The brake light has two purposes:

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jul 01, 1991

Dear Tom and Ray:

The brake indicator light on my '86 Chevy Nova stays on whether the parking brake is on or not. Is this a necessary repair or just something I can live with?

RAY: You definitely have to fix it, Janet, because it's important to have a working brake warning light.

TOM: The brake light has two purposes. First, it tells you when your parking brake is engaged. And it's possible that the contacts on your parking brake switch are just sticking and leaving the light on. If that's the case, you're not in any immediate danger, and it's a simple repair.

RAY: But on this car (like many other cars), the brake light also comes on to tell you that your brake fluid is low. And if that's why it's coming on, you may be in need of some urgent brake work.

TOM: The brake fluid level can drop for two reasons. Either your brake pads are worn out and the fluid drops because it's filling the space vacated by those worn out pads. Or there could be a leak in the hydraulic system.

RAY: If there's a leak, it could lead to brake failure. And brake failure is not something most people can live with. So get it looked at, Janet. And good luck.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One