Dear Car Talk:
I have a 1999 Honda CR-V with 188,161 miles on it. Sometimes the parking brake signal on the dashboard will illuminate as I am driving, but the parking brake itself is definitely not on. This used to only happen when the outside temp was below 30 degrees, but now it’s happening in warmer weather, too.
I don’t know much about cars, but the same thing happened with a previous vehicle, and a few months later, the transmission totally died. Is there any way that any of these things could be connected? — Jordan
No. In 2016, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in a century, and just after that, Netflix launched Season 1 of “The Crown.” Connected? No. Well, I don’t think so.
I believe your CR-V has two dashboard brake lights — one to signal trouble in the regular brake system, and a separate one that says “Parking Brake.” So there are only a couple of things that would make the parking brake light come on if that brake is disengaged. And neither one is terribly serious.
Your parking brake is operated by a foot pedal, to the left of the brake. And when you step on it to engage the parking brake, there’s a little switch at the top of the lever that says, “Hey, the parking brake is on.” That switch is what makes the light on your dashboard go on. The light is there to discourage you from driving all the way to Chattanooga and back with the parking brake on.
Over time, that switch can get out of adjustment. And cold weather can make it act up. Or after enough use, the switch can simply wear out. And keep in mind, that switch is now old enough to order a drink in most states. It’s a simple little switch, and your mechanic can either adjust it or, if necessary, replace it for less than $100 with labor.
The other possibility is that, even though you’ve fully released the parking brake pedal, the cables that actually apply the parking brake could be sticking. And if they’re not releasing completely, your parking brake pedal won’t return fully to its upright and locked position for landing. And even though it won’t be enough for your foot or your eye to notice, it’s enough to make the light stay on.
If you see smoke coming from one of the wheels, you’ll know it’s the cable that’s sticking. So I’m going make a bold suggestion, Jordan. Take the car to your mechanic. Tell him what’s happening and ask him to have a look. He ought to be able to figure it out pretty quickly.
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(c) 2020 by Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.