Eight Dashboard Light Indicators and What They Mean

You get in your car about to head to work and – ding! A dashboard light indicator turns on. When lights turn on, it can be confusing to know which ones to pay attention to immediately, and which ones can wait. As you’ll see below, some of the vehicle performance issues that prompt dashboard indicator lights can lead to you being stranded or getting into an accident, so it’s important to follow up with them promptly to protect your safety and the integrity of your vehicle.

Here are eight indicators that you should always pay attention to – what they might look like, what they might mean and what to do when you see them.

  1. Check engine light – The check engine light appears as an engine icon and indicates that your engine may need maintenance. The check engine light can represent a whole host of issues and will likely require a scan tool to read the code indicating which part of the engine is in distress. You may be able to get a check engine scan at your local auto parts store or at your local mechanic shop.
  2. Engine temperature warning light – This indicator often looks like a thermometer. When the engine temperature light this comes on, it indicates that your car’s engine is overheating. Pull over or turn off the vehicle as soon as possible and check the coolant level, fan, and radiator cap, and keep an eye out for leaks below the engine. Be careful touching anything with your bare hands; some engine parts could be very hot. You may want to keep protective gloves for this purpose in a vehicle safety kit along with other essentials in case you are ever stranded.
  3. Battery charge warning light – The battery charge warning light looks like a battery and indicates that your battery is either short on power or not functioning properly. Check the battery and alternator to see what the issue is. Car battery testers and portable battery chargers are widely available at auto supply stores and online; it’s always a good idea to store one or both of these items in your vehicle in case of a battery emergency.
  4. Oil pressure warning light – The oil pressure warning light looks like an oil canister and indicates that your vehicle is losing oil pressure – which in turn means that lubrication on your vehicle may be low or lost completely. If it is not addressed immediately, it could severely damage your vehicle’s engine and lead to an accident.
  5. Brake warning light – The brake warning light often appears as an exclamation with a circle around it. Put simply, it means something is wrong with your brakes. You should investigate this immediately, as faulty brakes could make your car unsafe to drive.
  6. Tire pressure warning light – The tire pressure warning light also often has an exclamation point but is usually placed inside a tire icon. This can indicate that pressure in one or more of your tires is too low or too high, and this is a safety concern. Many gas stations have areas where you can adjust tire pressure and check levels.
  7. Traction control warnings – This indicator looks like a car slipping on a road, and can indicate just that – your car may be losing traction with the pavement as you drive. Traction control is activated when a vehicle detects that one wheel is spinning faster than another. It automatically applies brakes to help the car regain traction. If you see this indicator, you should drive very carefully to avoid losing control of the vehicle.
  8. Anti-lock brake (ABS) warning light – This indicator icon appears with the letters ‘ABS’ inside of a circle. Most cars today use anti-lock brakes, and if the ABS warning light comes on, it indicates that something may be wrong with the system. This light may light up when you first turn your car on, but it should go away. If it remains on, that indicates a problem that needs prompt attention.

Neglecting Dashboard Signals Can Increase Risk of Accidents & Vehicle Damage

Seeing a dashboard signal appear is never fun and rarely convenient, but those signs are there to help you avoid danger and prevent damage to your vehicle as soon as possible. Still, accidents happen, whether it’s a minor fender bender after losing tire traction or something more severe.

If you’re ever in an accident, be sure to follow these post-accident safety tips for gathering information from other drivers at the scene, contacting your auto insurer, and finding a local auto body shop near you.