Dashboard Warning Lights: A Beginner’s Guide

Our vehicle dashboards tell us a lot, yet those illuminated warning lights are often ignored by drivers. They could however be a vital early warning sign that something isn’t quite right with your car. With this, understanding your dashboard warning lights is a great time and money saver in the long run. 

study found that more than half of drivers (59% to be exact) could not identify the meaning behind the most common warning lights, with a shocking 96% of those surveyed struggling to recognise the symbol associated with braking system issues. The same research found that just 5% of drivers recognised the diesel particulate filter warning light.

By deciphering the meaning behind those tiny symbols found on your dashboard, you can get car problems solved fast and potentially before they evolve into bigger, more expensive to fix issues.  

The colour of the lights offers another tell-tale sign. Green means the system is working as it should, yellow indicates a problem and advises you to take extra care, whilst red points towards a more serious issue that requires urgent attention. Whilst illuminated dashboard warning lights don’t always mean your vehicle isn’t safe to drive, getting them checked out by a professional as soon as possible is recommended. 

Here our experts reveal a beginner’s guide to dashboard warning lights so you can spot an issue and act faster.

Engine management

The engine management symbol is one of the most identifiable dashboard warning lights. The engine is surrounded by a number of sensors to ensure it is operating as it should be. If a component is not running smoothly, a sensor will be triggered causing your engine management light to illuminate. The engine management light can be triggered by a long list of issues, including a faulty emission control system or catalytic converter. 

If your engine management light is lit but there’s no loss of power or stuttering during acceleration, you can continue to drive your vehicle but you must attend a garage to get the underlying cause checked. If the light is flashing, you should seek urgent assistance. 

Do not accelerate heavily or drive at speed with a flashing engine management warning light as this could cause further damage, especially to your catalytic converter or diesel particulate filter. Instead stop the vehicle in a safe place before switching off your engine. Let your vehicle rest for two minutes before restarting. If the engine management light continues to flash, turn off the engine and get your vehicle towed to us for further investigation.

Brake system

The brake system warning light is another important signal for drivers. Whilst it is always illuminated when the parking brake is in use, it should be treated as a cause for concern if it remains on after the release of the handbrake or comes on during driving. It often indicates that your brake fluid level is low, but when combined with the illumination of the ABS warning light can point to a malfunction or even brake failure.

Checking your brake fluid levels should be your first port of call if your brake system warning light comes on. If the fluid level is good, your sensory may be faulty and you should seek professional advice. If you have to push your brakes down much further than usual to slow down or stop your vehicle, you should not continue to drive your vehicle. Instead pull over in a safe place and request recovery.

Battery charge

The illumination of your battery warning light is much more clear cut. If it comes on in red whilst driving, you should seek help from a professional as soon as possible as it could mean that your battery is no longer charging. The battery warning light can be a sign of other issues, including faulty wiring, alternator or alternator drive belt.

Continuing to drive your vehicle will leave you at higher risk of your battery running flat, so don’t take that chance, attend our garage right away.

Oil pressure

Checking your engine oil level is an integral part of routine vehicle maintenance, and for good reason. The right level of engine oil keeps your vehicle, and more specifically its engine, running smoothly. If your vehicle runs out of oil or it gets too low, there’s less lubricant to service the moving parts of the engine. With this, friction gets the chance to cause irreversible and rather costly damage. But that’s where your oil pressure warning light comes in.

If your engine oil is running low, you may first notice your oil pressure warning light come on when you drive around corners. Once you notice your oil pressure light, check your oil level right away. If your oil level is ok, there may be an issue with the oil supply. Your oil supply can become interrupted by a faulty oil pump or a blocked oil filter. Getting the underlying issue resolved fast is vital, and will prevent expensive engine damage. 

Anti-lock brake system (ABS)

Your anti-lock brake system (ABS for short) ensures your vehicle can stop safely and negotiate difficult road conditions, which is why the illumination of your ABS warning light should be investigated right away. If there’s no noises coming from your car’s wheels, your vehicle will remain safe to drive so you can attend your garage. You should however take extra care if you are driving in adverse weather conditions.

If both your ABS and brake system warning lights are illuminated, you should stop your vehicle and request recovery. Stop your vehicle by slowing down gradually and avoid harsh braking. The combination of these warning lights could indicate a major brake fault.

Diesel particulate filter (DPF)

Diesel particulate filters (DPF) are found on many modern vehicle makes and models. Their primary role is to trap and convert harmful, unhealthy soot particles, which can cause major damage to the environment and health. Your DPF actively turns harmful soot into harmless ash, but can only do so when your engine gets hot. This can only be achieved when driving at speeds over 40mph.

If your vehicle benefits from stop-start technology, there’s a greater risk of your diesel particulate filter warning light illuminating. Stop-start driving increases the chance of blockages, just as only driving short distances or at low speeds damages your DPF. 

If your DPF warning light comes on, drive for 10 minutes at speeds over 40mph when it’s safe to do so. If the light does not go off, you should attend a garage for further investigation and possible DPF replacement.

Low tyre pressure

The newest addition to the dashboard is the low tyre pressure warning light. This warning light can now be found in many vehicle makes and models, with the associated tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS) providing a simpler way to stay on top of tyre pressure.

The low tyre pressure warning light will indicate a pressure drop in one of your tyres. Whether this fall in pressure is due to a puncture or has occurred over time, you should top up your tyres with air as soon as you can. 

Worried about an illuminated dashboard warning light on your vehicle? Have our experts check it out and get you back on the road safely. Get in touch with us today to book an appointment or to discuss your concerns.