Driver Knowledge Tests

What do the brake warning lights mean in my car?

Your car dashboard contains brake warning lights to let you know if there’s a problem with your brakes. There will be one for the handbrake, one for the hydraulic system and another for the anti-lock brakes. Some cars also┬ámonitor the level of the brake pads.

When you turn the key to start the car, the car will illuminate these bulbs while it checks the systems. They will go off once they are confirmed as functioning (or in the case of the handbrake, when you release it).

Handbrake warning light


The handbrake warning light illuminates when you have the handbrake on. Don’t start driving until this light is off – you may have left the handbrake on slightly, and that means the brake shoes could be rubbing and they will overheat.

Sometimes a handbrake can become stuck on in cold weather or if the car isn’t used very much.

If the handbrake warning light flickers on and off while you are driving, even though the handbrake lever is fully off, this is often a loose connection which you can have repaired when you next take your car in for a service.

Brake hydraulic system

brake warning light

This light will come on if the brake fluid level is too low, or if there’s a problem with the brake fluid pressure is low. This is a dangerous situation because you can find yourself without any brakes, so it must be checked immediately. Even if it flickers on and off, you should still check it. If it comes on while you are driving and stays illuminated, pull over and check the brake fluid level. If it’s low, you can fill it up. Check that the light goes off before you start driving again. If the light stays on you must have the car towed to a mechanic.

If your brake system is properly maintained, this light will not show, even if your brake pads are at the minimum level.

ABS warning light


If the ABS light comes on then you should have the vehicle checked immediately as the brakes may stop operating.

Brake pad monitoring

brake pad monitoring

Some vehicles have brake pad monitoring. If this light comes on it means that your brake pads are nearing the end of their life. You should change the pads very soon.


Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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