Am I going to crash?
February 26, 2008 6:44 AM   Subscribe

My 2002 Honda Accord brake light is coming on some mornings when I start the car but goes off after 10-15 min. It started this winter and I thought it was just needing to warm up the brake fluid. But today is balmy and it happened again.

I have checked the fluid several times and it is not low. I cannot get to the shop before Friday and although it has been happening for months off and on, I am now beginning to worry about my brakes.
Any ideas on this one?
posted by shaarog to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total)
does moving the emergency brake lever make any difference... is it fully disengaged?
posted by HuronBob at 6:48 AM on February 26, 2008

yeah, I'd be surprised if there was a brake fluid level light, usually the light is for the parking brake.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 6:52 AM on February 26, 2008

It's probably the brake light switch, not the brakes. It is associated with the hand brake lever, not the brakes themselves.
posted by caddis at 6:53 AM on February 26, 2008

However, to be safe, check your brake fluid level and test your brake to see if the car pulls to one side or the other. If either of these are a problem you should probably get it fixed before driving it any more. The brake light is also associated with a pressure sensor in the brake fluid circuit, but usually the cause is the switch on the parking brake.
posted by caddis at 6:58 AM on February 26, 2008

The "brake" light is categorically *NOT* just for the parking brake - it comes on for both that last insignificant bit you forgot to release the parking brake and for catastrophic leakage.

Not that catastrophic brake leakage or failure is likely. At all. Does your brake pedal "pump up" when you hit it a couple times in succession? you might have a leak in your master cylinder.
posted by notsnot at 7:26 AM on February 26, 2008

Best answer: Do you mean the brake warning light on the dash? Or the lights at the back of the car?

If it is the former, it is purely an indication of a couple of elements, it is not capable of diagnosing your braking performance, so if this is the only symptom it is most likely harmless*. Cause is most likely one of the following:

1: all cars have a brake fluid level warning switch. It is nothing to do with brake fluid warmth. *If the fluid is fine, this is the point that it is harmless. (for future searchers of this topic: If the fluid is low, top it up and then get the car checked for a reason why it dropped in the first place. This is really the only issue you may have, but if the light goes out, if there is a leak at all, it is a slow one.)

2: The parking brake is not fully off/the switch is sticking. Try jiggling it and seeing if you can make the light go out. It may be that the switch needs adjusting, as the time driving just makes it rattle back into position and so the light goes out.

If it is the latter (the lights at the back of the car, then it is most likely the switch at the pedal. Cars do not use a pressure switch for this, but a microswitch attached to the pedal. If this is badly adjusted, it will not be 'off' when the pedal is in its normal position. It may just have come loose. Try pulling the pedal back toward you with your toe and see if it makes a difference.

Chances are high that this is a loose/badly adjusted switch of either the pedal or the handbrake/park brake lever. The light is not able to ascertain a greater issue in your braking system, so I think it is minor.
posted by Brockles at 7:35 AM on February 26, 2008

My owners manual says the brake light will also come on if there's a malfunction with the ABS system. Keep in mind this is for a Ford, not a Honda, but you might want to look through your owners manual to see other causes besides the normal parking brake one.
posted by sanka at 7:37 AM on February 26, 2008

it comes on for both that last insignificant bit you forgot to release the parking brake and for catastrophic leakage.

Catastrophic? Touch of overstatement. It's connected to a level switch in the master cylinder reservoir, that's all. Being as the level has been checked and is fine, there is no issue with the braking system due to low fluid.
posted by Brockles at 7:37 AM on February 26, 2008

Sanka: A lot of cars have a separate (normally yellow) ABS light that comes on when you switch the ignition on, which will extinguish after a few seconds (after a system check). But this could also be the 'brake light' being referred to, I guess. More detail, please, OP?
posted by Brockles at 7:38 AM on February 26, 2008

Check your owner's manual about this. Odds are you just need new pads, or almost need new pads.

I have a 97 Prelude, which is basically a modified Accord coupe. My owner's manual says that the brake light comes on when you need new pads. Presumably it's measuring the fluid level, and it's just on such a crazy hair trigger that the miniscule drop in fluid levels from the pads wearing is enough to set it off.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:48 AM on February 26, 2008

Brockles: I was running the gamut of what the light *could* mean. I *have* had the brake pedal go to the floor, right as the light came on, in a '66 Coronet on an interstate. Scary, that. Not a problem the OP is facing, though.
posted by notsnot at 7:48 AM on February 26, 2008

On my Dodge, a stuck emerg./parking brake light also indicated a problem with ABS - specifically, a failure condition. You may want to get that system checked, too.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 7:56 AM on February 26, 2008

Best answer: My 2002 Honda Accord LX has been doing the exact same thing for about 3 months now. The guy at the Honda dealership (where we get it serviced every 3500 miles) said he has seen this happen on many Accords that were made around that time. Apparently it is just a bad switch between the emergency brake and that little light on the dashboard. He said it was nothing to worry about, and as long as your getting yours serviced fairly regularly I think you should be fine. I would make a trip soon, though, for peace of mind if nothing else.
posted by susiepie at 8:18 AM on February 26, 2008

The brake warning light came on intermittently in my Honda CRV and I ended up needing new brake pads. Best to get them checked when you can. Otherwise it could be low brake fluid (maybe a leak), a faulty light switch or something wrong with the handbrake.
posted by gfrobe at 8:23 AM on February 26, 2008

Top off your brake reservoir with the appropriate brake fluid, from a new, sealed container. 99 times out of 100, that is what is causing your idiot light to come on. No, it doesn't say it in the manual, but every time I've seen this symptom, the brake fluid reservoir was low. When your brake pads wear, it sucks more fluid into the system, causing the fluid level to drop.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 9:55 AM on February 26, 2008

Best answer: Heh, my girlfriend's 02 Accord does the same thing. I'm a bit of a gearhead and checked everything I could think of. Glad to hear its something inconsequential.
posted by kableh at 10:05 AM on February 26, 2008

Response by poster: It is the red Brake light on the dash. I marked the Meta answers that said it was harmless as best answers as a hopeful gesture. : )
It is not the hand brake as far as I can tell. I checked that first thing when it happens.
I will get my brakes checked as a precaution. Thanks all
posted by shaarog at 10:43 AM on February 26, 2008

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