What do the lights on my dashboard mean? Modern automobiles are sophisticated machinery. A typical new car contains over two dozen computer modules, an extensive network of sensors, and hundreds of electrical connections connecting all of these components. Because of this intricacy, a lot may go wrong with an automobile, and the first sign that something is amiss is usually a warning light on the dashboard.
I’ll go over the most common dashboard warning lights so you can figure out whether to contact a tow truck and when not to. Finally, the owner’s manual is the best source of information on your car.
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What Do the Lights on My Dashboard Mean?
Dashboard warning lights, in brief, come in a range of colors. Red lights are the most serious and usually signify a significant problem or component failure. When driving on slick roads, yellow or amber lights often represent a lower-level warning or hazard like the activation of the traction control system. Green and blue lights merely signal that a device, such as headlights or cruise control, has been activated.
The following are the most common:
1. Warning light for low fuel
The low fuel light, shaped like an amber or red gas pump, lights when the fuel tank is nearly empty of gasoline or diesel fuel, depending on the vehicle. The gasoline amount necessary to activate this warning light varies by vehicle, but it usually signifies one to two gallons of remaining fuel. Additionally, if the gas cap is unsecured, this light may illuminate.
2. Warning light for oil pressure
This vintage oil can emblem indicates a problem with your vehicle’s oil pressure system. Either you’re out of oil, or your oil pump isn’t circulating enough fluid to properly lubricate your engine’s surfaces.
Note: Instead of this symbol, specific car dashboards will show the word “OIL.”
When you add oil to a low oil level, the light may turn off. If there is enough oil, but the engine is noisy, it could be a problem with the oil pump. Also, the oil pressure sensor may be faulty if the oil level is average and the engine runs smoothly.
3. Engine check light
One of the most prevalent dashboard warning lights, the check engine light is also one of the least detailed. The check engine light illuminates when there is a problem with the engine. This could be as easy as a loose gas cap or as significant as a misfire, knocking, or compression loss, leading to premature engine wear or failure.
The check engine light can be red or amber, and it usually has an engine outline and the phrases “service engine soon” or “check engine” in bold characters. Some owners’ manuals are also known as the malfunction indicator light, or MIL.
It’s usual for the check engine light to illuminate when you turn the key in the ignition, but it should go away as soon as the vehicle starts. If not, the system is alerting you to a problem. I don’t advocate driving the car if the check engine light is on since it could cause severe engine damage.
4. Warning light for engine temperature
The appearance of this indicator indicates that the engine is overheating. This is almost certainly related to the coolant, but it can occur for various reasons.
If you notice this warning light, you should always stop and turn off your car because this is a significant problem that can cause catastrophic engine damage. A broken water pump, a jammed thermostat, a leak in the radiator, or a broken head gasket are all difficulties that might cause the engine to overheat.
5. Transmission fluid temperature light
A yellow or red thermometer encircled by a gear or the phrase “AT OIL TEMP” is a common symbol for the transmission temperature light. This light shows that the gearbox is overheating when it is illuminated. If you see this warning light, you should stop and turn off the vehicle when it is safe. Low fluid levels, excessive mileage, and persistent heavy hauling are common causes of an overheating transmission.
6. Engine oil pressure light
The engine oil pressure light, which is usually portrayed as a red oil can, indicates that oil is not adequately circulating through the engine. This is a significant problem since low oil pressure can force an engine to wear out prematurely or seize. Low oil pressure might be caused by low oil levels, a worn oil pump, or other internal components. Check the engine oil level regularly and change the oil at the manufacturer’s recommended intervals.
7. Engine oil change light
The oil change light performs just as expected. Based on the kilometers driven, it informs when the engine oil should be changed. Because most modern automobiles require synthetic oil, oil change intervals have been extended from the conventional 3,000 miles to anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 miles in some situations. Instead of a light, this signal may be presented as text, such as “Service Engine Soon” or “Oil Change Required.” This function is also known as the oil life indicator by some automakers.
8. Reduced engine power light
Modern automobiles have a failsafe feature, sometimes known as limp mode, that reduces engine performance if a significant malfunction is identified. The engine, transmission, and other driveline elements are all protected by this system. As a result, the engine light will illuminate, and a “limited engine power” reading may also illuminate in some vehicles.
While the car may still be drivable due to the risk of damage, it is preferable to pull over and halt. One of the most typical causes of this light turning on is a defective throttle position sensor.
9. Tire pressure warning light
A yellow tire with an exclamation midpoint represents the tire pressure warning light. This warning light indicates that a tire is underinflated, and it can even tell which tire is underinflated.
This light is controlled by the tire pressure monitoring system (or TPMS). If it comes on while you’re driving, pull over and stop. Driving with a flat or underinflated tire is dangerous since it dramatically changes the vehicle’s handling. If any of your tires are flat, call for a tow truck or change the tire yourself. If all of the tires are still filled, go to the nearest service shop to have them checked and air added if necessary.
A defective tire pressure sensor, a puncture, and seasonal temperature variations are common causes for this light to illuminate.
10. Brake warning light
A red circle with an exclamation point or “P” in the middle, or just the text “BRAKE,” is displayed on the brake warning light. This light signifies that the parking brake is applied or that the braking system is malfunctioning if it is illuminated. When it’s safe, try setting and freeing the parking brake. Call for a tow if this doesn’t work or if the light comes on while you’re driving. Low brake fluid levels, a jammed parking brake, or a fault with the anti-lock braking system are possible causes (ABS).
11. ABS warning light
The ABS light is a yellow or red circle with the letters “ABS” in the center that glows when the anti-lock braking system detects a problem. This technology increases braking performance on slick roads by pulsing the brakes to avoid the wheels from locking up and skidding. If this light comes on while driving, the brakes should still work, although emergency braking performance may be compromised. A defective wheel speed sensor or a problem with the ABS controller are common causes for this signal to illuminate.
12. Traction control light
The traction control system in your vehicle is turned on when this automobile emblem appears. The traction control system uses the anti-lock brake system (ABS) to detect if one wheel is going faster than the others. It uses the brakes until the car regains traction if it detects a slipping wheel. This is especially helpful when driving in the rain or snow.
You can continue driving when this light is illuminated, but be cautious of slick conditions.
13. Warning light for stability control
Another feature of the anti-lock braking system is electronic stability control, or ESC. Stability control helps to keep the vehicle moving in the right direction. This is accomplished by monitoring wheel speed and steering inputs and applying the brakes to avoid slipping or spinning. Many vehicles, however, do not have a distinct “ESC” or “VSC” warning light that glows when the system is engaged and remains on if there is a fault. Instead, the traction control warning light illuminates those situations.
14. Battery warning light
The battery indicator light is red and has a battery outline with plus and minus symbols. Unfortunately, the vehicle’s charging system isn’t working correctly when this indicator is illuminated. A loose or rusted battery cable, a broken accessory belt, a worn alternator, or another electrical malfunction in the system could all be contributing factors.
When you start your car, it’s perfectly normal to observe this light turn on and off. However, if the light comes on while driving, pull over and come to a complete stop. Otherwise, the engine may stall after the battery is exhausted, which may only take a few minutes.
15. Warning light for power steering
A red or yellow steering wheel emblem indicates power steering, frequently with an exclamation mark on the side. When a problem with the steering is found, it lights. If your car has electronic power steering (EPS), you’ll need to visit a professional to have the problem diagnosed. The light usually indicates that the power steering fluid reservoir is low if the car has hydraulic power steering. Fill it up and watch out for leaks. If this doesn’t work, call for a service appointment.
If this light illuminates, it is not safe to drive the vehicle since the lack of power steering assistance will make maneuvering the vehicle considerably more difficult.
16. Warning light for washer fluid
The washer fluid light illuminates when a low windshield washer fluid is detected. This warning light is usually yellow and has a windshield icon on it. The identical symbol appears on the washer fluid reservoir cap, making it easy to determine where the fluid should be added. The washer fluid reservoir is normally situated beneath the hood of most automobiles.
17. Seatbelt warning light
The seatbelt light performs just as expected. It shows the outline of a person wearing a seatbelt and remains lit until the vehicle’s driver buckles up. The front passenger seat in some automobiles is also monitored. If the light does not turn off after all occupants have strapped up, it could be an issue with the belt buckle sensor or one of the pressure sensors under the seat.
18. Airbag warning light
An illuminated airbag light indicates that the vehicle’s airbag system, also known as the supplemental restraint system, is malfunctioning (SRS). The red airbag icon is usually displayed on this indicator light, although the text “SRS” or “AIR BAG” is used in some vehicles.
If this light illuminates, you should not drive your vehicle because the airbags may not deploy in the case of a collision, and the seatbelt may not tighten properly. Have this problem diagnosed and fixed by a skilled repair facility.
19. Light for cruise control
The cruise control light usually has a speedometer icon, and depending on the hue, it can signal a few different things. For example, the color green indicates that the cruise control has been activated. On the other hand, an amber or yellow light shows that cruise control is turned on but not set or that the system is malfunctioning. Consult your owner’s manual for more information about your vehicle’s cruise control system.
20. Fog lamp indicator light
Your fog lights are turned on when this symbol appears. If your visibility is less than 100 yards, fog lights should be employed. They can make it harder for other cars on the road to see if you turn them on needlessly.
Hi there! I’m Naomi O’Colman. I’ve got years of experience working at an auto repair shop here in Texas under my belt. On top of that, ever since I was a kid I’ve been passionate about the auto industry. Since I’ve joined the team at automotivegearz.com I’ve been enthusiastically sharing my passion and insights with my readers. I’m dedicated to delivering high quality content and helping you stay up to date with the latest automotive trends and products out there!