What Those Warning Lights on Your Dashboard Mean

5 min read

If the battery light or the check engine light on your dashboard keeps coming on, don’t ignore it. Yes, it could be just a minor problem, or it could indicate something more serious.

Continue reading to learn what those dashboard warning lights really mean and what ignoring them will do.

10. Check Engine Light

Check Engine Light
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The check engine light is one of the most common and often scariest dashboard warning lights. It could indicate a simple problem that’s easy to fix, such as a loose wire or gas cap, or it could be an indication of a more serious problem, such as a misfire or a loss of compression.

Either way, it’s best not to ignore this light — even if everything seems fine. Get your vehicle to a professional as soon as possible so they can run a diagnostic test to find the source of the problem. Otherwise, you could run the risk of permanently damaging your car’s engine.

9. Battery Light

Battery Light
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If you see this light turn on and off when starting your vehicle, don’t be alarmed. This is perfectly normal. If, however, you see the battery light come on while you are driving, that is an indication that there’s a problem with the battery charging system. If the light turns on while you’re driving, you will need to pull over to the shoulder ASAP; otherwise, the engine will stall once the battery dies.

Here’s something else to keep in mind: the battery light can also come on if you’re powering your car on the battery alone, for example, if you turn the key just enough to put the windows down or listen to the radio. Do this often enough, and you’ll drain the battery. That’s because when the engine isn’t on, the alternator isn’t charging the battery.

8. Engine Coolant Temperature Light

Engine Coolant Temperature
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The engine coolant temperature light lets you know when your vehicle is running too hot. Just why it’s running hot is another matter altogether. It could result from low coolant levels in the radiator, a broken water pump, a leaking coolant hose, a stuck thermostat, a broken head gasket, or a damaged radiator.

Regardless of the reason, the best thing to do is pull over to the side of the road and wait for the engine to cool down. Once it’s cool, you can pop the hood and check the coolant level. If that’s not it, then the problem may be a bit more serious, and if left unchecked, it could lead to engine problems.

TIP: If the engine is so hot your car is smoking, pull over immediately and call someone to get you.

7. Oil Pressure Light

Oil Light
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An illuminated oil pressure light could mean several things. It could be that the oil needs to be topped off up to the full mark on the dipstick. Or, it could mean something a bit more serious, like worn parts or a leak in the engine.

The first thing to do is check the oil levels. If more oil is needed, add it, and the light should turn off. If adding more oil doesn’t do the trick, you’ll need to take your car to a mechanic to get it checked as soon as possible. Ignoring the oil pressure light could result in major mechanical problems.

6. Engine Oil Change Light

Service Engine Soon
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The oil change light on your dashboard does exactly what it sounds like it does — it lets you know when it’s time to change the oil, based on the miles you’ve driven. Depending on your car, you might see the light, or you might see text. For example, something like “oil change required” or “service engine soon.”

In any event, you’ll want to go ahead and take care of that oil change as soon as possible. Why? Because oil changes are an important part of maintaining your entire vehicle. It’s what keeps your car’s engine performing at its best.

5. Airbag Warning Light

Airbag Warning Light
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The airbag warning light will turn on when you first start your car, so there’s no need to worry about that. If, however, it stays on while you’re driving, it could be an indication that there’s a problem with one or more of the vehicle’s airbags or with the airbag system in general.

Unfortunately, this could be dangerous if you end up in an accident. For example, the airbags might not deploy, causing the seatbelt pre-tensioners to not tighten as they should.

4. ABS Warning Light

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The letters “ABS” on your dashboard stand for an anti-lock brake system. If those letters are illuminated, there’s likely a problem with the anti-lock braking system. Now, before you start to panic, know that the ABS warning light does not signal a problem with your vehicle’s physical brakes.

They will still function; however, your vehicle’s emergency braking performance may be reduced. As a result, you may find it harder to come to a full stop should a traffic light suddenly change to red as you’re approaching it or should something or someone dart out in front of your car.

3. Tire Pressure Warning Light

Tire Pressure
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If you see something on your dashboard that looks like a partial circle with an exclamation point in the middle, that’s the tire pressure warning light. It comes on when one of your tires is underinflated, and depending on the year your car was made, it might even tell you which tire has low pressure.

In any event, you should pull over as soon as possible and put air in the underinflated tire or change the tire altogether. The light should go away after this.

2. Seatbelt Warning Light

Seatbelt Light
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The seatbelt warning light serves as a reminder that someone in the front seat hasn’t buckled up before the car is put into gear. But that’s not the only time you will see this light.

If all passengers are buckled up, and the light still doesn’t turn off, that likely means there’s a problem with the belt buckle sensor or one of the pressure sensors under the seat. In which case, you’ll need to take it to a mechanic to get it worked on.

1. Cruise Control Light

Cruise Control
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Obviously, if the cruise control light on your dashboard is illuminated, it means the cruise control has been set. Well, that’s true if the light is green. But, if the light is yellow or amber, it could mean that cruise control is enabled, but it’s not set, or that there is a problem with the system.

Before heading to a mechanic, consult your owner’s manual for information about the cruise control system in your car. If you don’t see the answer there, a call to a mechanic may be in order.