The brake lights, also known as the tail lights, on your car always need to be in tip-top shape. This is because if you were ever to come to a sudden stop on the highway, your brake lights would illuminate, allowing the driver behind you to know that you were slowing down or stopping. If your brake lights constantly remain on, it can put you and other drivers on the road in danger.
Your vehicle’s brake lights utilize a switch, known as a stoplight switch, that is connected to the brake pedal to notify whether the lights are off or on. When you push the brake down with your foot, this switch completes the circuit and the brake lights turn on. Sometimes, your brake lights won’t turn off because of a circuit error or a variety of other reasons.
Having faulty brake lights can be downright dangerous. In this article, we will explore everything you need to know about this issue, some common brake light problems, and what you can do to fix it.
How Do Brake Lights Work?
The brake light wiring system on your vehicle isn’t too complex. At one end of the system, you have the lights, which are bulbs in sockets that are connected to the wiring harness. On new models, these may be LED lights. At the other end of the system is the car’s brake switch. This is where the brake pedal pushes down to create the contact needed to complete the circuit. The system is powered by your car’s battery.
Common Reasons Why Your Brake Lights Won’t Shut Off
Here are some of the most common reasons why your car’s brake light may not be shutting off and how to troubleshoot them.
- A Faulty Brake Light Sensor or Switch: If your vehicle’s brake switch is not working properly, the brake light may not be turning off. Additionally, it also may not be turning on. The first thing that you need to do to troubleshoot this issue is to check the fuse and then check your brake switch. There may be an issue with the bulb, so be sure to check that too and replace it if necessary.
To check the brake light switch, locate it under the dash near the top of the pedal. Also check for the stopper in the brake pedal which is located on the opposite of the brake switch. If a stopper is there, see if the switch is depressing all of the way and is working properly. If not, your entire brake light switch may need to be replaced.
If you can’t find the stopper, scan the floor to see if it’s there or if it has broken into pieces. If the stopper broke, replace it with a new one. Don’t loosen the pedal, and confirm that the new stopper can depress your brake light switch.
If your brake light is not turning on, you may need to replace the switch. You’ll need to check the holder with a test lamp. To do this, have a friend pump the brake paddle as you go behind of the car to check the bulb holder with the test lamp.
- The Brake Pedal Spring is Not Working: If the brake pedal spring on your car is weak or does not have enough power to return to its natural position when you press down on the brake pedal, your vehicle’s brake light may stay illuminated. This issue can impact the life of your brake rotor and brake pad as well.
If this is the case, it’s a smart idea to take your vehicle in to be inspected by a reputable mechanic so that they can fix the problem right away.
- A Bad Electric System: If your car has an issue in the electric line, your brake light may not turn off or turn off in a timely manner. Sometimes, it won’t even turn on. Check the electric line to find out if everything is in working order. To do this, locate your car’s fuse box, which is generally located under the hood or on the kick panel inside of the passenger compartment. Looking at the fuse diagram on the box’s lid or in your driver’s manual, find the fuse for your vehicle’s brake circuit and check it isn’t blown out.
If not, you should bring your car into an automotive repair shop to get the problem fixed.
- The Brake Pedal is Stuck: Another reason behind your brake light staying on is a stuck brake pedal. The light will not shut off because the vehicle’s brake pedal isn’t properly closing the switch.
Your brake lights will remain illuminated until the connection between the brake pedal and the brake pedal switch is active.
Corrosion or debris that is stuck between the pedal and the switch may affect the process.
- A Burnt Out Bulb: A burnt out bulb is one of the most common brake light problems. Consider how many times you pump your brake while you’re driving, and then think about how many times your bulb needs to be on for that entire time period. While newer cars have LED lights that last for longer periods, older models still have the traditional bulbs that need to be popped out and replaced every so often. With some basic tools and knowledge, this task is simple to do by yourself.
- A Bad Socket: Your brake light woes may be coming from a bad socket that has corroded or dirty connections. The wiring also may be worn down to the point where it is only making an intermittent connection. Replacing your vehicle’s brake light socket is pretty straightforward. All you have to do is snip the old wires and splice in the new unit, which is a pretty affordable part to buy.
Regardless of what the issue might be, you never want to drive your car when the brake lights won’t shut off. It could put you, your passengers, and other drivers on the road in danger.
Before you tackle any of these jobs, it’s also important to do some brake light wiring prep work. Firstly, you should consult your driver’s manual and have the brake light wiring diagram handy as you complete these tasks. It’s also a good idea to have a family member or friend help assist you.
When Your Brake Warning Light is On
Another issue that can happen to your vehicle’s brake system if your brake lights stay on is that the brake warning light will become illuminated on your dashboard. Most cars, trucks, and SUVs have a suite of warning lights on their instrument cluster. When your brake system warning light pops on, it’s telling you that there is something wrong with your car’s brake system.
If this happens, you need to address the issue immediately in order to avoid any potential accidents. If the brake warning light comes on while you’re driving or in traffic, do not panic. Safely pull over and have your car towed back to your home or to a trusted mechanic for inspection. Remember, it’s never a safe idea to continue driving your car if the brake warning light is illuminated. It is always best to park the vehicle and have it towed.
Why is My Brake Warning Light On?
Like having your brake lights not turn off, having your brake warning light come on may be caused by a variety of reasons. Here are some possible culprits behind your illuminated brake warning light.
- Brake Fluid: Your car’s brake fluid is important for its braking performance. When you press down on the brake pedal with your foot, pressurized fluid in the brake lines and brake hoses force the piston in the calipers to apply pressure to the inner brake pads, squeezing them and the brake rotors to help you slow down to a stop.
To check on your brake fluid, locate the master cylinder, also known as a brake fluid reservoir. It’s located on the driver’s side and is made from yellow or white plastic. After finding it, check the fluid level. There should be maximum and minimum indicators on the side of the reservoir to show you the ideal range of fluid. If the fluid levels are too low, add more of it to the reservoir. Before you do this, flush out the old fluid before adding the new one.
- Parking Brake: The issue behind your brake warning light being on may be as simple as having your parking brake still engaged. To fix the problem, release the parking brake all of the way.
- Brake Sensors and Pads: Your brake pads will eventually wear out due to time and usage. When they’re extremely worn out, you need to replace them. Newer vehicles will alert you to your pads being worn out. This may be why your brake warning light is on.
If you just turned your car on and notice that your brake system warning light is illuminated, don’t run the risk of driving it. The first thing that you will want to do is to check to see if your parking brake is completely disengaged. After doing this, if your brake warning light is still on, your car is telling you that there is something wrong with its braking system that could prevent it from stopping. Turn off the engine and get the car towed to a local mechanic.
If the brake warning light pops on when you’re behind the wheel, be aware that your vehicle may not stop as quickly as needed. Safely drive the car to a parking area or onto the shoulder of the road away from traffic.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I tell if my car’s brake light switch is bad?
If your vehicle’s brake light doesn’t turn on or off on time, you may have a faulty brake light switch. Some cars with push button start systems won’t turn on if the brake light switch is bad.
Why is my brake light on when I’m driving?
The cause may be low brake fluid. If your brake fluid is low in the master cylinder, your brake light may stay illuminated.
Can I drive my car while my brake lights are on?
Legally speaking, it is not okay to drive with your brake lights on. This is because your brake lights are an indicator for the vehicle behind you to know when you are stopping or slowing down. If you are continuously driving with illuminated brake lights, you may cause an accident.
How much money does it cost to fix a broken brake light switch?
Brake light switches are pretty affordable car parts. The average cost for changing a brake light switch ranges from about $70 to $95. The labor costs will run you about $45 to $55 for the entire job.
Can I drive my car with the emergency brake on?
Yes, you can. But it’s not safe.
While it can be an annoying nuisance to have your brake lights always on, it can also be deadly. If your brake lights won’t turn off, or if your brake warning light is illuminated, you need to have the problem fixed right away.
Sometimes, the issue is as simple as disengaging your parking brake or changing out a bulb. Sometimes, it’s more complex than that.
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