What These 13 Common Car Dashboard Symbols And Warning Lights Actually Mean

Cars today are not mere vehicles of transportation. They are complex machines with functions that make long hours on the road a little less torturous. But no matter how advanced they become, it’s fair to assume that something will eventually break down. And when that happens, you’ll know through flickering and colourful car dashboard symbols

Think of it as an SOS letting you know that something is going wrong. But for many of us, we’re guilty of not knowing these little icons. Below, we break down the meaning, car symbol by symbol.

Note: Some of these symbols may vary across car models and manufacturers. When required, please check with the owner’s manual for details.

Car Dashboard Symbols: Red Lights 

Engine Temperature Warning Light

car dashboard symbols
Credit: Car From Japan

Meaning: Your car’s coolant is overheating due to cooling fluids running dry. Normally, this car dashboard symbol illuminates blue when you first crank it up. The light eventually goes off after a few minutes. But if it stays on and turns red, that’s when you need to pay attention. 

Solution: Stop the car immediately if possible because continuous driving can damage the engine. Call a mechanic over or have a tow truck bring it to the nearest workshop for a thorough inspection.

Brake Warning Light

Credit: DriveSmart Warranty

Meaning: Your handbrake is engaged.

Solution: It should go away once the handbrake is fully released. But if the symbol is still lit, it could be that your car is low on brake fluid or there are possible complications with the broader brake system. A trusted professional should be able to tell you what’s wrong. 

Oil Pressure Warning Light

car dashboard symbols
Credit: Ferber’s Tire & Auto Services, Inc.

Meaning: This car dashboard symbol indicates either your car’s engine oil is running low or a sign of a defective oil pump.

Solution: Stop your car safely and give the engine some time to cool down. When safe to do so, you can pop up the hood to check on the oil level and top it up as required. However, if the problem persists, then it’s time to ring the professionals.

Car Battery Warning Light 

Credit: LiveAbout

Meaning: Something’s not quite right with the car battery charging system, and you’re running solely on battery power. 

Solution: If you happen to be driving, don’t stop. What you should do is switch off anything (for example, the multimedia player and air-conditioner) that draws battery power, except for the headlights if you’re on the road at night. Only turn your car off once you’ve reached somewhere safe, like a workshop or home. As this is often a complex issue, you’ll need a reliable and skillful mechanic to perform an in-depth diagnosis. 

Seat Belt Warning Light

car dashboard symbols
Credit: Motoring Research

Meaning: You’re not wearing a seat belt.

Solution: Easy fix; just buckle up! On some cars, this warning triggers an intentionally annoying siren. 

Airbag Warning Light

Credit: Capitol Toyota

Meaning: Your car’s airbags are due for a check-up.

Solution: Well-functioning airbags are lifesavers, so don’t delay getting them checked if this car dashboard symbol stays on for days. If your vehicle is still under warranty, you can request to replace them. Nevertheless, this is an issue that requires fixing by a car expert.

Car Dashboard Symbols: Amber Lights

Tyre Pressure Caution Light

car dashboard symbols
Credit: Driving Test Tips

Meaning: A feature more common on newer car models. It tells you there’s a drop in pressure in your car tyres

Solution: Drive to the nearest petrol station and inflate as necessary. 

ABS Caution Light

Credit: The Aircooled Community

Meaning: Malfunction with your car’s ABS.

Solution: Since its inception, the anti-lock braking system (ABS) has been making driving a lot safer. It gives you the ability to apply maximum braking and steering control without the wheels locking up, which is crucial during emergencies. The meaning of this car symbol points to an issue with the ABS. Bring it to a workshop for further inspection.

Engine Management Caution Light

car dashboard symbols
Credit: Mercedes-Benz of Ontario

Meaning: Your car is telling you that there’s something faulty in the engine.

Solution: Although it points to the engine, this car dashboard symbol blinks for a number of reasons. It can be anything from a defective spark plug to the failure of something major. You don’t need to immediately pull over and turn off the engine once the light comes on, but delaying a visit to the workshop can end up making the damage much worse. 

Traction Control Caution Light

Credit: Oards Automotive Hub

Meaning: The wheels need to get a grip—literally.

Solution: Cars with traction control settings will see this pop up once their wheels start to lose grip, especially in slippery conditions. Slow down and take it easy. 

Low Fuel Caution Light

car dashboard symbols
Credit: The Sun

Meaning: Fuel is running low.

Solution: This one’s pretty self-explanatory; find the nearest petrol station to put fuel in.

Power Steering Light

Credit: Carsome 

Meaning: The power steering hydraulics are due for inspection.

Solution: Turning a steering wheel was quite a muscle-intensive endeavour pre-power steering days. Today, a hydraulic or an electric pump makes steering a breeze. Hence, don’t take it lightly when the light comes on and have it checked by a professional ASAP.

Glow Plug Caution Light

Credit: YourMechanic

Meaning: Malfunctioning plugs in diesel cars.

Solution: Glow plugs are an integral part that keeps a diesel engine running because they facilitate the combustion process. When they start wearing out, combustion is delayed and subsequently causes the engine to stall. Request a mechanic for a routine check right away.

Understanding Car Dashboard Symbols Will Help To Maintain Your Vehicle Better In The Long Run 

car dashboard symbols
Credit: Malte Luk via Pexels

Thanks to modern automobile developments, cars today are smart enough to caution us about an impending problem before it happens. And surely the most obvious way is with the dashboard and knowing the meaning of these car symbols can directly impact your (and your car’s) safety.

On a related note, are you a parent shopping for a suitable baby car seat? Allow us to suggest some worthy recommendations.

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