Dashboard Lights Meanings (Symbols and Their Meanings)
As vehicle technology continues to advance, modern cars are getting fitted with more and more features. These extra features aim to make the vehicles safer and more efficient to drive.
However, this will also mean that the dashboards are getting more cluttered with extra lights to provide vital information for motorists. And while some lights will just indicate something is switched on or is working properly, others come on when there is a problem.
When a light comes on when driving, you need to know what it means to determine the urgency that you have to deal with it. Understanding what the light means will also help you decide whether to take the car to a mechanic or address the issue on your own.
In this post, we explain some of the most common dashboard lights in many modern vehicles and also provide some possible ways to deal with the underlying issue if any.
Types of Dashboard Lights
Dashboard lights will come in different types, and to understand what the lights mean, it will be first important to know the different types. Overall, there are three main types which are red, amber/yellow and green.
1. Red Warning Lights
Red warning lights such as the engine temperature warning light are what you need to worry about most as they will come on when there is a serious problem with the vehicle that needs to be addressed urgently.
When you see a red light on your dashboard regardless of the symbol, it will be wise to stop driving the vehicle immediately and have it checked by a professional mechanic if you do not understand what the symbol indicates.
2. Yellow/Amber Warning Lights
When you get a yellow or amber light in your dashboard, this is also a warning that there is something wrong with the vehicle. However, the issue is not urgent, but you will still need to have it checked soon.
With an amber or yellow warning light coming on such as the check engine light, you will need to schedule a visit to your auto repair shop to have the issue resolved.
3. Green Lights
Green lights are not a cause for alarm as they are for information purposes and not warning. These lights will allow you to know that certain features are turned on or are working properly. A good example of this is the green fan light that comes on when the internal ventilation is in operation.
15 Common Dashboard Lights and their Meanings
Warning Lights (Red): from 1 to 7
1. Engine Temperature Warning Light
The temperatures warning light is one of those that almost every motorist has had to deal with at some point. And it is also one of the most important ones to deal with immediately as there is a possibility of catastrophic engine failure if the underlying issue is not addressed.
This warning light means that the temperature in the engine has exceeded the normal limits. Engine overheating is often caused by a faulty fan, low coolant level or leaking coolant, and so these should be the first things to look at when you see the light come on.
You should always pull over and give the engine enough time to cool down as a temporary fix when you see this light.
Note: The symbol for the engine temperature warning light can sometimes come in blue. In such instances, it means that the temperature of the engine coolant is not high enough to ensure optimum performance.
2. Battery Warning Light
The battery warning light indicates that a low voltage has been detected. Although it is common to see this light come on when you first start your vehicle, it disappears when you are driving or idling. If it doesn't, it means your alternator is not charging the battery properly.
To deal with this issue, you should first switch off anything that is eating up the battery and is not crucial for safe driving such as the stereo, air conditioning or heating system. This ensures there is enough power left for the headlights and other vital components.
However, make sure you do not switch off the car before you get to a place where you can check and fix the problem as it might not start again.
3. Oil Pressure Warning Light
The oil pressure warning light indicates that the oil in your engine has low pressure, and so it might not be doing its essential functions which are lubrication and cooling efficiently. Low pressure often leads to serious engine problems, and so you should switch off the engine immediately.
Checking the oil level is one of the first ways to deal with this issue as sometimes the low pressure results from a low oil level. If there is enough oil, you will then need to diagnose the pressure level and do a more comprehensive check to check the source of the issue.
Also, it is worth noting that sometimes the problem is with the oil pressure sensors and wiring and not actual low oil pressure.
4. Brake Warning Light
A brake warning light means that you probably left the handbrake engaged, but if it is still there even when you disengage it, then the issue might be low brake fluid or even a more serious braking system problem like failed hydraulic brake circuits.
If the light remains permanently lit, you need to have the vehicle checked by a professional mechanic immediately. But, if it keeps going on and off and the brake feel does not seem to change, the issue might be less serious, and sometimes it is just a faulty sensor. Nevertheless, you still need to have it checked.
5. Seatbelt Warning Light
The seatbelt indicator light is a more straightforward one as it simply means you are not wearing your seatbelt. For most vehicles, it will turn on when one or more of the vehicle occupants are not wearing their seatbelts.
Simply connecting the seatbelts is often enough to switch off this light. But, also keep in mind that sometimes this warning light will come on if one or more of the seatbelts are not fitted correctly, and hence you need to have them checked.
6. Airbag Indicator Light
When the airbag indicator light comes on, it means that there might be an issue with the airbag, and so they might not deploy correctly in case they are needed in the event of an accident.
While this light might not affect driving in any way, you still need to get the issue checked and resolved immediately.
Airbags are crucial for your safety and that of anyone else that uses the vehicle and is often the difference between life and death in many accidents, and so you should not take chances. Worst yet, faulty ones can also be deployed unexpectedly and cause injuries.
Safety Lights (Amber/Yellow): from 8 to 12
8. Tire Pressure Indicator Light
This safety light is also quite straightforward as it will often come on either when one or more of your tires have low pressure or when there is an issue with the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
Hence, the best way to switch off this dashboard light will be to first ensure that all the tires have the required pressure and then reset the tire pressure monitoring system.
9. Traction Control Light
There are two types of traction control lights that you can get which are the on and off. These are self-explanatory as one means that the traction control system has been deactivated while the other indicates that it is activated.
Many vehicles will also have an amber traction control warning light that will come on when you have a problem with the traction control system. Because the system uses the same wheel sensors, you will often find this symbol together with the ABS light.
If you have a traction control warning light, the best way to deal with it is by scanning the vehicle's computer and read the codes to identify the underlying issue that needs fixing.
10. Check Engine Light
The check engine light is one of the most common ones that you will see pop up in the dashboard. This yellow light is also one of the most confusing as it will come on when you have even the slightest issue with any component on the engine and surrounding parts.
All in all, the check engine light will indicate that there is an issue in your engine that you need to check and fix. The light will typically appear when the engine control unit identifies and stores an error code.
Hence, the best way to deal with it will be to scan the vehicle's computer to identify the specific error code, and hence the particular problem that you need to address.
Read More: How to Reset Check Engine Light
11. Glow Plug Indicator
Another amber/yellow light you need to be aware of, and this is more so if you drive a diesel engine vehicle is the glow plug indicator. The glow plug is a heating element meant to help out diesel-powered vehicles when starting in cold temperatures.
If the glow plug light comes on, it means that you should not start the engine because the glow plugs are still warming up. And if it keeps flashing, this is an indication there is an issue such as a worn glow plug.
Issues with the glow plugs are best dealt with by replacing them, and the good news is that for most vehicles they do not cost much.
12. Service Engine Soon Light
This safety light can have several meanings, and it will often depend on the specific vehicle model and type that you drive.
For some vehicles, this light can indicate that you have a minor issue with something in the engine that needs to be checked soon. In some vehicles, it is just a reminder that your routine service is due and you need to change things like oil and spark plugs.
A simple vehicle service that entails checking the fluid levels and other components like the spark plugs, filters, and light is all it takes to get rid of this light.
Common Function Lights (Green): from 13 to 15
13. Lighting Symbols
Lighting symbols are meant to indicate the condition of your lighting system, and they can be either green, blue or yellow. For example, blue indicates a high beam, green indicates a low beam and yellow is the light that you get when the lamp is out.
Many other common dashboard lights will highlight the status of the lights in your vehicle such as the green lamp indicator with "AUTO" written beneath that means the automatic high beam system has been engaged.
14. Window Defrost
The windshield and rear window defrost light are other common symbols that you will see on your dashboard especially when driving in adverse weather.
These lights mean that the defrost function is active and the specific symbol on the dashboard should tell you which between the rear window and windshield windows has the function active.
15. Low Fuel Indicator
Low fuel indicator is a common dashboard light that many motorists hate to see come on particularly when they are in the middle of nowhere and gas stations are hard to come by.
This light means that your car needs fuel, and the only way to switch it off is to refuel. Next, to this indicator light will be a small arrow that will let you know where the gas cap is on the vehicle.
Note: Many modern vehicles will also have some advanced dashboard light symbols that will be associated with special and more advanced features. These lights will vary from one model to the other, and they can include things like lane departure light, park assist pilot, and recirculated cabin air and rear spoiler warning light.
Understanding the different dashboard lights is always crucial as it means you will be able to tell when there is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Also, knowing what the dashboard lights mean will help you decide if you can resolve the issue on your own or take the vehicle to the auto repair shop.
Dashboard lights will range from the red warning lights that indicate there is a serious problem that needs immediate attention to then yellow/amber lights that indicate you need to check the vehicle soon and the green ones that just indicate the status of regular vehicle operations.
With all that said, keeping a close eye on your vehicle through regular repairs and maintenance is often enough to ensure that you never have to encounter any dashboard warning lights.
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