lights:
Q: Are flashing brake tail lights legal?
A: Some people find that flashing tails help drivers behind you distinguish between slowing down and emergency stops.
However, brake rear lights with strop effects are considered an illegal modification in most places.
Q: Can you drive with a brake pad warning light?
A: A worn-out brake pad significantly loses its function to bring the car to a halt when needed. That’s why it’s dangerous to drive around with such a serious malfunction.
Additionally, it could ruin your brake system since the friction material is thinned out, and the backing plate rubs on the rotors.
Q: Is it possible to reset the brake warning light?
A: Depending on your car model, you might be able to reset the warning light by hooking up an Onboard Diagnostics (OBD) scanner to the Assembly Line Diagnostic Link port under the control panel. You’ll then be prompted to use a code from the service manual
Alternatively, you can use an ODO reset button on your dashboard and choose which sensor you’d like to reset (rear or front.)
Q: How do I pick the right brake pad?
A: Each car manufacturer sets specific recommendations for the brake pads to use in their models. The cut shape and friction material will vary from one vehicle to the other.
That said, it’s always better to buy from reputable brand names with safety certifications. Look for something that has Dual Dynamometer Differential Effectiveness Analysis (D3EA) and Brake Effectiveness Evaluation Procedure (BEEP) certificates.
So, to wrap up on the whole “Why is my brake light flashing?” debacle, let’s say that the answer might vary from running on low brake fluid levels to an engaged parking brake.
Regular maintenance can keep this kind of malfunction away. This includes periodic brake pad changes, ABS sensor cleanups, and monitoring the dashboard lights.
In the end, it’s important to say that you should never drive on bad brakes, not even to the mechanic. After all, it really isn’t a risk you want to take!