Car dashboard warning lights seem to be growing exponentially and that’s because modern cars are full of electronics with sensors to monitor any slightest change and of course, the car just has to tell you about it. Only a few years ago, it was mainly the oil light or the battery light and that was it, now there seems to be a warning light for every damn thing.
Some things never change though, a red light means danger and indicates that you shouldn’t drive any further whereas an orange warning light indicates something needs to be checked but you should be able to carry on driving.
A good way to familiarise yourself with all the different warning lights is to pause a while when you switch on the ignition and before you start the engine. The lights will be illuminated and this is a good familiarisation process.
Here are some of the key warning indicators, what they look like and what they mean – as advised by Show Plates Express
ABS – this stands for Anti-lock Braking System and comes up in orange with the three letters ‘ABS’ in capitals in a circle with an additional bracket on the left and right-hand side of the circle. The ABS warning light doesn’t mean your brakes have failed and that the car is not safe to drive, it just means that the device to stop skidding on slippery roads or the wheels locking in the event of a sudden halt, is not performing as it should do. Sometimes this can be as simple as one of the sensors which aren’t functioning properly. The light is to alert you to the fact that if you do need to navigate a sudden braking situation or you encounter something on the road surface then the car may not handle as it would normally.
Airbags – this is an orange light easy to spot as it is represented by a person sitting in a seat with what looks like a giant beachball on their lap. Airbags can be deactivated if, for instance, you are fitting a child seat so check that this hasn’t happened intentionally or accidentally. Airbags are a key safety feature so always have your car checked by the garage to make sure they have not malfunctioned.
Battery – an orange warning light which can indicate a low charge due to lack of use of the vehicle or the fact that the battery has come to the end of its life so it is holding a charge but only has the capacity to charge to a very low level. This light can also indicate some other problem such as the battery connectors or an issue with the ignition or the alternator which is the piece of equipment which generates the energy to support the car’s electrical system and to charge the battery.
Brakes – this is the red exclamation mark and usually means that the parking brake or handbrake has not been fully disengaged, an easy one to resolve. It is possible to drive the vehicle at low speeds with the parking brake still engaged so always check the obvious first. Some cars also have a light which indicates wear on the brake pads usually depicted as an orange circle with six little dashes around the edges. It’s just a timely reminder that one of the pads doesn’t have long to go but this should be picked up at a service or on the MOT.
DPF or Diesel Particulate Filter – an orange light with a rectangular box with two lines to depict the shape filled with little circles and then an exhaust pipe coming out of one side. Obviously, this light is only relevant to diesel vehicles, not petrol and can suggest a blockage or some element of clogging to the filter. Sometimes this happens because the car has been stuck in town at low speeds and a good blast on the motorway can clear the filter but if not, then this is something the garage may need to look at and can be as simple as cleaning the filter or just replacing it.
Engine temperature – problems with the engine temperature are indicated by the symbol of a red thermometer in water. This means the engine is overheating and it could be caused by low engine coolant or a leak from the radiator or a defective water pump from a part due to the car junkyards. Sometimes it can signify that there is a problem with the head gasket which is news no driver ever wants to hear.
Engine management – sadly one that most people fear as it can indicate myriad different faults and a hefty garage bill trying to source the problem with electronic diagnostics. The light is orange and means the ECU – Engine Control Unit – or onboard computer has detected a problem somewhere. The engine management light is in the shape of an engine.
Oil – a red warning light that looks like an old-fashioned dripping oil can or watering can. Whilst potentially serious, this is something you can check yourself with ease and top up the oil without difficulty. Continuing to drive with the light still engaged can make it difficult for the car to regulate temperature and could lead to a serious mechanical failure. Sometimes the oil light will linger after ignition and not disengage quite so quickly – this is a sign that your engine oil could be on the low side.
Power steering – this is depicted as a car steering wheel and sometimes also has a red exclamation mark beside it. If the power steering has failed, you will still be able to drive the vehicle but it will feel much heavier to steer.
Traction control – part of the ABS system, the sensors are used to help move power around the four wheels when one or more wheels are starting to spin or lock; the car will automatically slow down slightly and brake momentarily. The standard warning light is yellow or orange and is an image of a car with some squiggles in front of it to indicate skidding.
Tyre pressure – an orange light shaped like a horseshoe with ridges along the bottom and a central exclamation mark. Tyre pressures systems have been compulsory on new cars in the UK since 2014 and were fitted optionally on some vehicles prior to that so they have been around a long time. This light advises that one or more tyre pressures are low or you may have a puncture.
It’s always worth familiarizing yourself with the warning lights on a new car or a car that is new to you as there may be some you haven’t seen before. The presence of some warning lights can result in an MOT Failure. Read on how to prepare your car for an MOT