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The Meaning of Car Dashboard Lights

The Meaning of Car Dashboard Lights

Your vehicle is equipped with a computer and many different sensors designed to tell it what's happening in all the separate systems. There is a special warning system in your vehicle designed to inform you when something is going wrong with your vehicle or when it appears like something is going wrong. The system isn't perfect, but through the computer, that series of sensors, and a set of car dashboard lights, you can get key information about the health of your vehicle. Knowing what the dashboard warning lights mean when they light up will give you clues about potential issues your vehicle is having. While before, with old vehicles, you had to wait for serious problems to occur before you knew something was going wrong, now you get warnings sooner thanks to these advanced systems.

The Hierarchy of Warning Lights

There are many different dashboard warning lights, but not all of them indicate a problem with your vehicle. One of the simplest ways to evaluate lights that come on is by their color.

Quick Warning Light Guide

  • Blue and Green Lights - Systems are operating properly
  • Yellow and Orange Lights - You have minor problems that may require repair
  • Red Lights - You have a potentially serious problem in need of repair

Green and blue lights are simple operation lights that inform you that systems are working. Yellow and orange lights are warning lights that explain that you may have some minor issues that need addressing. Finally, red lights are serious and may indicate that you have a major problem that should be repaired as soon as possible.

Only Pay Attention to Lights that Persist After Startup

The first thing you need to know about all lights on the dashboard is that they only mean anything if they remain lit past the startup process. During startup, it's common for many of your vehicle's warning lights to flash on and then turn off again. This simply lets you know the lights are functioning properly and is nothing to worry about. Don't pay attention to any light that flashes on for a moment. Only the lights that remain lit are trying to tell you something.

Exploring Common Warning Lights

There is a huge variety of warning lights on the dashboard, and we can't cover them all. We can overview some of the common lights and what problems they point to, though. After reading through this guide, you'll know about common dashboard light meanings and what may be the problem you're facing.

The Check Engine Light

The Check Engine LightThis light is one of the most feared of all dashboard lights, and it comes on at some point in most vehicles. This light is normally yellow or red and in the shape of an engine. It looks like a box with little horizontal lines attached on the top and sides. This light indicates you have a problem related to your engine in some way. It could be an issue with your emissions system, or it could be something seriously wrong with your engine itself. There are dozens of wires that could be loose, a sensor that could be bad, or tons of other minor issues that can cause this light to come on. Don't panic if you see it, but don't ignore it either.

The Battery Light

The Battery LightMost people know what the battery light means when it comes on. Of all the dashboard lights and what they mean, this is the most straightforward. It looks like a battery, and it means your battery is bad, one of the connections on your battery is corroded and failing, or you have an issue with your wiring or your alternator. There are several potential issues, but most mechanics should be able to narrow down the problem in a few minutes.

Oil Pressure Warning

Oil Pressure WarningThis light looks like an oil can dripping a bit of oil. This light normally means that your oil pressure is too low. It could mean you need to add a bit of oil to your oil reservoir, or it could mean you have a serious leak that needs to be repaired. Begin by checking your oil level and adding oil if necessary, but watch this problem closely and bring it to a professional if it persists.

Tire Pressure Monitor

Tire Pressure MonitorOf all the dashboard lights meanings, this is one of the most minor issues that you can take care of. There are sensors on most wheels today that track the pressure of your tires. If the pressure level gets too low, this warning light comes on. It looks like part of a circle with treads on the bottom of it. The warning tells you to check your tire pressure levels and add air or get a damaged tire replaced.

Brake System Warning Lights

Brake System Warning LightsThere are three different warning lights you could get that relate to your brake system. The first is the simplest and is the parking brake light. It looks like a circle with a curved line on either side and a large letter P in the middle. This means you left your parking brake on and must disengage it. The next two warning lights look similar but mean different things. You can have a circle with extra curved lines on either side with either ABS in the middle or a single "!" (exclamation mark).

When it says ABS, there is an issue with your anti-lock braking system, and your vehicle may struggle in low traction conditions. When it's just a "!" in the center, you have a problem with your brake system and may not be able to stop properly any longer. When you have either of these two warning lights, you'll likely need help from a mechanic to diagnose the problem. The "!" light is the most dangerous of the three, but you should know what each means, just in case.

Use Warning Lights to Purchase Vehicles Effectively

When you know the dashboard lights' meanings, you can quickly determine what area of your vehicle needs help. You won't necessarily be able to fix the problem or even determine exactly what the issue is, but you'll at least have an idea. You can use your knowledge of warning lights to help you assess used vehicles that you're considering purchasing as well.

Use these lights and a bit of research to help you avoid vehicles with serious problems. Also, spend time looking over a vehicle history report to help you learn more about a potential vehicle before making the purchase. These reports let you see the current title status, past accidents and use cases (such as police or taxi use), features the vehicle has, and more.

Now that you know a bit more about dashboard lights and what they mean, you should be able to predict many of the problems your vehicle faces and know when to seek help from a trained mechanic. The more you know before buying the vehicle, the less likely you will regret the purchase later.

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