We all have the tendency to freak out when the unexpected happens, and nothing is more unexpected than when something on your dash lights up. To ease some of that panic, we’ve curated a guide to the most common dash warning lights, what they mean, and what steps you can take to keep your vehicle in top running condition.
Coolant Temperature Warning (fig.1)
This light illuminates when the temperature of your engine – or specifically the coolant – exceeds its normal limits. To remedy, first check your coolant level. If it’s low, your engine will run hotter than it should. Replace any missing coolant and check for leaks or a faulty radiator cap.
Battery Charging Warning (fig.2)
This light indicates that the voltage level of your vehicle’s charging system is low. This means the vehicle’s charging system is not functioning properly. You should check your battery terminals and overall battery condition. Look for loose battery leads, and make sure your alternator belt is tight and whole. If possible, have your batter and alternator tested.
Oil Pressure Warning (fig.3)
If this light illuminates – and stays lit – it indicates a loss of oil pressure. Immediately check your oil level and pressure (if possible). Locate and fix any oil leaks.
Brake Malfunction (fig.4)
This light can signify a couple of conditions: your parking brake may not be fully disengaged; your brake fluid may be low; there may be a mechanical problem with the brake system. Check your brake fluid level and ensure that your parking brake is released. If it’s an ABS or mechanical issue, it may require professional diagnosis.
Check Engine Light (fig.5)
This is probably the light you are most familiar with. When this light appears on your dash, your engine computer has set a Diagnostic Trouble Code – or DTC. This usually requires diagnosis with a professional scan tool. Most auto parts stores have staff who are trained with basic diagnostic scan tools.
Oil Level Warning (fig.6)
If your vehicle consumes oil, you might see this light fairly often. This one pops up when your oil level is low. Don’t confuse this with the red oil pressure light. If you see this yellow oil level light, check your oil levels and add new oil as needed.
ABS Warning Light (fig.7)
The ABS – or antilock brake system – warning light works a lot like your check engine light. When the ABS module encounters a fault, it will generate a trouble code – just like your engine computer will. This typically requires professional diagnosis; though, most scan tools can also retrieve ABS codes.
Tire Pressure Warning (fig.8)
When this light illuminates on the dash, it means your tire pressure monitoring system – or TPMS – has identified a tire with low air pressure. It may also indicate malfunction with one of the TMPS sensors. Check the tire pressure of each of your tires and add air as needed. Some vehicle systems will reset themselves, while others will require professional diagnosis and reset. Refer to your owner’s manual for more information.