15 Common Car Dashboard Symbols

May 15, 2024
A close-up of a car’s dashboard.

Modern cars have many dashboard lights designed to alert drivers to possible problems and to make sure they can take care of those problems quickly. Warning signs, usually displayed in red or yellow, are designed to alert you to potential problems that could seriously affect your safety. Light symbols, typically displayed in white or blue, let you know about the status of your vehicle’s lights. Safety symbols, often shown in blue or green, usually indicate a certain safety feature is active or functioning. [1] It’s important to familiarize yourself with the owner’s manual for your car, where you should be able to find the precise meaning of the dashboard symbols and what to do when you see one.

1. Check engine light

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 might mean there’s a real engine problem. If the problem continues, get the engine checked out by a pro. If the light flashes rapidly, the problem may be serious and you should get to a repair shop immediately.

2. Tire pressure warning light

This dashboard light looks like a tire with an exclamation point in it and means that the tire pressure in at least one of your tires is low and underinflated. If the light comes on, you should check your tire’s air pressure as soon as you’re safely able. A good habit is to check your tire pressure once a month.

3. Tire pressure monitoring system light (TPMS)

This dashboard light looks like “two-thirds of a circle with an exclamation point in the middle”. [2] It stands for tire pressure monitoring system and when it comes on, there’s a problem with the monitoring system — most likely 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. Never rely solely on warning signals. [3]

4. Oil pressure warning light

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. [1]

5. Engine temperature warning light

A warning light that looks like a thermometer means the engine’s temperature is running hot, and it should be checked immediately to keep the car from overheating. Always allow time for the engine to cool down before touching anything under the hood. Causes vary for an overheating engine, but the coolant could be low due to a leak or loose cap on the coolant tank. [1]

6. Battery charge warning light

When the dashboard light that looks like a battery comes on, your voltage level is likely below normal. It could mean the vehicle’s charging system isn’t functioning properly, so you need to have the battery terminals and alternator checked. If it’s an older battery, you may need to replace it. [1] Learn more about when to change your car battery.

7. Brake system warning light

The dashboard light that looks like a circle inside a set of parentheses with an exclamation point in the middle represents your brake system — and if it comes on while driving, you may need to take immediate action. It could be triggered by driving with the parking brake on, but it can also mean you’re losing brake fluid. [3]

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, you may need to have it towed to a repair shop.

8. Airbag warning light

The light that looks like a person sitting with a big circle in front of them is your airbag warning light. If this light stays on after you’ve started the car, there could be problems with your airbag system. Take your car to a repair shop immediately, as this could mean that your airbags won’t work in an auto emergency. [4]

9. Coolant temperature light

If a light pops up on your dashboard that looks like a thermometer submerged in liquid, this is your coolant temperature light. It could mean your car is low on coolant or there could be a problem with your radiator. If left unchecked, your car could overheat, causing serious damage to your engine. [2]

10. Power steering warning light

The light that looks like a steering wheel with an exclamation point next to it is your power steering warning light. When this comes on, it’s telling you that there might be something wrong with your power steering system. Without power steering, turning the wheel and controlling your car can become much more difficult, especially at slower speeds. You may want to get your car checked by a professional as soon as possible. [4]

11. Low fuel indicator light

The light on your dashboard that looks like a gas pump is your low fuel indicator, and it means your car is running low on fuel. Find a gas station as soon as you can and refuel. [3]

12. Seat belt reminder light

It might seem obvious, but the light on your dashboard that looks like a person sitting with a seat belt across their chest and lap is your seat belt reminder light. It typically comes on when your seat belt isn’t buckled, so make sure that you buckle up before you drive.

13. Lane departure warning light

The light on your dashboard that looks like a car veering out of its lane is your lane departure warning light. This light can help you stay in your lane while driving.

14. Washer fluid light

If a light pops up on your dashboard that looks like a windshield being sprayed with water, this is your washer fluid light, and it typically means that your washer fluid is running low. Check and refill the fluid at your earliest convenience.

15. High beam light

The light on your dashboard that looks like a headlight with lines radiating out is your high beam light indicator. This means that your high beams headlights are on. If you see oncoming traffic, switch to your low beams to prevent temporarily blinding the other drivers. [4]

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[1] “Which Warning Lights Are Active On Your Dashboard?” gofar.co/car-warning-lights/car-warning-light-symbols-and-indicators (Accessed Feb 2024)

[2] “Dashboard Warning Lights Explained,” Nick Kurczewski, caranddriver.com/features/a35865614/dashboard-warning-lights-explained (Accessed Feb 2024)

[3] “What All the Symbols on Your Car’s Dashboard Mean,” vatire.com/car-maintenance-tips/what-all-the-symbols-on-your-dashboard-mean ( Accessed Feb 2024)

[4] “Car Warning Lights – What These Dashboard Lights Indicate,” Ankit Verma, tyremarket.com/tyremantra/car-warning-lights-what-dashboard-lights-indicate-symbols-meaning (Accessed Feb 2024)


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