How Long Can You Continue Driving When the Brake Pad Warning Light Comes On? Expert Advise!

The brake pad warning light has come on while you drive along, and the panic has now set in. But do not worry; there’s no reason to stop driving your car immediately unless you have something else seriously wrong, but you would have heard the horrible noises. I’ve had cars come into the workshop on the back of tow trucks cause the pad warning indicator had come on 5 kilometres away from home. So they spent all that time sitting at the side of the road waiting for a tow truck to arrive and it wasn’t necessary. They could have safely driven the car home. If only they had read this first!  

The thing with the brake warning light indicator is they’re set to come on when the brake pads have 2 – 3mm of brake pad surface remaining. In mileage terms, this is around 1600 kilometers (1000 miles) under normal driving conditions. Although many other factors are involved which will alter the expected mileage. But if you are unsure, drive the car straight home carefully and put off any long-distance driving until the brakes get inspected or repaired; after all, they are the only thing stopping the vehicle. 

What Is the Brake Pad Warning Indicator?

The brake pad warning light indicates to you as the driver that the brake pads need replacing. There are several different types of indicators, and not all vehicles come with a warning light. Brake pad squeal indicators are another common version that makes a horrible screeching noise when you brake once the pads have worn down.

The brake pad warning light on the dashboard is the best and most reliable. It is a wire that clips into the pad when the brake rotor touches the end of the wire. This happens because the pads wear into the rotor, which triggers the light. Although inexpensive, they need replacing simultaneously; the pads and the light cannot be reset without a new indicator. Some vehicles are designed to have the wear indicator as part of a new set of pads; others supply them separately.

How Long Can You Drive With the Pad Warning Light on For?

In theory you can drive with the warning pad warning indicator illuminated; almost all vehicles bring the light on early. You should be able to continue driving for about 1600 – 2000 kilometers (1000 – 1500 miles) from when the light comes on until the brake pads have no braking surface left. Although this is provided, the braking system has no other issues, such as seized calipers, which unfortunately is impossible to tell without physically performing a brake inspection.

Another thing to remember is that the distance you can drive on your brakes when the light is on also depends on how you drive, the type of driving, and your driving style. Stop-and-start driving around towns will wear the brakes down much quicker than blasting along the highway, hardly touching the brakes.

brake pad warning indicator

What Happens if You Continue to Drive With Worn Brakes Beyond the Recommended Mileage With the Warning Light On?

The risk of driving with worn brakes for an extended period, for example, over 1600 kilometers (1000 miles), is you can cause damage to the brake rotors. Once the brake pads wear through the pad surface, the pad’s metal backing plate grinds into the rotor. The grinding on the backing plate renders the rotors useless, meaning you must simultaneously replace the pad and rotor. However, if you were careful and the rotor was still in wear tolerance, you could change the brake pads on their own.

Driving with worn brake pads can be dangerous for two reasons. Firstly, it reduces the efficiency of your brakes. The braking distance can increase when the brake pads are completely worn out. Secondly, if you continue driving with no brake pad surface left, it can lead to a severe problem if you need to stop suddenly in an emergency. 

When Should You Stop Driving With The Brake Pad Indicator On? 

As I mentioned, you don’t need to stop immediately if you see the brake pad warning light come on while driving. However, there are other signs to look out for, such as grinding noises, smoke coming from a wheel, or the handbrake warning light flashing simultaneously with the brake pad warning light. In these cases, you should pull over as soon as possible. These signs may indicate a problem, such as a faulty brake caliper, which can cause the brake pads to wear out quickly.

The Pad Warning Light Is On, but the Pads Are Good, What’s Wrong?

If the brake pads are in good condition and the light is on, the pad wear indicator is malfunctioning. This issue could result from a broken wire, a crushed sensor, or a faulty component. The brake pad sensor is usually attached to the suspension components around the wheel arch and can be easily affected by debris. Brake pad sensors are typically single-wire, meaning that even a minor issue can cause the sensor to break or the wire to come out, triggering the indicator.

It is important to remember that even if you have recently had your brakes inspected or replaced, you should not assume that they are in good condition without rechecking them. One of the components in the brake system can fail without warning, causing the pads to wear down quickly and triggering the sensor light earlier than expected. 

Brake Pad Warning Light Comes on and Off. What Does This Mean?

A flashing brake pad wear light or the handbrake light on some vehicles indicates that the brake fluid is low. Although topping up the brake fluid is perfectly fine, the brake fluid gets low because the pads are worn, providing there are no other issues.

Because the brake piston inside needs to travel further to apply brake pressure with worn pads, it requires more fluid. A braking system is a sealed unit, so the brake fluid does not get consumed or evaporate. So, unless you find yourself topping up the fluid regularly (you have another issue), it is wise to inspect the brakes before just topping up the fluid level, unless it is an emergency or mid-journey, as not all vehicles have brake pad warning indicators.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Should You Never Ignore A Brake Warning Light In Your Car?

It is crucial to never ignore a brake warning light in your car because it could be a signal of a significant problem with your brakes. If you continue driving without knowing the cause, it could lead to brake failure, which can be catastrophic and put you and other people on the road in danger.

Why Is My Brake Pad Light Still On After Changing My Brakes?

If the brake pad light in your car is still on even after replacing the brake pads, it could be due to a faulty sensor or the car’s system not being informed about the new pads. To resolve this issue, you may need to perform a reset procedure or use a diagnostic tool to reset the car’s system.

What Does The Brake Warning Light Look Like?

The symbol for the brake warning is a circle surrounded by rounded brackets with an exclamation mark inside. Some vehicles have additional indicators such as ‘brakes’ or ‘Check brakes’ lights that may also illuminate.

Final Thoughts

When the warning light for brakes comes on, you can usually rely on brake pads to last for around 1600 kilometers (1000 miles). However, it is recommended that you have your brakes checked and replaced as soon as possible to avoid potential problems. It’s important to note that worn brake pads may not always allow you to travel these distance, so it’s best not to assume they will. It’s a risk driving with a brake warning light on no matter how far you think you may get!

My name is Tom although my friends call me Tommy. Messing around with cars and bikes has always been a hobby of mine even from a young age. So I made it my day job 17 years ago. I am a fully qualified mechanic as you would expect. I've worked in all different areas of the motor trade, valeting, panel beating, engine repairs, I'm sure you get the idea. I enjoy sharing my wealth of knowledge and experience with others, which is the reason I spend a lot of time here writing for this website.

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