Thursday, July 10, 2008

2001 Chevrolet Cavalier: Brake Warning Light

Due to my questionable skills at maintaining cars that leak more than the Exxon Valdez, I was surprised when a reader (my sister) recently emailed me asking for advice about her car. Not being an ASE certified mechanic (which requires two years of full-time experience & difficult testing) I only offered a few suggestions as to what the problem might have been. What would you have said?
Over Memorial Day weekend I accelerated to join the flow of traffic on the outerbelt. As I continued on my way, I noticed that the brake light on my dash board had lit up. This concerned me, so I glanced at my emergency brake to make sure someone hadn’t pulled it up (they hadn’t). Next I tapped the regular brake pedal to see if it might do any good (it didn’t). Eventually, the light turned off before I returned home. However, every so often the brake light on the dash glows red again. Should I be concerned? Perhaps it is just a loose fuse?
Guess away, shade tree mechanics.


Laura said...

I'll add on to your problem... our '98 Dodge Grand Caravan does this same thing - and more. It will not light up when the emergency break is set, but will light up at other odd times. Sometimes it comes on when going around a curve, or turning.

Andy Rupert said...

Laura, your problem sounds like something different. Perhaps the switch on your emergency brake is no longer operative. As to the light activated by turning/curves, that could be a number of things: bad wiring, sensor, or the same thing that was causing the Cavalier light to come on.

Andy Rupert said...

Here is how I responded:

I would guess that this means your brake fluid is reading low due to worn brake pads. When your brake pads wear down, it allows for more brake fluid to fill the brake calipers at each wheel.

So, you should probably have someone look at the brake fluid level and possibly the brake pads too. You can and probably should add fluid, but if your pads are getting low, you will eventually have to replace them.

The only other option (besides a hole in the brake line) would be that your ABS brake system is failing. The car will still operate without it. But it will make a difference in stopping time.