Dashboard Warning Lights and What They Mean

The great thing about modern cars is that they have inbuilt self-diagnostic systems that will usually be able to identify any internal problems before you or your mechanic can. When internal sensors detect a fault in your cars system, a warning light will illuminate on your dashboard in order to alert you to that problem. A specific symbol will be used to specify where in your car the problem lies. However, how many of us can honestly say we know exactly what each symbol means? It’s a good idea to become familiar with what each warning light is telling you so that if/when it comes on you’ll be able to seek out the appropriate help as soon as possible in order to prevent a potential break down and a hefty repair bill from the garage. Below we outline what each warning symbol means and what you should do if it becomes illuminated:

 1 . Brake system / brake fluid warning light

  • Your parking brake is on
  • Brake fluid is low
  • Problem with anti lock braking system (ABS)

What to do: check you haven’t left your parking brake on, otherwise take it to a garage for a professional to check. If your brakes feel spongy or different than usual then you should pull over immediately and call your breakdown service.

2. ECU/ engine warning light

  • Something minor such as a faulty electrical sensor or a loose fuel cap
  • Something major such as a failed catalytic converter or a bigger mechanical issue

What to do: if you are noticing additional warning signs such as a lack of power in your car or intermittent stuttering when pressing the accelerator it could indicate that your car has put itself into safety mode. Even if you are not experiencing any of the above it is still advisable that you take your car to the garage.

3. Airbag warning light

  • Your airbag could be faulty and therefore won’t work in an accident

What to do: this may seem like a non urgent issue but airbags are an essential safety feature of cars and you should get this fixed as soon as possible; if you are in an accident you and your passengers will not have any protection, or it could activate when you are not expecting which can cause an accident and injury too.

4. Power steering / EPAS warning light

  • Your power steering fluid is low
  • A more serious issue with the steering system
  • If you have recently disconnected your cars battery, the steering system may need to be reset

What to do: if your steering system fails you may notice that the steering feels heavy and you have to exert more effort when changing direction; at high speed driving this can be very dangerous so you should pull over and call for help immediately.

5. Coolant warning light

  • Your coolant fluid levels are low and need topping up
  • Your engine is overheating
  • You have a leak in your radiator

What to do: Pull over in order to allow your engine to cool down. If it is safe to do so, check the gauge on the side of the coolant tank under your bonnet and top up with coolant however be very careful not to scald yourself on the escaping steam. If the light remains on after doing this, this could indicate there is a more serious problem, which will need to be looked at by a mechanic.

6. Oil warning light

  • Oil temperature is too high
  • Oil level is tool low
  • Oil pressure is too low

What to do: pull over on the side of the road or drive to the nearest garage. Allow your car to cool down fully and check your oil levels using the dipstick. If it is too low, you’ll need to get a mechanic to top it up before you continue driving.

7. Tyre pressure monitor warning light

  • You have a puncture in one or multiple tyres
  • Your tyres pressure is low and they need to be inflated

What to do: Most petrol stations have machines where you can re-inflate your tyres yourself so you should drive to the nearest one as soon as possible in order to do so. If this is not possible, it is best to stop and call for assistance as low tyre pressure can affect your braking distance and can become dangerous or lead to a puncture. If you have a puncture and know how to replace your tyre with the spare one then proceed to do so, or use a sealant as a temporary measure.

8. Anti-lock braking system warning light

  • There is a fault in your cars ABS braking system

What to do: You should get this checked out right away, as it is essential in braking hard in the case of emergencies. If both your ABS light and your brake warning light come on together, this could indicate a serious problem with your brakes which needs to get checked out immediately.

9. Doors open warning light

  • Your boot, bonnet or one of the car doors is not shut properly

What to do: Pull over safely and ensure all doors are shut properly.

10. Battery charge warning light

  • A bad connection or damaged cable
  • A faulty alternator
  • A faulty battery
  • Fault in the electrical system where the car is not charging itself when in motion

What to do: Turn off anything non essential that will be using your battery including the radio, heating, air conditioning, charging devices, sat navs, heated seats. Don’t stop driving or turn off the engine as your car may not start again, so drive somewhere safe (ideally a garage) and stop there.

11. Seat belt warning light

  • You or a passenger is not wearing a seatbelt whilst the car is in motion

What to do: Ensure that you and all passengers are wearing a seatbelt correctly; as the registered driver you are obliged by law to check this before setting off.

12. Traction control warning light

  • Your car is losing some of its grip on the road surface

What to do: Slow down to allow your vehicle to regain control and traction. If the light does not go off after doing this there could be an underlying problem which you should get checked out at a garage.