What do the Lights on my Dashboard Mean? Top 16 Symbols

In this article, let’s find out the answer to your question: what do the lights on my dashboard mean? Many drivers are faced with unfamiliar lights and symbols on their dashboards every day.

According to Goodyear Auto Service and Just Tires, young drivers are not as familiar with dashboard signs (51% of respondents) as they are with emojis (88% of respondents).

This can be attributed to the excitement of having a new car and getting behind the wheels to drive. Hence, the Millennials find it boring to go through the thick manual and will rely instead on the internet.

Car Warning Light Symbols and Indicators

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Your car has a computer that monitors and runs all of your vehicle’s components, ensuring that the parts are functioning properly. When something goes wrong, the computer will alert you via lights on your dashboard.

Most carmakers share a common set of dashboard signs and signals. These are grouped by their color:

1. Red warns the driver that there is a critical issue

2. Next, yellow or orange means that a system or components need checking soon

3. Finally, blue or green means the feature is active

Red warning symbols

As mentioned above, these symbols warn the driver that there is a serious problem or potential safety issue.

1. Engine temperature

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Represented by a red thermometer symbol, it warns you that your engine is too hot. It could be due to low engine coolant levels, a leaky radiator, clogged pipes, or even a blown gasket.

However, regardless of the cause, you should safely pull over and turn off the engine immediately to let your car cool down. Driving with the temperature warning light on can severely damage your engine.

If you can’t diagnose the problem, call a tow service immediately and bring your car to a repair shop.

In some cars, the warning symbol also comes in blue, which means that the coolant temperature is below what is needed for optimum performance. Typically, it shows up when you start in the morning, and the symbol should disappear after the car warms up.

2. Brake system warning light

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If you see this symbol, it simply means that you have your handbrakes on. But if the light is still on after disengaging the handbrake, it could mean your car is low on brake fluid or something more complicated.

Moreover, it could mean that the brake pads are worn or an ABS problem. Regardless of the cause, it is dangerous for you and other drivers if you keep on driving.

The best thing to do is safely pull over and call roadside assistance or a tow.

3. Door open warning light

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You may not consider this symbol as a critical warning for your car, it can be hazardous for other motorists as well as pedestrians. If a door is not closed properly, it could swing open when you stop and slam an object or worst, a pedestrian.

Most of the time, the doors are closed but the hatches are slightly loose. This is the reason why you can barely notice it until you see the warning symbol on your dashboard.

Some cars can identify which of the door is open or not shut properly. If you left the door open overnight, it can drain your batteries. So make sure to shut the doors properly before leaving the parking.

4. Charging system warning light

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Pay attention to this warning symbol if you don’t want to get stuck in the driveway. The red battery symbol on your dashboard indicates that the voltage level is below the normal level.

Further, it could also mean that the charging system is not functioning properly. Turn off car accessories except for your headlight if you are driving at night.

Unlike the other dashboard icons above, it is advisable to continue driving until you get somewhere safe because the car might not start again. Check the battery terminals, the alternator belt, and your battery’s condition.

5. Seatbelt warning light

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Just like the door open warning, the seatbelts warning sign may not be a critical issue for the car’s performance. However, a properly fastened seatbelt can be the difference between life and death.

Did you know that seat belts reduce the risk of death by 45%, and cut the risk of serious injury by 50%? Seat belts prevent drivers and passengers from being ejected during a crash.

All modern cars have seatbelt sensors with a loud beeping sound to alert the driver and passenger to fasten their seatbelts. The alarm will become increasingly annoying to the point that it’s easier to put on your seatbelt to make it stop.

6. Low oil pressure light

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Your car relies on multiple liquids to keep all the parts and components running optimally, and it can be critical if you encounter any issue with these liquids. Hence, the oil pressure warning symbol on your dashboard means there is a problem with your oil – usually, the oil level is too oil or there is not enough oil pressure.

As soon as the warning symbol comes on, safely pull over and check the oil level. If the oil level is too low, fill it with the recommended type of engine oil as stated in the manual.

If the warning symbol persists, consult the manual or seek help from a mechanic.

7. Airbag warning light

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A faulty airbag won’t go off during the crash which means that the passenger and driver may get injured seriously or also the bag deployment could be so nasty that it can cause a shock causing an injury.

The airbag warning light indicates a fault with the airbag. If it is on, there could be chances that the airbag won’t inflate in a crash or that it may inflate when unexpectedly causing shock, injury, or hindering your view.

This warning can impact your safety on the road, so it is best to have it checked by a mechanic instead of diagnosing it on your own.

If at this point you’re still wondering, what do the lights on my dashboard mean? Then let’s discuss the yellow and orange warning lights on your dashboard.

Yellow or orange warning signs

Yellow or orange warning lights are advisory signals, indicating that a component or system will need to take action.

8. Check engine light

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The check engine light illuminates for a few seconds when you switch on the engine to check the system. However, if you encountered this while driving, it means an engine operation fault is detected.

There are many reasons why it turned on. This includes loose or damaged gas cap, failed or failing O2 sensors, ignition issues, or catalytic converter failure.

Depending on your car model, the check engine light may either blink or remain steady to indicate the severity of the issue. A trouble code is stored in the computer’s memory every time the check your engine light is triggered. You can use the code to identify the issue properly using a diagnostic tool.

Since the causes range from minor to serious problems, it is best to learn how to read the codes using a scanner. Remember to pull over in a safe location before trying to diagnose the issue. If you don’t have a scanner, you may seek the help of a certified mechanic.

9. ABS light warning

ABS means an anti-lock brake system. Just like the check engine light, it illuminates as part of a system check every time you turn on the car.

When the ABS light stays on after the system check or while you are driving, it means there is a problem with your car’s brake system. Hence, it is unsafe to keep on driving. ABS prevents the tire from locking up which can help you apply the brake safely and steer during an emergency.

There may be several reasons why the ABS light is on. This includes a blown fuse, damaged/dirty sensor, broken wires between sensors and control, or ABS controller is not working. Fortunately, you can also diagnose the problem using a fault code reader.

10. Tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS)

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Correct inflation pressure (psi) results in the best tire performance, safety, and fuel savings.

A Tire pressure monitoring systems detect overinflated or underinflated tires. If the warning symbol turns on, slow down and pull over safely to check your tires.

Tire pressure can be affected by a lot of factors. For instance, temperature could affect tire inflation. The air in your tire will take up more volume should the temperature increase.

Likewise, tire pressure would drop when the temperature plunges. These temperature changes can trigger the tire pressure warning symbol on your dashboard. You may read our articles on tires for more guides.

11. Glow plug indicator

This is one of the lesser-known dashboard warning lights. The glow plug indicator is exclusive for diesel vehicles, which means that the glow plug is warming up. A glow plug is a heating element that is activated when the engine is cold.

You should not start the engine until the warning symbol light is off. If you see the indicator flashing, it may indicate an issue.

12. Traction control

The traction control light indicates that the tires are not gripping the road as well as they should. It is commonly active during rainy or snowy weather conditions.

The light will flash indicating that the traction control is doing its work, helping to keep the vehicle in control. If you turn it off, you may notice that your vehicle handles it differently when driving on a slippery road surface. It is best to leave your traction control on at all times.

However, in very rare circumstances, you may need to turn it off temporarily. These include the following:

If you need snow chains in your tires and the traction will interfere.

If you are trapped deep in mud or snow and the vehicle cannot move on its own.

13. Washer fluid reminder

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The washer fluid ensures a clean windshield so you can drive safely. The washer fluid reminder symbol indicates that washer fluid is low.

You can find and refill the washer fluid reservoir in the hood of the vehicle. The cap should have a similar symbol.

Blue, green, or white dashboard lights

These are information lights are just that, for information. You should rarely be concerned if you see any of the dash symbols below:

14. High beam

One of the oldest dashboard symbols, simply means the high beams are active. Make sure to use the high beam only in an extremely dark environment.

As simple as it seems, knowing this symbol is important as some drivers may accidentally engage high beams without realizing it. If you don’t use it properly, it may be dangerous to fellow drivers on the road.

15. Cruise control

The cruise control symbol on your dashboard is illuminated when it is engaged. Cruise control helps relieve some of the fatigue related to long-distance driving. It also helps maintain a constant speed which could be very useful for lead-foot drivers.

If you are planning a long trip, learn more about this feature in your manual. There are some instances where cruise control is not advisable and may pose danger.

16. Park assist

The green version will be visible when the system is activated and working. Depending on the car model, the park assists feature can be activated by pushing a button or automatically when you are reversing at low speeds.

However, if it is flashing or turns yellow, there may be an issue detected by the system so read your manual first.

Conclusion

The answer to what do the lights on my dashboard mean could be the difference between an enjoyable ride and a breakdown. So always remember to take the lights on your dashboards (especially the red ones) seriously as it may compromise your car’s performance or your safety if you ignore them.

Start learning how to use fault code scanners to help you diagnose some of the warning signs. However, in case you encounter an unfamiliar dashboard warning, pull over safely and call roadside assistance or a certified mechanic.

Watch this Youtube video to review what you’ve just learned:

Note: Every car model’s dashboard may be different and the symbols listed above may have different designs and colors. So be sure to check your manual for more accurate information.

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