Brake Light Switch Defect Affects More Than Just the Brakes

Posted on
Scott McCracken
#brakes #engine #transmission #tsb #recall
Close-up of a brake light with a red lens on top, clear lens on bottom.

Subaru says that over time certain cleaning products you use inside the car can deposit a layer of silicone goop on the switch’s internal electrical contact. This affects its conductivity and means the brake lights will not illuminate when you press the brake pedal.

Subaru says this may increase the risk of a rear-end collision. Ya think?

Brake Lamp Switch Recall

At the end of February 2019, Subaru recalled brake light switch in 2.3 million vehicles, including the 2013-2017 Crosstrek, 2014-2016 Forester, 2008-2016 Impreza (4-door), 2012-2016 Impreza (5-door), and 2008-2014 WRX (4-door).

At the time the recall was announced (Subaru Service Campaign #WUE90 and NHTSA campaign #19V149000) there weren’t enough replacement parts.

Beyond the Brake Light

It’s hard to imagine why Subaru left this part exposed, especially considering how a defective brake lamp switch creates problems that extend far beyond the lights.

Certain ignition and transmission functions will be disabled until they receive the A-OK from the brake light switch. That’s because the switch signals that the driver has their foot on the brake, and that it’s now safe to start the car or shift it out of park.

Systems a defective brake light switch can affect

  • For cars with push-button ignitions, the ignition interlock will make it impossible to start the engine until it hears from the brake light switch.
  • Likewise, the transmission interlock won’t allow you to shift out of PARK until it receives a signal from the brake light switch.
  • If you happen to get the car started, you may see a vehicle stability control warning light as anti-lock brakes (ABS) and vehicle dynamics control (VDC) systems are deactivation while driving.
  • Eyesight operation can become disabled.
  • And of course, the brake lights won’t turn on when you press on the brake pedal

Brake light switch service bulletin (TSB 06-55-16R)

It’s unclear if the recall covers all owners who might experience this brake light switch problem.

In November 2016, Subaru released a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) outlining a design change to the brake light switch to reduce the possibility of improper illumination of the ABS and/or VDC warning lamp.

To fix the problem, Subaru introduced a new switch with fluorine grease to lubricate the plunger and prevent silicone contamination.

The TSB applied to the switch (part number 83311FJ001*) found in the 2014-2016 Forester, 2008-2014 WRX and STI, 2012-2014 Impreza (2.0L), and the 2013-0216 XV Crosstrek (non-hybrid model).

Check the brake lights if your ignition of transmission are stuck

The brake lights are a tell-tale sign of a brake lamp switch problem.

If you’re having an issue starting or shifting into neutral, try pressing on the brake pedal repeatedly to see if you can “unstick” the brake light switch before calling a tow truck.

Generations Where This Problem Has Been Reported

This problem has popped up in the following Subaru generations.

Most years within a generation share the same parts and manufacturing process. You can also expect them to share the same problems. So while it may not be a problem in every year yet, it's worth looking out for.

OK, Now What?

Maybe you've experienced this problem. Maybe you're concerned you will soon. Whatever the reason, here's a handful of things you can do to make sure it gets the attention it deserves.

  1. File Your Complaint is a free site dedicated to uncovering problem trends and informing owners about potential issues with their cars. Major class action law firms use this data when researching cases.

    Add a Complaint
  2. Notify CAS

    The Center for Auto Safety (CAS) is a pro-consumer organization that researches auto safety issues & often compels the US government to do the right thing through lobbying & lawsuits.

    Notify The CAS
  3. Report a Safety Concern

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the US agency with the authority to conduct vehicle defect investigations & force recalls. Their focus is on safety-related issues.

    Report to NHTSA