Written by Doris Donnerman (last updated May 25, 2010)
If you look closely at your dashboard, you might notice that it includes a warning light for your brakes. This light is normally off, but it can come on (and stay on) for a variety of reasons. Your owner's manual should contain the full information about your brakes and this warning light, but generally it means that the electronic "brain" of your car has detected some sort of problem with the brakes.
Sometimes the warning light will come on if the emergency brake is engaged on the car. Check to see that the brake is fully disengaged, and recheck the light. If the light stays on, or if it comes on when you push the brake pedal, there may be something wrong with your car's main braking system. In any event, it is best to pay immediate attention to any possible brake problem.
It could be that the brake pads are worn to the point that they need to be replaced, or perhaps that the hydraulic brake fluid levels are low. The light could also mean that the brake system is losing pressure. Any of these may sound dire, and they could be if left untreated. You'll want to go to an auto repair shop as quickly as possible to have your brakes checked.
If your brakes fail completely or you notice that the brake pedal pushes all the way to the floorboard, turn on the hazard lights, pull to the side of the road, and slow to a full stop. Keep in mind that you may need more distance than usual for braking; you may have to press the brake pedal harder and it may depress further.
Pump the brake pedal rapidly to build up pressure. If that doesn't work, use the handbrake or change down a gear so that engine drag slows the car. When you have almost come to a complete stop, pull onto the shoulder of the road and turn off the ignition.
If none of these measures halts the car, you may have to sideswipe something—a curb, a hedge, even a parked car—to come to a stop. Sound your horn and flash your lights to alert other drivers of your emergency.
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