Have you ever seen a dashboard light illuminated while driving but didn’t know what it meant? We all worry when a car warning light comes on and stays on but that’s kind of the point. It means there’s something wrong and you need to take action to prevent a breakdown or major fault.
Some warning lights are straightforward but there are some that are trickier to understand. To help you know what to do – whether you can fix the problem yourself or you need to get to your mechanic or the nearest garage we’ve created this post containing a list of common car dashboard symbols and their meanings.
Firstly, it’s important to remember that warning lights can be displayed in different colours. These lights usually indicate how serious the problem is with red being the most urgent. Although a green dashboard light is less urgent, it’s still good practice to act sooner rather than later. Examples of red warning lights include brake or engine lights while green lights include window washer fluid lights.
Braking System Light
Usually, a red exclamation mark in a circle, is your brake warning light. If this comes on, don’t ignore it - it usually means urgent attention is needed.
However, it may also just indicate that you’ve left your handbrake on. Double check it’s fully released before you go any further. If that doesn’t work, it can also mean that brake fluid is low or the sensors are faulty.
Also, check the brake pedal. If it doesn’t feel right (different from usual) or it falls to the floor of the car, DO NOT DRIVE ANY FURTHER.
If possible, pull over safely, call for roadside assistance or arrange for your car to be taken to the closest garage for inspection.
We all know this one, don’t we?? This is a fuel pump icon, usually amber. It means your fuel is low and you only have a certain number of miles left to find a garage. Otherwise, you’re in trouble!
Some people live their lives constantly running on fumes but it’s not a good idea. Even though running out of petrol or diesel won't cause any mechanical issue, fixing it will be more than just fuelling up.
You will need to bleed the air from the fuel lines and injectors – or more likely get an expert to do that for you. Otherwise, the engine won’t start properly.
Most importantly, don’t wait until your fuel light comes on before topping up – refuelling regularly can be more beneficial to your engine and your fuel economy than filling up to a full tank.
Oil Pressure Light
A red oil symbol can indicate you might be in a little trouble.
The oil pressure warning light is one of the most important and if you choose to ignore it, it will cause a lot of heartache in the long run!
It’s a warning that there’s not enough oil pressure or that your oil level is too low. Oil lubricates the moving parts of your engine, so no or low oil can cause your engine to seize up. That can be fatal!
Top up your oil and the light should go out. If it doesn’t, take your car to a garage to be checked.
Engine Warning Light
This is the dashboard light nobody likes to see lit up. An engine warning light is a job for the professionals. It’s
important to get your engine checked out even if your car feels completely fine
to drive. Before you freak out, it usually means a faulty sensor but can
be serious. Your best bet is to get a mechanic on the job – and fast.
This temperature gauge icon (with wavy lines to represent water) means your car is in danger of overheating.
This light comes on when the engine is running too hot or there isn’t enough coolant/antifreeze in the system. This can leave you in a cloud of steam – or worse: with a blown gasket.
If this light comes on, TURN OFF THE ENGINE IMMEDIATELY and get someone to have a look. There is a risk of total engine failure if you keep driving with this light on so it’s recommended that you have comprehensive car insurance to ensure you’re covered in a breakdown.
Tyre Pressure Light
If your car has a tyre pressure monitoring system, don’t ignore this one.
It detects a drop in pressure and alerts you which is vital because low-pressure tyres can seriously affect driving, braking and cornering. It can also lead to a blow out – which is especially dangerous on a motorway or whenever you’re driving at high speed.
Check all tyres for an obvious puncture. Or, even if they all look OK, get to the closest service station and top up your tyres with air.
Top Tip: Make a note of the recommended pressure levels – you’ll find them in your driver's manual or modern cars list them on a sticker insider the driver’s door. If you’re unsure about the whole process, a lot of garages or car servicing/repair companies will top up your tyres for free.
Traction Control Light
This little car leaving wavy lines behind lights up when the weather is at its worst: in heavy rain or snow.
It indicates that the wheels are losing grip and is your cue to drive slowly and safely.
A warning that your braking system is malfunctioning, the ABS light can come on when brake fluid is low but also when your parking brake hasn’t been released.
It can be OK to continue driving – especially if you’re driving to get it checked out. But if both your ABS and brake light (!) are lit, it can indicate a serious problem that needs to be repaired QUICKLY.
The most important thing is to NOT ignore any light on your dashboard – some are easy fixes, some show real and imminent danger and some need professional input.
In all cases, responding to dashboard warning lights will help to prevent long term damage that can be expensive to put right.