The parking brake, also known as the hand brake and emergency brake is used to secure your vehicle when stopped or parked. When applied, the ‘P’ symbol illuminates on the dashboard, usually in red but depending on the make and model of vehicle, it may light up in yellow or orange. The parking brake light should go out when the brake is released. If the parking brake light stays on or intermittently flickers when driving when you have disengaged the brake, there are some faults within the system.
Possible Reasons for Parking Brake Light Staying On
1. Lever not completely released – A common reason, particularly if you’re driving an unfamiliar car is to not fully lower the the parking brake lever. On a manual parking brake, under the lever is a cable which when the lever is pulled up, the cable tenses and applies the brakes. Pressure on the cable will cause the dashboard warning light to stay on. This is the first thing to check if you have a manual parking brake.
2. Low brake fluid levels> – Some vehicles have a dedicated symbol that illuminates when brake fluid is low, others may use the parking brake light. As brake pads wear down, more fluid is required to maintain the same pressure. As the sensor is triggered, you may notice the parking brake light intermittently come on and off or flicker.
This is another easy one to check yourself. Simply open the bonnet / hood and check the brake fluid reservoir tank and top up if required. Ensure you use the correct fluid type as this may result in greater problems if you use the wrong type. The top of the reservoir tank or the vehicle owners manual will tell you.
3. Faulty parking brake switch> – Another common fault is with the parking brake switch. Location of the switch could be on the hydraulic brake fluid tank or located close to the parking brake pedal or lever. Try shuffling the lever around when it is down to see if the light comes on, this can be an indication that the switch is at fault if it flickers on and off.
4. Brake master cylinder sensor – The master cylinder has a sensor which monitors brake fluid levels. If the sensor goes wrong, the brake warning light will be triggered. The brake fluid level sensor can also be mounted inside the brake fluid reservoir cap.
5. Parking brake light + wrench – If the parking brake light illuminates along with a wrench or spanner symbol, it means that your parking brake requires servicing.