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What do the warning lights on your car dashboard mean?

You get in your car and notice that one of the symbols on your dashboard is lit up? What does it mean? We have all been there. It is important to know what the warning lights on our car dashboards mean to be able to avoid a car breakdown or even a full on failure.

Modern cars are fitted with intelligent electronics systems to monitor your vehicle and these warning lights should never be ignored. Warning lights work on a traffic light system; Green, Yellow and red, indicating the urgency of the warning.

Green lights indicate that something is currently in use and is working correctly. Yellow indicates that something may not be working correctly and you should take extra care and make note to have this checked as soon as possible. Red lights identify a serious problem that could be potentially dangerous, if a red warning light comes on you should stop driving as soon as it is safe to do so and get your vehicle checked immediately.

Some vehicles will have specific warning lights, for example, Diesel vehicles will have additional symbols which are not featured in petrol vehicles, for example glow plug indicator light or Adblue indicators. Refer to your vehicle’s handbook for model specific warning lights and if you have any concerns or queries about your vehicle’s warning lights, contact your mechanic.

We will now look at some of the most common warning lights you will encounter. We can break these down into categories. This is not a complete list and should you have a light displaying which we have not listed, please refer to your vehicle’s manual and contact your mechanic.

Warning Indicators

These warning indicators are the most serious warning lights to be aware of and will light up in red.

Brake Warning

This is probably one that we see most often in our daily lives. This light comes on when the handbrake is on. This isn't an issue unless you are driving! Check your handbrake is off. If this symbol is continuously lit it may indicate that there is a leak somewhere in the brake system and hydraulic pressure has been lost in part of the brake system.

Battery Charge Warning

The Battery Charge Warning light demonstrates that there is an issue with the battery or alternator. The light indicates that the charging system is not charging properly or is short of power. This is a particularly common warning light for vehicles which have been stationary for a long time but it may also identify further issues with the power supply. If this light turns on whilst you are driving you should try and get to a garage as soon as possible because when the power depletes, nothing will work!

Engine Temperature Warning

If you notice this warning light is lit, it means that the temperature of your engine has exceeded its normal limits. Checks should be made to rule out coolant leaks, coolant levels, the operationality of the fan and the status of the radiator cap.

Oil Pressure Warning

Should you find this warning light illuminated, the oil level and pressure should be immediately checked. This warning light indicates low lubrication or even no lubrication caused by a loss of oil pressure. This can cause long term damage to your vehicle and is dangerous if ignored.

Safety Indicators

These warning lights indicate an issue with your vehicle which requires checking, these are also sometimes lit in red meaning they need immediate attention. The list of Safety indicators is extensive so please refer to your vehicle manual if there is a light showing which is not listed below.

Master Warning

The Master Warning Light is normally accompanied by a further fault/warning symbol and it identifies that one or more warning systems have been detected and should be addressed.

Tyre Pressure Warning

This warning light lets you know that the pressure in one or more of your Tyres is low. You will find information for the Tyre pressure limits in your handbook or on the drivers side door (normally on the hinge edge). You should check the Tyre pressure as soon as it is safe to do so and if you need to keep driving you should be vigilant to further changes and drive carefully.

Service Vehicle

The Service Indicator light is one of the most commonly ignored warning lights but if this light comes on you should get your vehicle checked as soon as possible. This warning light identifies that a fault is present in the vehicle chassis system. This may be the Anti-lock brake system, traction control, electronic suspension system or brake hydraulics.

Side Airbag

There are several warning lights associated with the airbags of your vehicle. This particular symbol indicates a fault with the side airbag. This should be addressed as soon as possible as any fault with the airbags means that they may not deploy when needed or they may unexpectedly deploy which can cause a crash.

Seat Belt Indicator

Another common symbol, this warning light lets you know that a seatbelt has not been secured for the driver or a passenger in your vehicle. It is your responsibility as the driver (in the absence of an adult passenger) to ensure that all passengers are suitably secured with the safety belts provided.

Fuel Cap

Another common one, the fuel cap Indicator illuminates in the event that the fuel gap has not been properly secured. It is advised that you stop when it is safe to do so and tighten the cap. If the light does not turn off, you should contact your mechanic.

Clogged Air Filter

Reduced airflow to the engine can cause serious problems, this indicator light informs you that the air filter needs to be replaced or inspected.

Check Engine or Malfunction Indicator Light (MIL)

This warning light comes on every time that the engine is turned on, this is to check the bulb. If the light does not turn off then a malfunction has been detected and needs to be investigated.

Brake Fluid

If you experience this warning light, the brake fluid levels need to be checked as they are likely low.

Brake Pad Warning

This symbol denotes that your brake pads are worn and require replacement.

Brake Lights Warning

If one or more of your brake lights is not working then this warning light will illuminate and the exterior lights should be checked as soon as possible.

What to do with Warning Lights

If you experience any issues with warning lights appearing on your dashboard that are not common indicators such as fuel levels low, door ajar or headlights on then it is worth getting these checked out by a professional as soon as possible. As noted above, warning lights which are yellow are not normally presenting immediate danger but should be addressed with relative haste, however, red warning lights represent a serious fault and should not be ignored.

Sometimes we can become complacent with our vehicle maintenance and warning lights can become a common feature of our dashboards which get ignored but these warnings should always be looked into. Keeping your vehicle well-maintained will extend its life and ensure that it performs efficiently and safely for a long time. If you have any questions about any warning lights your vehicle may be showing, please contact us.