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Why Is My Parking Brake Warning Light On?

Stephen Fogel
January 16, 2019

The parking brake warning light should come on whenever the parking brake is applied or not fully released.

parking brake light

But if the brake itself fails to totally disengage, no matter what you do, you’ll need to get either the brake or the switch repaired.

On some vehicles, this light can be confused with red brake hydraulic system warning light since it's also red in color.

How does your parking brake work?

The parking brake is often completely separate from the regular braking system, or in some cases, it can involve parts from the other brakes. It’s activated using a pedal, hand lever or electronic switch, and it keeps your car’s wheels from turning when parked. 

A switch in the parking brake system turns on the warning light whenever the parking brake is activated and the ignition is on. The parking brake warning light also acts as a reminder to release it before you drive away. Releasing the brake should turn off the light. Some vehicles will automatically release the parking brake when you shift out of park.

RepairPal Tip: Depending on your vehicle, it may have one or more brake warning lights. Some have a separate parking brake warning light, while others may combine several brake-related functions into one light. Check your owner’s manual to see what your brake warning lights mean.

» LEARN MORE: Get an estimate for your car repair

Can I drive with the parking brake warning light on?

When you first start your car, all the warning lights should come on for a second or two. If there are no problems detected, the lights will go out. If the car’s computer believes the parking brake is engaged, or there’s some other problem, the red light will stay on.

There are usually two possible reasons why your parking brake warning light stays on after you've released the parking brake:

The parking brake is not fully disengaged. This means that releasing the pedal, lever or button did not completely release the actual parking brake. You may feel some drag as you drive, as if the brakes were partially applied — or, if the brake is not released at all, you may not be able to move. Driving (or trying to) when this happens can cause damage to your parking brake or other parts. Instead, have the car taken to a repair shop. 

The parking brake switch is broken. When this happens, the parking brake has been fully released, but the switch has not shut off the parking brake warning light. You can continue driving your car, but you should have the switch repaired soon, as it may or may not engage the brake properly next time.

Get it diagnosed by a professional

How to fix the parking brake warning light

Most of your parking brake system is hidden inside and underneath your car. This means that that troubleshooting and fixing this system is best left to a mechanic. There are a few things that you can try if your parking brake warning light stays on after you release the parking brake:

  • Apply and release the parking brake a few times to be sure that it is fully released.
  • Check your owner’s manual to verify exactly what the warning light is telling you.
  • Check your brake fluid level (if your warning light has added brake-related functions).

If none of this helps, get in touch with a mechanic, who can deal with all types of parking brake problems. 

Stephen Fogel

About the Author

Stephen has been an automotive enthusiast since childhood, owning some of his vehicles for as long as 40 years, and has raced open-wheel formula cars. He follows and writes about the global automotive industry, with an eye on the latest vehicle technologies.

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