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Do you know your dashboard warning lights?

Cut through the confusion with our simple guide

5 minutes

If a dashboard warning light has you reaching for the car owner's manual, you're not alone. According to one survey, nine out of ten people don't understand what their dashboard symbols mean.

Let's see if we can make things a bit clearer...

  • As a general rule of thumb, if you see a red warning light it means that your car needs immediate attention
  • If it's something more serious, such as a brake warning light or temperature warning light then you may need to call your breakdown cover provider for help
  • Amber or yellow lights indicate that something is amiss, but it's not an immediate problem. However, it's safest to get the problem checked out by a professional

According to one survey, nine out of ten people don't understand what all the dashboard symbols mean... Do you?

Even though they're supposed to be a safety feature, dashboard warning lights can be quite confusing. For a start there are so many.

Depending on how sophisticated your car is, there can be over 50 different dashboard warning lights for you to get to grips with. Some will flash on when you start the car and then disappear. Others will stay on, to let you know that your headlights are on, or to show how much fuel you have for example.

So how do you know what action to take if you see a dashboard warning light stay on after you've started the car or if it comes on whilst you're driving along?



Red, amber, green – what does it all mean?

As a general rule of thumb, if you see a red warning light it means that your car needs immediate attention.

Pull over when it's safe to do so and if you don't recognise the warning light, look through your owner's handbook or refer to the manufacturer's website.

If the light is just showing that your screen wash is low or your oil needs topping up, then this is something you can sort out at the next service station.

If it's something more serious, such as a brake warning light or temperature warning light then you may need to call your breakdown cover provider for help.

Amber or yellow lights indicate that something is amiss, but it's not an immediate problem. However, it's safest to get the problem checked out by a professional.

Green (and sometimes blue) lights generally just indicate that a feature of the car is turned on and running. For example, your full beam indicator usually glows blue to show you've got it flicked on.



Important dashboard warning lights to look out for

Engine warning light

If this light stays on after starting the engine, get your car checked immediately, even if the car feels normal to drive. It indicates that there's something wrong with the engine and if you continue to drive around you might cause extensive and expensive damage.

Oil pressure

Oil is essential to lubricate the engine and help it run smoothly. If there's too little oil in the system or if the oil pressure drops it can cause huge damage to the engine. Stop and check the oil gauge. If the level is low, it may just need topping up, but if the lights stays on after you've topped up the oil, then it indicates a more serious problem.

Temperature warning light

If your engine overheats it could lead to an engine failure if you carry on driving. Stop and let the car cool down and check your coolant levels. It may be that you've just run out of coolant, but you may find there's a leak in the system that needs attention.

Brake system

If you see this light come on, don't take any chances and pull over as soon as it's safe to do so. It's obviously dangerous to drive without your brakes working properly and this light indicates a problem. You may also find that the brakes feel 'spongy' and you need to push down harder to get a response. Stop as soon as possible and call your breakdown professional.

Battery charge

The battery charge light indicates that the battery isn't charging properly. This could cause problems with the power steering, failing headlights and other features that need electricity to operate properly. Get the battery checked over by a professional mechanic to avoid breaking down and getting stranded.