Dashboard warning lights: what do they all mean?

Car warning lights

Car warning lights

Like the best football referees or cricket wicketkeepers, the less you notice your dashboard warning lights, the better they’re working.

They’re there to alert us to vehicle mistakes and can pre-empt breakdowns or even total failure. But in the unfortunate event something goes wrong, would you know what each flashing warning light is attempting to warn you about?

We take a look at 10 common dashboard warning lights…

Engine: If this comes on, get your engine checked out ASAP. Meanwhile, drive slowly with no hard acceleration. It could suggest lack of power, a misfire causing erratic stuttering when you press your accelerator, or could spell something more serious.

Airbag: This light means your airbag may not function in the event of a crash, or it might even open unexpectedly as you’re driving along. Either way, get it checked.

Oil: Check your oil level straight away. Driving without enough oil can seriously harm your car’s engine.

Tyre pressure: If this light flashes up, you may have incorrectly inflated tyres or you might have a puncture. Attend to it as soon as possible.

Brake fluid/brake: This light will stay on before you release your parking brake, so no cause for concern. If it comes on while you’re driving there’s probably a fault with your brake system. Take your car to the mechanics without delay.

Coolant: Failure to act upon this warning could have serious repercussions. With no coolant your engine will dangerously heat up. It could spell the failure of an expensive head gasket, so check your coolant regularly.

Battery: This one appears momentarily the moment you switch your car on. But your battery might not be charging if it stays on when driving. Possible culprits include a faulty alternator, poor connection, damaged cables, or it might mean the battery needs to be replaced.

Power-assisted steering systems (EPAS): Your steering system could be experiencing problems if this one comes on, often with an exclamation mark next to it. Such a problem could place you in particular danger on fast roads, so best to take it to a garage.

Diesel particulate filter (DPF): Today’s diesel cars are fitted with a DPF as standard in order to lower emissions. See this light illuminate and not only could you be harming your engine, you’ll also be releasing toxic smoke every time you put your foot on the gas. This is another potentially expensive error to ignore, so get it looked at straight away.

ABS: This one can be a potential saviour in icy or wet conditions. It’s likely that your antilock braking system (ABS) isn’t working properly and this requires urgent attention.

Keep calm
Your particular model may have additional warning lights to observe, so always consult your vehicle manual for others giving you trouble.

So, if any of these do pop up on your dashboard, stay calm and only pull over when it’s safe to do so.


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