How to Reset Your Parking Brake Light Easily

By Jed Lehman •  Updated: 04/25/22 •  9 min read

If you are wondering how to reset your parking brake light, we have you covered.

The parking brake light turns on when there is an issue with a vehicle’s parking brake. Almost every automobile has a parking brake, which is also known as an emergency brake or e-brake.

When the parking brake light is on there are a few ways to reset it. If the light does not turn off after being reset or other indicator lights are also turned on, it’s time to take your vehicle to a professional for a proper evaluation. 

Luckily, the parking brake light is not challenging to reset. In fact, many people can do it before visiting a mechanic if you can locate and repair the issue. We’ll take you through everything you need to know about the parking brake and the steps needed to reset it.

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What Is a Parking Brake (Emergency Brake)?

First and foremost, we’ll cover the parking brake. The parking brake (handbrake, e-brake, emergency brake) is used to keep a vehicle from moving when parked.

With most modern vehicles, the parking brake doesn’t need to be engaged for a vehicle to remain still. This is because automatic transmissions have a “park” setting on the shifter.

However, the parking brake is a crucial component for manual vehicles because the manual transmission does not have a “park” setting. Instead, drivers need to engage the parking brake before exiting the vehicle.

The parking brake consists of a two components:

  1. Cable that is connected to wheel brakes
  2. A pulling mechanism

Typically, there is a handle in the cabin that you pull up to engage the brake; most handles also feature a button you have to press to unlock the handle.

Recently, though, parking brakes have become less obvious. For example, some vehicles have a round dial that serves as the parking brake; it can even be a single button.

What Is a Parking Brake Light? 

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It’s also important to note that vehicles with manual transmissions are more likely to have the parking brake light turn on.

That’s simply because having the brake engaged when the vehicle is not fully stopped will trigger the parking brake light.

The parking brake light can also activate in vehicles with automatic transmissions for the same reason but people don’t typically use the e-brake in automatic vehicles.

What Is the ABS Brake Light?

Another type of brake light is the ABS light. ABS stands for the anti-lock braking system, which prevents the brakes from locking up the wheels or axle.

In the past, vehicles didn’t have this feature, and slamming on the brakes led to poor traction and more accidents because the wheels stopped turning completely.

If the ABS light turns on there is an issue with the vehicle’s ABS. While this can be addressed and reset at home, we recommend taking your vehicle to a professional.

Steps to Reset the Parking Brake Light  

Resetting the parking brake light takes time and patience because you have to figure out what’s causing it to turn on. Below are the steps you can follow to determine the problem and reset the parking brake light.

1. Disengage the Parking Brake 

We’ll begin with something simple. If the parking brake is engaged, the parking light brake will turn on. In these cases, releasing the parking brake can be enough to reset the parking brake light.

While it sounds simple, even having the parking brake slightly engaged can cause the light to turn on.

So, before checking anything else make sure the parking brake is not engaged.

This issue is more common for vehicles that have handles. Vehicles with buttons or dials don’t give you the leeway to partially engage or disengage the parking brake.

2. Engage the Parking Brake

If it’s not a simple issue, it’s time to start looking at other potential problems. To begin, we recommend engaging and disengaging the parking brake.

If you pull on the handle and the vehicle still rolls, there’s an issue with the cable, pulley, or brakes. If you can’t disengage the parking brake you’ll have similar problems.

The parking brake is located under the vehicle and the cables run from the cabin to two wheels. Replacing the components can repair your parking brake and reset the parking brake light.

3. Check for Brake Fluid Leaks 

Sometimes the parking brake can feel loose or spongey. When this occurs, it’s typically a brake fluid issue. Check the master cylinder to ensure that brake fluid is at or near the fill line.

Modern vehicles have sensors for brake fluid, so simply having too little brake fluid can also cause the parking brake light to activate. 

You’ll know it’s a fluid problem because other brake lights will be on too, like the ABS light. When checking your brake fluid, also check for leaks to prevent future problems.

Once your fluid is topped off driving the vehicle at 55 mph for about 30 minutes should be enough to reset the parking brake light and other indicator lights.

4. Locate the Parking Brake Switch 

Parking brakes are controlled by a simple pulley system that links the cabin to the brakes. When the lever is pulled, it engages the brakes located on the wheels.

That said, there is a switch that sends a signal to the vehicle’s ECU to let the computer know that the brake is engaged. If the switch is damaged, the parking brake light can turn on and stay on. 

The switch is located under the center console in most vehicles, so you’ll have to remove it to locate the switch. If the switch looks damaged or mangled, it’s time to replace it.

Replacing the switch will reset the parking brake light after you drive for a few miles. You can also use an OBD2 scanner to reset the light.

5. Locate and Replace Brake Sensors 

Modern vehicles have many sensors that send codes to the ECU. If there is an issue with any of these sensors, it can cause brake indicator lights to turn on.

Moreover, modern ECUs are smart enough to use the parking brake to assist with braking if the brake fluid is below nominal levels.

Issues with these sensors can cause the parking brake light to turn on for this reason.

If you’ve addressed all of the potential issues with the braking system and the parking brake light doesn’t turn off after, it’s time to check and replace the sensors.

6. Use an OBD2 Scanner to Turn the Code Off 

Finally, you can use an OBD2 tool to reset the parking brake light. While you can use this tool immediately, we recommend exhausting other options before doing so.

These tools can be connected to an engine’s ECU from the cabin of the vehicle. In most vehicles, the connection area is located under the steering wheel and to the right of the gas pedal. 

Keep in mind, that using an OBD2 scanner to turn the parking light off can remove the error code, which makes it harder for mechanics to solve the problem if there is an issue with sensors, brakes, or other parking brake components.

Due to this fact, the OBD2 scanner should only be used as a last resort.

When to Take Your Vehicle to the Mechanic 

Addressing issues and fixing the parking brake will typically reset the parking brake light. Unfortunately, cars can be complicated, so professional assistance is sometimes required.

If you experience the issues below we recommend having your vehicle evaluated by a professional.

Parking Brake Light Stays On 

If you’ve tried everything and the parking brake light stays on, it’s time to visit a professional. Additionally, if you’ve used an OBD2 scanner to turn the light off and it comes back on there is a bigger underlying issue with the braking system.

When your vehicle has an indicator light that won’t go away, even after you’ve tried everything, it’s typically there for a reason.

For your safety and to avoid damage to brake components, take your vehicle to a mechanic if the parking brake light persists after attempts to reset it.

Issues with the Anti-Lock Braking System 

Issues with a vehicle’s anti-lock braking system (ABS) can result in a parking brake light that won’t turn off, even after addressing parking brake issues.

This is because the ABS technology has several sensors connected to each wheel and brake. With ABS issues, even a broken sensor can cause the parking brake light and other indicators to activate.

If your ABS light is on, it’s time to take your vehicle to a professional. Anti-lock brakes are complicated, so having a mechanic solve the problem is better for your vehicle and your safety.

Wrapping Up 

The parking brake light is a blessing and a curse. While it’s a great indicator to show you there’s a problem, it can also persist after the issue is addressed.

For this reason, we always recommend investing in an OBD2 scanner. These devices can help you to better understand the issues with your vehicle.

They provide you with an error code that you can investigate online or with a professional and give you the means to reset codes if the issue is solved.

Jed Lehman

Jed Lehman is a born gearhead who has been working on cars since he could crawl. He inherited his love for auto from his grandfather who owned a maintenance shop in Carlsbad, California. Jed is the driver behind Gearshift, and started this site to provide straightforward, helpful automobile information. From maintenance tips to product reviews, you can find it all here.