Car dashboard warning lights: Everything you need to know

03 October 2020

vehicle dashboard warning lights

A warning light appearing on your dashboard is often the first sign that something is wrong with your car. It’s normal for some of the lights to appear briefly when you first start your engine, but if they continue to be lit up while you’re driving, you may have a problem. Modern-day cars are packed full of sensors which monitor the performance of your vehicle and alert you to any potential issues. Understanding what your car dashboard warning lights mean may help you to avoid a car breakdown and costly repairs. This guide lists the most common car dashboard warning lights. If you can’t see the one you’re looking for, check your car manual as some warning icons may vary depending on manufacturer.

Engine management warning light

The engine management warning light may indicate that there is an issue with your engine. The first thing to do is to stop your vehicle as soon as it’s safe to do so and try restarting your engine to reset the engine management system. If the light remains illuminated or flashing after restarting the engine, do not drive the car as you may cause irreversible damage to the catalytic converter or diesel particulate filter. You will need to contact your breakdown provider to have your car recovered to a garage. There are many reasons why the engine management light may display, so it’s best to get it checked by a garage as soon as possible to establish the cause.

Battery warning light

If the battery warning light displays red as you are driving, you should stop your car as soon as it is safe to do so and turn off the engine. This light displays when the battery isn’t charging properly. This could indicate a problem with the wiring, the alternator or the battery itself. Avoid restarting the engine as this could make the problem worse.

Airbag warning light

The airbag warning light is also known as the supplemental restraint system (SRS) warning light. This light will illuminate when there is a problem with the airbag safety system. It could be that there is a problem with the airbag system itself, the seat belt pretensioner system or the passenger occupant classification system which identifies the front passenger’s presence, weight and position. If the airbag warning light turns on whilst you are driving, you should stop your vehicle as soon as possible. If the airbag system is not functioning correctly, it might not deploy in a crash or go off unexpectedly while you are driving. As this system is an important safety feature of any vehicle, you should have your car checked at a garage immediately.

Oil warning light

The oil warning light will illuminate if the oil pressure in the engine is too low. The oil provides lubrication to the engine, so low oil pressure could cause damage to the critical components inside the engine. If this light shows, stop driving as soon as possible to prevent any further damage. First things first, check your oil level. If the oil level is low, top it up and check to see whether the light is still showing. If the warning light still displays when the oil level is correct, you’ve got a problem with the oil supply. There may be a problem with the oil pump or the oil filter may be blocked. It’s important to get this issue checked by a garage as soon as possible to avoid costly damage to your engine.

Engine temperature warning light

The engine temperature warning light illuminates when the engine temperature exceeds normal limits. This could indicate low levels of engine coolant, a problem with the fan or a coolant leak. If the engine becomes too hot, it could cause irreversible and expensive damage. Wait for your engine to cool down and then check the levels of coolant in your car. If the level is below the minimum line, top it up. You can also check under your bonnet for any obvious leakages. If the light continues to display after this, your vehicle should be checked over by a mechanic.

Brake warning light

You’re probably already familiar with the brake warning light as it is displays when you put your handbrake on. However, if this light displays whilst you’re driving, there could be a problem with your brakes. First of all, check that you’ve released the handbrake fully. Next, check your brake fluid level, and top it up if required, following the instructions in your car manual. If the brake fluid level is ok, your car will need to be checked by a mechanic. It could just be a sensor fault, but it could also be a problem with your brake pads or a failure in your hydraulic brake circuits.

Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) warning light

The ABS, or anti-lock braking system, is an important safety feature on your car. It’s used when you make an emergency stop or when you’re driving in wet or icy conditions. If the ABS warning light is accompanied by the brake warning light, it could suggest that the brake system is failing. In this case, you should stop driving as soon as possible and call your breakdown provider for recovery to a garage. If the ABS light illuminates on its own, you should still have the capability to brake without ABS assistance. As long as there are no unusual noises coming from the wheels and the brake warning light doesn’t display, it should be safe to drive the car to a garage. You should keep a bigger distance than usual, avoid adverse weather conditions and take extra care when driving without ABS assistance.

Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) warning light

The diesel particulate filter, or DPF, helps to trap particles of soot which can be harmful to your health. When the filter gets hot, these particles are converted into ash. However, on short journeys the filter doesn’t always get hot enough to do this and regular short journeys can cause the filter to get blocked, which can be expensive to fix. If your DPF light turns on, try driving your car on a motorway for 10 minutes. This should heat up the filter and allow it to unblock. If the light doesn’t disappear after this, stop the vehicle when safe and call your breakdown provider to recover your vehicle to a garage. If the DPF filter cannot be unblocked, it may need to be replaced.   If you’re considering selling your car, we can give you an honest price, with no haggling required. Click here to get started and discover how much your vehicle could be worth.


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