Flashing brake lights are a major cause for concern because of the potential safety risks. To keep you from wondering, we’ll go through the five most common reasons for flashing brake lights on a Subaru Outback and tell you the possible ways to fix them.
Why is Subaru Outback Brake Light Flashing?
The primary reasons for flashing brake lights are failed ABS, brake pump, overheated brake pads & brake discs, or electrical problems. In the following section, we’ll go into more details on identifying the cause and repairing it.
1. Overheated Brakes
Driving a long distance downhill requires a lot of skill on the brake pedal. Brakes work on a friction system. When you step on the brake pedal, brake pads and disc come in contact and heat up. The heat dissipates quickly when they’re released, but on a descent, they’re engaged more frequently and cannot cool off.
If the brake warning light comes on, find a safe spot to park, preferably on even ground, and let them cool off. It’ll take some time, and you can check the progress by placing your hand near the wheel and feel the amount of heat coming from it. Subaru will also shut off the warning light to let you know it’s safe to continue driving.
To keep the brakes from overheating for as long as possible, I’ll share the method taught to me by an old-school driving instructor. When you’re driving downhill, there are two moments when you brake: when the car is reaching dangerous speeds, and when you’re approaching a corner. Usually, you’d press and hold the brake to decelerate to a desirable speed.
On the descent, you brake hard for only a second or two. It won’t be comfortable and it will bring you below the speed you’d want to keep, but you’ll naturally accelerate to that point anyway. Keep an eye on your rear-view mirror when doing this, to avoid having the driver behind rear-end you. This method is better on the brakes, as you’re giving them more time to cool, and the stronger braking will heat them less than a prolonged hold.
2. Brake Light Malfunction
It’s possible that one of the brake lights has died and Subaru is warning you to replace it. Brake lights are important for on-road safety because the driver behind you can see that you’re braking.
Changing the brake light is a relatively quick task. You’ll need the right bulb, a 7440 will work for the 2013 Outback but you can always check the label on the one you take out. You can finish the whole task with a Philips head screwdriver.
- Remove the plastic cover on the side of the light.
- Take out the screws holding the light. Be careful not to strip the screws otherwise you’ll have a hard time working them.
- Once you pull out the light and have access to the back, twist the light plug to take it out.
- Swap the old lightbulb with a new one. Use a clean cloth or soft paper over the glass because bare fingers will leave a stain that reduces effectiveness.
- Put the plug back in, then the whole light inside its position.
- Have someone tell you if the lights are working properly while you’re pressing the brake. Check to see if the warning light has disappeared.
- Screw in the light, then return the side cover.
3. Leaking Brake Fluid
Losing brake fluid is a serious problem. When I spoke about how the brake system works in the first section, I didn’t mention what drives the brake pads to make contact with the brake disc. When you step on the brake, the brake pump pushes brake fluid towards the brake calipers, where a cylinder presses on the brake pads.
When the brake fluid is leaking, more and more of the brake pedal will have no effect, as there’s nothing to drive towards the calipers. Open the hood and check the levels of brake fluid. The container is quite small and has a label either on top or on the cap. Fill it up very slowly and make sure not to cross the maximum amount.
If the problem returns, you can try to identify where the leak is coming from, but I wouldn’t recommend fixing the problem yourself. Take the car to a mechanic, or at the very least have someone with experience assist you in the process.
4. Parking Brake Problems
Parking brakes have been known to cause a number of problems that result in the flashing of the brake light.
The older parking brake system relied on the physical handbrake that pulls a cable and engages the rear brakes. If the cable rusts, snaps or the system freezes over while the brake is engaged, it can leave the brake stuck and make it tricky to fix. You’ll be able to tell if the parking brake is engaged if your Subaru Outback is struggling to move.
Modern electronic handbrakes can be activated with a push of a button, and an electric motor will engage the rear brakes. It’s not uncommon for this system to start acting up and cause a number of issues. Official Subaru manual states that in case of parking brake issues, the best course of action is to take the car to a licensed Subaru dealer for repairs.
However, it might be that you just activated the parking brake too many times. The frequent operation will result in flashing of the parking brake light for 10 seconds and loud noise. Your Outback will prevent you from using the brake for a time. If this is happening without your input, you should swap out the parking brake switch.
5. Electrical Problems
The brake system of a Subaru Outback is complex and has many components, like the ABS module, brake hydraulic pump, and a number of electric sensors that send signals and data around the vehicle.
The braking sensor registers when you press the brake pedal and sends a signal towards the brake lights. A failure will cause the brake lights to not activate when needed, and turn on when you’re not braking, even when the car is shut off. This will drain the battery and prevent you from starting the Subaru.
The pressure differential switch divides the brake system in two as a safety precaution. If there’s a problem with the brake system, rather than losing the whole brake system, you’ll retain half, allowing you to stop safely and call a towing service.
Electrical problems are difficult to diagnose without the right tools and expertise. A professional electrician will do a much better job and will also inspect the entire system for other faults.
Can I drive with my brake light flashing?
Driving with brake lights flashing is possible if the car doesn’t lock up as a precaution. However, even if Subaru Outback can start and run, I would strongly advise you not to drive until you’ve fixed the brake problem.
When should I check my brake fluid?
Checking fluid levels in your vehicle every few weeks is a good way to see early signs of mechanical problems. If everything is operating as intended, there should be no changes to the brake fluid levels over time. Every couple of years, you should take the car to a mechanic and have the quality of brake fluid tested.
How do I reset my brake light?
Open up the hood and disconnect the battery. Press the brake pedal to engage the brake lights which will be the fastest way to fully drain the power from the central computer. Reconnect the battery, and your dashboard should be error-free. If the error appears again, it’s likely more than just an anomaly, so take your Outback to an authorized Subaru dealership for a check-up.
What happens if the car is low on the brake fluid?
The first sign will be the brake light coming on, but after that, you’ll experience decreased braking power, a lack of resistance on the brake pedal, or even a total loss of braking power.
Can worn brake pads cause the brake light to come on?
Yes, most modern vehicles come with a brake pad wear indicator that will notify you when it’s time to swap them out.
There’s a number of problems that can cause the brake light to come on or flash, but by following this guide, you’ll be able to properly identify the problem. Some can be repaired at home, but most brake issues should be left to a professional to be certain that the job has been done right. VehicleFreak has the best how-to guides and owner tips, so make sure to check them out!