Know What Your Car Dashboard Lights Are Telling You

dashboard symbols

Today’s cars have many different dashboard lights designed to alert drivers to possible problems and to make sure you can take care of those problems quickly.

Here’s a quick guide to common dashboard warning lights and car symbols.

Check engine

In newer cars, the lit icon will look like an engine. It means the vehicle’s computer has triggered a diagnostic trouble code indicating there’s an issue. If it occasionally turns on and off, it’s an intermittent problem and you’ll just want to have it checked next time you take it in for maintenance.

However, if it stays on, it means there’s an ongoing problem – though it could be as simple as the gas cap not being closed tightly. If the problem continues, get the engine checked out. If the light flashes rapidly, the problem may be serious and you should get to a repair shop immediately.

Low tire pressure light

This dashboard light looks like a tire with an exclamation point in it and means that at least one of your tires is underinflated. You’ll want to check your tire’s air pressure immediately.

TPMS

This dashboard light stands for Tire Pressure Monitoring System and when it comes on, there’s a problem with the monitoring system – probably a failed sensor in one of the wheels. Some people mistakenly believe this means the air pressure is low in the tires, but the TPMS is responsible for keeping track of air pressure in the tires; when it notices a tire is low, it triggers the low tire pressure light. If the TPMS light remains on, have the sensors checked during regular maintenance – and never rely solely on warning signals. You still should check your tire pressure once a month.

Oil pressure

If you see a dashboard light that looks like an oil can, you need to pull over at the nearest gas station. This light signals the loss of oil pressure, and you need to check to make sure you aren’t losing oil.

Coolant temperature

A warning dashboard light that looks like a thermometer means the engine’s temperature is beyond the normal limits, and it should be checked immediately to keep your car from overheating. You’ll want to check the coolant level and make sure the radiator cap is properly sealed as well as look for coolant leaks. Always allow time for the engine to cool down before checking the coolant level, however, to avoid getting burned.

Battery/charging

When the dashboard light that looks like a battery comes on, your voltage level is below normal. It means the vehicle’s charging system isn’t functioning properly, so you need to have the battery terminals and alternator belt checked. If it’s an older battery, you may need to replace it.

Brake system

The dashboard light that looks like a circle inside a set of parenthesis with an exclamation point in the middle represents your brake system – and if it comes on while driving, you need to pay immediate attention to it. It could be triggered by driving with the parking brake on, but it can also mean you’re losing brake fluid.

If it comes on and off intermittently, and you don’t notice a change in braking ability, you should get it to a repair shop as soon as possible. But if it stays on there’s a problem that needs to be taken care of immediately, and you should have it towed to a repair shop.

In the case that you do need to go to a repair shop and have work done, make sure you have the best coverage. Learn more about how Nationwide auto insurance can protect you and save you money.