14 Most Common Dashboard Light Meanings
Deciphering between the hieroglyphics on your dashboard can seem impossible. Our team will guide you through what the symbols mean and what to do if you see one. For instance, your vehicle might need diagnostics, repair and/or maintenance. Read on to discover the meanings of the most common lights that might pop up on your dashboard.
1: Check engine light
A check engine indicator coming on can be scary no matter what vehicle you drive. The best thing to do when you see this is not to panic. More than any other dash light on this list, there are dozens of possible explanations for why this warning light came on.
Some issues are simple. For example, not tightening your gas cap after a refill can trigger this light. It’s a good idea to pull over and check this out first. This light will also come on when non-critical sensors like exhaust sensors stop functioning. While this won’t affect driving right away, it will stop you from passing most states’ emissions certification tests.
Not all check engine lights mean you need to stop driving right away, but most of them will require a trained technician to diagnose and fix the issue. If you've checked the gas cap and it's fine, get the rest of the engine checked right away. If the light flashes, skip the gas cap check and go straight to the mechanic. A flashing light means there could be something very wrong with your car and it needs professional attention right away.
2: Engine temperature light
The engine temperature dash light means that your engine’s sensors detected that it has begun to overheat. If you continue to operate the engine at these temperatures, serious and permanent damage could occur.
Most of the time, overheating is caused by a failure of your vehicle’s coolant system such as:
- Radiator hose is leaking
- Radiator is broken, leaking or not enough coolant to cool the engine
- Coolant leak - usually steam will come from car’s hood and odor caused by antifreeze evaporating
If your car is overheating, slow down or stop driving altogether if you cannot get the temperature gauge to stay within optimal levels. If your coolant system is leaking, refill the radiator with antifreeze or water constantly. This can be very HOT so do not unscrew the cap when the engine is still hot. Get to the nearest repair facility as soon as possible.
3: Battery symbol light
Seeing this symbol on your vehicle's dash can be stressful. Top reasons the battery light will illuminate:
- Your battery is dead or the voltage is too low to start the vehicle
- Your battery cables are loose, the battery posts are too corroded, or the connection has been severed
- If you have a manual transmission, stalling will cause this light to come on
- Your serpentine belt may have snapped, which prevents the alternator from charging the battery. If this is the issue, you will likely also have lost power steering
- Your alternator is dead or not properly functioning and needs to be replaced
- If the battery is the issue there are some things to look out for: dimming clock lights, dim headlights, a key FOB that doesn’t work, or a slow start at ignition
In most cases, even if the battery is dying, a quick battery jump could give you enough life to get somewhere safe. Be sure to have the battery tested to help determine the issue. It’s a good idea to know the state of your battery by getting occasional tests. This is especially true if you plan to take a road trip in the near future.
4: Oil pressure light
It means there is an issue with the oil pressure in your car and your oil pump could lack the proper circulation to lubricate the services inside your car or, worse, you're running low on oil. Our technicians recommend not to ignore this light.
- Stop driving, if possible
- Avoid driving fast or uphill
- Check oil level - if oil is low, fill up and see if the light goes off
- If it does, you’re probably okay to drive for now, but make sure there’s not a significant oil leak in your engine
- If your oil level is normal, but the light stays on, take your car in for diagnostic service immediately
5: Tire pressure warning light
This image is known as the TPMS or tire pressure monitoring system light. It lets you know that your tires have air pressure lower than the optimal level. However, there could be other reasons this light comes on in your dash:
- It's cold outside. Have you ever baked a nice pie? It might have a slight dome when it first comes out of the oven due to hot air expanding inside the pie. But as it cools, the dome flattens out. That's because the temperature has dropped and the air inside the pie cools down and contracts. The same happens with tires. For every 10 degrees the temp drops, you may lose 1-2 pounds (0.91 kg) of pressure. Like the pie, air isn’t leaking out readily. Instead, the cooling air inside the tire contracts
- You have a nail or screw in your tire which is causing a slow leak. If this is the case, you’ll need to have it repaired and refilled
- Your TPMS batteries are low. Most modern cars have four TPMS batteries — one for each wheel. They tend to last anywhere from 5-10 years. If you've had your car for at least five years, it might be time to replace the TPMS batteries. Just be sure to check the tires with an external gauge first to confirm whether they are low on air pressure. The owner’s manual should tell you the amount of pressure your tires need. Your tires will list the maximum pressure; do not exceed this PSI when refilling
When you see this light come on, check your tire pressure. If you're within 1-2 pounds (0.91 kg) per square inch of what your car manual recommends, you're fine. If not, you can easily add more air or come to your nearby Caliber Auto Care and we’ll refill your tires. You can tell the TPMS batteries are malfunctioning if you have the correct PSI but still see the light on your dash.
6: Traction control light
Traction control is a safety feature that utilizes your car’s computer and specialized sensors to assist with traction in slippery and wet roads. In most vehicles, you can turn this feature off manually. However, turning it off can mean your vehicle has a harder time maintaining traction in poor road conditions, including rain and snow. If the traction control light comes on without you turning it on, it could mean
- The system itself is malfunctioning
- You're having issues with your ABS (anti-lock brake system) brakes
- Your tires have low tread or are bald
Not all traction control systems also control the ABS brakes. If traction control comes on unprovoked, it’s crucial that you get this checked out by a mechanic as soon as possible.
7: Anti-lock brake light
As mentioned on the traction control light, the light above could mean something is off with your anti-lock brake system. Many vehicles will have their own warning light for ABS brakes. When you see it, don't dismiss it. It could mean something is wrong with your brake system. Get it checked ASAP at your nearest Caliber Auto Care center and our teammates will help. If your brakes lock up while moving at high speeds or in heavy traffic, the consequences could be dire.
8: Engine start indicator light
Have you ever tried to start your car and nothing happened? That's most likely because you didn't engage the brake. You can easily tell if that's the case if you see the above symbol on your dash. Just engage the brake and attempt to restart the engine.
9: Washer fluid light
If you see this on your dash, it means your car is low on windshield washer fluid. It's an easy fix that shouldn't be skipped, especially if there’s inclement weather in the forecast. You don't want to be on the road during a snowstorm and get your windshield covered in sand, dirt or other road debris with no way to clean it off. Your car's owner’s manual should tell you the proper way to replace the windshield washer fluid.
10: Low fuel light
This symbol is an easy one to diagnose and one of the easiest to fix. It means you're running low on gas and need to fuel up quickly. Don't try to test how long you can go without filling up because usually this light turns on when less than two gallons of fuel remain. Fuel up as soon as you can when this symbol comes on.
11: Airbag indicator light
If you see the airbag indicator light without a crash or airbag deployment, it could mean there is something wrong with the airbag system. For many vehicles, while this light is activated, the system will not deploy airbags in the event of a crash. If you find this light turned on, stop driving and get your vehicle to the mechanic ASAP.
12: Seat belt reminder light
Wear your seat belt. While nothing is actually wrong with your car, you need to pay attention when this dashboard light comes on. This symbol means someone in your car is not wearing their seatbelt and wearing seat belts saves lives.
According to the CDC, motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death among those aged 1-54 in the U.S. There were 22,697 fatalities from car crashes in 2018. A full 60% of adults and teens who had died in those car crashes weren't wearing seatbelts. This is just one of the many good reasons why you should always wear your seatbelt while in a car.
13: The fog lamp light
When you see the fog lamp indicator symbol come on, it can mean a few things. You either have automatic fog lights or you have activated them yourself. Unless your driving visibility is less than 100 meters, it’s best not to use fog lights. They can be distracting to the other drivers on the road. If you turned them on in error, read your car's Owner’s Manual or call your nearest Caliber Auto Care and our teammates will be ready to help you.
14: Security light
Most cars these days have a security system to prevent theft. The security light typically flashes once when you turn on the car to let you know it's working. If you see this beyond starting up your car, there might be an electrical issue. It's worth getting checked out.
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