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Car dashboard warning lights – What do they mean?

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Understanding your vehicle's dashboard warning lights ensures you’ll know when there is a fault. Whether you're new to driving, or want to brush up on your car dashboard symbols, this guide will help.

Traffic light system: Red, yellow, and green

Warning lights on a car work on a traffic light system. Green means a given system is working well. Yellow/amber means something is not working as it should and needs to be checked soon. Red tells you a particular system is suffering a serious problem, and that you should pull over somewhere safe promptly.

Car light meanings: dashboard symbols you should know

Engine management light

Also known as the ECU warning light, this amber engine symbol appears when your engine is not operating as it should. Many different faults can cause this to illuminate - both major and minor. Get your vehicle checked over promptly if you see this.

Battery warning light

This shows as a battery with a positive and negative, and indicates your battery is not charging. Head to a nearby garage for a recharge, or you may become stranded and need to call your breakdown recovery provider.

Brake warning light

This is an explanation mark in a red circle, enclosed by bracket shapes. If this warning light on your dashboard shows, you may have low brake fluid. You'll probably need a professional to look at this, unless you have enough experience.

If this appears with the ABS warning light, your brakes may not be working as they should. In such cases, the Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) may also show. You should get your car looked at by a mechanic.

Power steering/EPS warning light

This light takes the form of a steering wheel beside an exclamation mark. It tells you there is an issue with the power steering. It may be resolved by pulling over and turning the vehicle on and off again. If it stays on after trying this, get it checked over by a professional.

Airbag warning light

This red light takes the form of a stickman facing a deployed airbag. It suggests a problem with the airbag; the system that gauges the front passenger's weight/position for airbag deployment; or the seatbelt pretensioner system. If you see this light, get your airbag system checked over as soon as you can - because it could save your life.

Diesel particulate filter warning light (diesels)

This symbol is usually a matrix of dots within a rectangle connecting two sections of exhaust. If it comes on, you know you have a diesel particulate filter issue. Get your vehicle checked over as soon as you are able.

Engine/coolant temperature warning light - red

This red light shows as a thermometer above waves. If it comes on, your engine is probably overheating due to low coolant. Low coolant may not be serious, or it may mean you have a leak somewhere - or even a damaged head gasket. If it stays on after you top up your coolant, have it checked over. However, if your engine is overheating, call your breakdown recovery provider right away; don't risk continuing your journey.

Coolant levels warning light - yellow

This is the same symbol as above, and means you need to top up your coolant.

Oil warning light

This symbol comprises an old-fashioned oil can with a drop of oil. It means you have low oil pressure, or the oil in your system is too hot.

Low tyre pressure warning light

This is a bulging tyre symbol with an exclamation mark. It appears on some cars when tyre pressure is low.

Anti-lock brake system (ABS) warning light

This shows as "ABS" in a yellow circle with bracketing on either side. If it comes on, it means your ABS is not working as it should. However, you can still use your brakes - but you won't have the assistance of ABS. If it appears alongside the brake warning light, stop somewhere safe and call your breakdown recovery provider.

Brake pad warning light

This is a yellow circle bracketed by broken lines. It means your brake pads have worn down and they should be replaced.

Electronic stability programme (ESP) warning light

This shows as a car above wavy lines, and is sometimes also called Electronic Stability Control (ESC). If it comes on without flashing, it means your traction control is offline. If it does flash, it means the ESP is operating at that particular moment. If it appears with the word OFF, you may have disengaged it in error. Stop somewhere safe, stop and restart the engine. If it remains on, visit a garage for a check.

Hopefully this article has helped you understand your car warning light meanings, so you know when to pull over and request assistance, or when to visit a garage for a check.


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