NuBrakes Blog Understanding Brake Lights on your Car | On your Dashboard and Tail Light Image

Understanding Brake Lights on your Car | On your Dashboard and Tail Light

What is a Brake Warning Light?

The brake light on your car's dashboard, often represented by an exclamation mark in a circle or the word "BRAKE," is a crucial part of your vehicle's warning system. Unlike the external brake "tail" lights that illuminate when you apply the brakes, this dashboard indicator warns you about potential issues with your car's braking system.

Key Takeaways:

  • Brake lights come in two forms - the dashboard brake warning light, which indicates potential issues within the braking system, and brake tail lights that notify other drivers when you're decelerating or stopping.

  • The brake warning light could activate for various reasons such as an engaged parking brake, worn brake pads, malfunctions in the Anti-Lock Braking System, sensor failures, low brake fluid levels, or a rear brake light bulb fault.

  • Brake lights play a critical role in ensuring road safety by preventing rear-end collisions, improving visibility in adverse conditions, and meeting legal driving requirements.

  • The cost of replacing a brake light bulb typically lies between $100 and $200, subject to the vehicle's make and model, and the chosen service provider. Some companies, like NuBrakes, provide convenient on-site repair services.

What's the difference between Brake "Warning" Lights and Brake "Tail" Lights?

Brake warning lights show up on the dashboard of your car when there's a fault in your braking system.

Brake tail lights are the lights on the back of the car that turn on when you press the brake pedal. This is important for safe driving conditions because it provides specific notice to other drivers behind you when your speed is likely to change.

Driving behind someone with defective or failing brake tail lights is inconvenient and dangerous because the time it takes to adjust your car increases the chances of an accident.

The brake tail light illuminates only while the vehicle is braking, so it's important that brighter light is in your car. When braking, the thicker filament of the tail light bulb illuminates, producing more intensity than the thinner filament. This is why the illumination of the tail lamp doubles up when the brake is applied.

This twin filament bulb is used as a brake tail light in motorcycles and automobiles.

Different filaments will be used depending on the manufacturer's car design.

6 Reasons Why Your Brake Light is On

1. Your Parking Brake is Active

This is the most typical cause of your brake light becoming illuminated on your dashboard. The parking brake sensor will activate the brake warning light if the parking brake is still engaged. This occurs when the vehicle parking brake is not entirely disengaged, and the answer is to disengage it.

If you drive with an active parking brake, you will warm your brakes and increase brake shoes and brake pad degradation. The increased temperatures can also cause brake fluid degradation and reduce the braking system's effectiveness.

2. Worn-Out Brake Pads

Worn brake pads cause the brake sensor wire to touch the rotor and cause the brake light (or brake pad warning light) to illuminate.

Worn brake pads can also cause a reduction in brake fluid level as the caliper pistons need to stretch further to contact the rotor, causing your brake warning light to illuminate.

3. Malfunction of the Anti-Lock Braking System

An ABS brake warning light turns on if the antilock brake system (ABS) is malfunctioning. The malfunction can be anything from an electrical fault to a dirty wheel speed sensor. Make sure to have a professional mechanic look over your ABS codes to figure out what's wrong.

4. Sensor Failure

Many sensors are linked to the brake system in your car, such as the parking brake sensor, master cylinder, or ABS. Any failure of any of these sensors can cause your dashboard brake light to turn on.

5. Low Brake Fluid Levels

The brake fluid level in the system is monitored by a sensor in the brake master cylinder. The sensor will turn on the brake light if the fluid level falls below the minimum threshold since it can signal a brake fluid leak.

6. Rear Brake Light Bulb Fault

Some car computers monitor the rear brake tail light bulb, which could be a single bulb or an array of LED bulbs at the back of a car. If the tail light bulb burns out or dims, the brake warning light may illuminate to alert the driver that their rear brake lights are out to prevent rear-end incidents.

How does Brake Tail Light Work?

The brake pedal, striker, brake light switch, lights, fuses, and wiring all make up your brake system related to your brake tail lights. When you press the brake pedal, it connects with the brake light switch attached, allowing the brake tail lights to illuminate.

This switch informs your brake tail lights that the pedal has been depressed by the electrical components. When you take your foot off the brake pedal, the striker disengages the brake tail light switch, turning off the brake tail lights. Although this is a simple description of how brake tail lights work, damage to the striker or brake light switch could cause brake tail light problems.

Why is Brake Tail Lights Important?

Communication Tool

Brake lights are a critical communication tool on the road. Every time you press the brake pedal, the brake lights at the rear of your vehicle light up. This signals to drivers behind you that you're slowing down or coming to a stop. Without brake lights, it would be extremely difficult for following drivers to anticipate your actions, leading to potential accidents.

Prevention of Rear-End Collisions

One of the most common types of traffic accidents is a rear-end collision, often occurring when the following driver can't react to a vehicle slowing or stopping in front of them. Brake lights are a vital line of defense against such accidents because they provide immediate and clear information about your intentions.

Safety in Different Conditions

Brake lights aren't just important in day-to-day driving, but also in various challenging conditions. In heavy traffic, they help maintain a safe distance between vehicles by alerting trailing drivers when you're braking. During poor weather conditions like fog or heavy rain, brake lights can make your vehicle more visible and give others more time to respond to your actions.

Legal Requirement

In almost all regions, having functioning brake lights is a legal requirement. Driving without them, or with faulty brake lights, could result in a fine or penalty points on your license. More importantly, it could endanger you, your passengers, and other road users.

Enhancing Roadway Order and Predictability

On a larger scale, brake lights contribute to the order and predictability of traffic flow. Along with other vehicle lights and signals, they form a universal language that drivers of all types of vehicles understand, irrespective of the country or vehicle type.

Why Is There a Third Brake Light?

The third brake light, often known as a safety brake lamp or a high-level brake light, alerts other drivers when you apply the brakes. This is useful for situations where other vehicles block the view of the left and right brake lights.

In some countries, red turn signals are allowed and can also cause other drivers to become confused. A third brake light helps drivers determine whether the vehicle in front of them is braking, especially while driving at night.

The third brake light may be fitted inside the vehicle's back glass, in the car's deck lid, or on the spare wheel carrier on some trucks. 

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How much is a brake light replacement?

When replacing your brake light bulb, the average cost ranges from $100 to $200. The pricing may differ depending on the make and model of your vehicle and the auto shop you choose in terms of its type and quality.

At NuBrakes, we offer a unique solution by sending our skilled technicians directly to your office or home for repair. 

We take pride in our transparent pricing, ensuring that we don't inflate the cost of parts and keeping our overhead expenses to a minimum. This means we provide a convenient and cost-effective option for your repair needs.

Don't compromise your safety and the safety of others on the road due to faulty brake lights.

If you notice any issues with your brake warning light or tail lights, it's time to take action.

Contact us today.

Our skilled technicians will come to your location, be it your home or office, and provide a convenient, cost-effective solution for all your brake light needs.

Schedule your service appointment with NuBrakes today and ensure a safer ride.


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