Car Dashboard Warning Light Meanings

Car Dashboard Warning Light Meanings

What do Car Dashboard Warning Light Meanings Discussed by AP Autocare

It doesn’t matter whether you drive a lot, long distances, short journeys or infrequently, understanding your dashboard warning light symbols is essential to driving safety as well as saving you a lot of time, money and worry. Your vehicle’s dashboard displays all of your major car stats, such as; speed, fuel levels and any issues that your vehicle may have and there are a variety of different symbols that will light up when there’s an error with your vehicle. If a dashboard light comes on then this is a warning that something needs to be checked or looked at, whether it is low on oil, your brake pads are wearing, need replacing, or there is an issue with your tyre pressure and any of these things need to be sorted to ensure your car is safe to drive. Our simple guide of ‘What do Car Dashboard Symbols Mean’ will; give you peace of mind, the ability to resolve some issues without having to take it to a garage, will let you know if you should take it to a garage to be looked at and will also prevent possible breakdowns or a major fault which can be costly and damage your car’s engine. 

Modern cars are made up of a lot of electrical components and these electrics are linked to sensors to monitor how your vehicle is driving as well as its safety. Your car’s dashboard shows these sensors, otherwise known as warning lights if there are any issues about to happen or happening. Older style vehicles also have dashboard warning signs which you should be aware of and should do something about if they come on.

When you start your car, its dashboard lights will appear momentarily on the display behind your steering wheel. Dashboard warning lights are displayed in a traffic light warning system; red, amber and green and these are a spectrum of seriousness or urgency.

Dashboard Warning Light Colour System:

  • Green – the car’s system is working as it should be, or is currently in use

  • Yellow – something isn’t working correctly or needs attention. You should stop as soon as you can and check it yourself by referring to your vehicle’s handbook or ask a professional garage to check it for you

  • Red – there is potentially a serious and, or dangerous problem. You should stop driving as soon as it is safe to 

Vehicle Dashboard Warning Light Symbol Meanings:

Engine Management Dashboard Warning Light

ThumbnailIf this warning light comes on when you start your car or if you are driving then you should stop at the earliest and safest time and either call your breakdown provider or take it to a professional garage for it to be checked. Your car may feel like it is driving ok, however, there could be more serious problems which mean if you continue to drive it will cause serious problems with your car’s engine and will be costly to resolve. It is really important to get your car checked by a garage who has suitable diagnostic equipment when this dashboard warning light comes on even if it feels completely normal to drive. It may just be a faulty sensor or a minor issue, however, professional diagnostics is critical to prevent potential severe engine damage. You can experience lack of power or stuttering when you press the accelerator, however, you may not experience any of these but you should still take it to a garage with diagnostic equipment to get it checked.

The engine management warning light could indicate a whole number of faults, from minor issues like a broken electrical sensor to a much larger mechanical issue, like a fault with your emission control system or catalytic converter.

Brake Dashboard Warning Light

ThumbnailIf your vehicle’s brake dashboard warning light comes on then again you should have your car checked by a professional garage urgently. You can check you haven’t left the handbrake on slightly when driving by making sure it is fully released but if it is fully released and the warning light has come on then you should book it into a garage immediately and don’t drive your car any further. If you are away from home then you should call your breakdown assistance provider or arrange for it to be taken to a garage. The brake warning light can indicate that the brake fluid level is too low and it needs topping up or your brake pads are wearing, have worn, or are faulty which means your car is unsafe to drive. If the brake pedal feels spongy when you press it or there is no pressure at all then you have a serious issue with your brakes and you should not drive any further. 

Airbag Dashboard Warning Light or SRS Dashboard Warning Light

ThumbnailWhen your airbag dashboard warning light comes on then it will mean that there is an element of your vehicle’s airbag safety system which isn’t working as it should. It can be the airbag system itself, the front passenger system which detects the front passenger’s weight and position to safely deploy the airbag, or the seat belt pre-tensioner system which tightens the belt in the event of an accident. If your airbag warning light comes on then you should take it to a garage quickly as driving without airbags or faulty airbags is dangerous; it might not go off when you need it if you have an accident, or in some cases it can even deploy unexpectedly and cause you to have an accident. 

Power Steering Dashboard Warning Light, EPS or EPAS Dashboard Warning Light

ThumbnailThis dashboard warning light indicates there is a problem with your power steering. If you have a vehicle with electric power steering which all newer cars will have then it can be as simple as rebooting your vehicle’s computer to reset it. Try switching your engine off and restarting it after a minute, if the warning light stays on and you can still feel an issue with your power steering then you should arrange for your local garage to check it out for you as soon as they can. Often if you have a problem with your power steering then your car will be a lot harder to steer and manoeuvre and it can be dangerous to drive without power-assisted steering.

Exhaust Particulate Filter Dashboard Warning Light or DPF Dashboard Warning Light

ThumbnailIf you have a diesel vehicle then this dashboard warning light will come on if there is a problem with your vehicle’s exhaust particulate filter. The filter removes harmful soot from your vehicle’s exhaust gases to reduce emissions and the warning light could indicate that the filter is blocked with soot. The soot is harmful and can cause respiratory problems, and these filters have been fitted to diesel vehicles since 2009 so you should get it booked into your garage as quickly as you can. Always remember that it may not cause you breathing problems but it could cause other people, in or outside of your car breathing issues. 

Traction Control Dashboard Warning Light

ThumbnailYour vehicle’s traction-control dashboard warning light will come on when your tyres lose grip, and this usually happens in certain weather conditions; rain, ice or snow. The warning light gives you a visual indication that your tyres aren’t gripping the road surface so you can adapt your driving speed and style. If the warning light is constantly on then it can mean it has been deactivated manually or there is a fault. Try switching the traction system back on and if this doesn’t work then you should take it to a garage for them to check it for you. If you have switched the system off then you should switch it back on as it gives you an early warning that your grip on the road surface is minimal so you can slow down or pull over until it’s safe to drive again. 

Glow Plug Dashboard Warning Light (Diesel Vehicles Only)

ThumbnailDiesel vehicles don’t need a spark to make the air/fuel mixture spark to make the engine run like petrol vehicles do. Instead, diesel vehicle’s use compression and temperature to induce combustion. The ‘glow plugs’ increase the heat in this process and the dashboard warning lights indicate that there is something wrong with them. Problems with ‘glow plugs’ can mean that early and, or late combustion which is known as ‘knocking’ can happen and this will make your vehicle’s engine noisier and not run as efficiently as it should.

Engine Temperature Dashboard Warning Light

ThumbnailIf your engine temperature dashboard warning light comes on then this means your engine is running above the temperature it should do. It may be that there isn’t enough coolant in its system, your car’s radiator is leaking, clogged or broken and you may see coolant dripping. It can also be down to a faulty water pump, or, if more serious, a blown head gasket which can be complete engine failure if you don’t turn off the engine immediately. Whatever the reason if your engine temperature dashboard warning light comes on you should pull over at the nearest safest point and either check it yourself, call your breakdown provider or garage and they will advise you what to do. You should not drive your car if it is overheating as a small and easily resolved problem can quickly turn into a major one where your engine blows and is out of action completely. 

Coolant Levels Dashboard Warning Light

ThumbnailThe coolant fluid in your engine system absorbs the heat from your engine and clears it through the radiator to prevent your car from overheating. The coolant dashboard warning light will come on when coolant levels are low as a reminder for you to top them up. Never ignore this warning as your car will end up overheating and the engine’s head gasket can blow which will be expensive or the end of your car. It is easy to top up the coolant in your car yourself and you should do it when the engine is cool so you don’t need to take it to a garage. You should always check your coolant levels regularly. If the coolant dashboard warning light comes on regularly then you could have a leak somewhere so always take it to a garage and ask them to check it for you.

Engine Oil Dashboard Warning Light

ThumbnailThe oil dashboard warning light is one of the most serious warning lights. The oil pump maintains the oil pressure which keeps the engine oil circulating and this is reliant on having the right amount of oil in the engine. An oil leak, a faulty pump or oil running low or overfilling can cause serious damage to your car’s engine which will be costly to resolve. If the warning light comes on you should stop your car as soon as you can safely and check the oil level to see if it needs topping up. You should do this as part of your regular checks on your car and if you need to top it up a lot, or the warning light keeps coming on then you could have a leak and you need to take it to your garage for them to check and repair it for you. 

Tyre Pressure TPMS Dashboard Warning Light

ThumbnailTyre-pressure monitoring systems are now common in all newer cars and it is now mandatory for car manufacturers to make them in every new car they produce. The system constantly monitors the amount of air in all 4 of the tyres and the warning light will come on if the system detects a loss in any of the tyres pressure. You may not think it but driving with overfilled or low-pressure tyres is dangerous. Low tyre pressures can affect braking and cornering and a sudden drop in pressure can also cause blow-outs which are dangerous at any speed. If the TPMS tyre pressure dashboard warning light comes on you should stop and check the pressure of every tyre as soon as you can and inflate or deflate them if you need to. If the warning light comes on again or the tyre pressure is really low you may have a puncture or a slow puncture which means a replacement tyre or a fix by a garage. Every car manufacturer and each car type will have a different tyre pressure for front and back and this information is located in your handbook and or on the inside of your driver’s side door. 

Fuel Dashboard Warning Light

ThumbnailIf your fuel dashboard warning light comes on then your vehicle is running low on fuel. They usually come on with around 50-70 miles of fuel left and your gage will count down as you drive. The purpose of giving you these additional miles is to give you enough warning to enable you to find a petrol station to refuel. If you run out of fuel, especially in diesel vehicles this can cause air and grit to be pulled around the engine which may need to be bled before the car will start again. Don’t ever let your car run empty as it’s not good for its engine, pipes and injectors and will cause you a major inconvenience if you then have to call for your breakdown provider local garage, family member or friend to bring fuel to you to get you started again. If you feel you are filling your car with fuel more often than you should then you should take your car to a garage for them to check for any leaks and a service which always improves the fuel efficiency of a vehicle. 

Seatbelt Dashboard Warning Light

ThumbnailMost new cars now come with a warning system to let you know if you or any of your passengers haven’t got their seatbelts securely fastened. The warning light will come on as well as a loud beeping noise to let you know. Cars now use pressure sensors in the seats and sensors in the seatbelts so they can tell if someone is sitting in a seat without their seatbelt fastened. 

Door, Boot. Bonnet Dashboard Warning Lights

ThumbnailThese dashboard warning lights don’t normally mean there is anything wrong with your car’s engine or systems, however, they are a safety warning to tell you if any doors, your boot or the bonnet of your car are not closed securely when you’re driving. 

Battery Dashboard Warning Light

ThumbnailThe battery dashboard warning light coming on can mean a couple of things which relate to your car’s battery and its charging system. It could be a faulty battery that may need replacing, it could be a problem with the wiring or a fault with its alternator or drive belt. A battery fault can result in headlights not working which if you’re driving at night is a serious safety issue. Without the battery fully working or the vehicle’s charging system providing electricity, it can also impact your power steering, brakes and the car starting or running at all. Professional garages will check your vehicle’s battery and its charging system to identify what is at fault and can show you the results so you understand what needs to be done.

Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) Dashboard Warning Light

ThumbnailIf the anti-lock brake system ABS dashboard warning light comes on then you will often still have normal braking ability so it’s often safe to continue your journey as long as you take extra care, but you should get it checked by a garage as soon as you possibly can. If it comes on with the brake dashboard warning light then it could mean your brake system is failing and you should stop immediately. ABS stops a wheel from locking using a system of sensors and valves which reduce braking pressure to keep the wheel at the point where it’s about to stop rotating. The maximum braking effect happens right at the point where the wheel is almost locking so the ABS system reduces the overall stopping distance. Most new cars now come with an ABS system.

Electronic Stability Problem (ESP) System Dashboard Warning Light

ThumbnailThe ESP dashboard warning light indicates a problem with the traction control on your car. When it flashes it means the ESP system is intervening and this is most likely to happen if you are driving on a slippery road (wet, ice or snow). If the light comes on a lot when you’re not driving in these conditions or it comes on and stays on it means the ESP system isn’t working properly and you should take it to a garage to be checked. You can often turn the ESP system off and the dashboard warning light will show the word ‘Off’ which means the system has been deactivated. If the system has been deactivated as you or someone else has inadvertently turned it off then check your cars manual for how to turn it back on as it is useful to have as a safety warning to let you know there is a problem with the traction control on your car. If the light stays on, try turning your car off and restarting the engine after a minute, if the light stays on after this then get it checked at a garage as the ESP system is an important safety feature.

If a dashboard warning light comes on and you don’t know what it then check your car’s manual.

Car Diagnostics Bristol

As well as dashboard warning lights coming on there are other signs you can hear or feel when you are driving, these can include; noises from the engine, wheels, lack of power, skidding or lack of control of the vehicle. Whether you have a dashboard warning light that comes on, or your car doesn’t feel right then you should always take it to a professional garage like AP Autocare in Bristol who have the top of the range car diagnostic systems in Bristol to get it checked over. When you bring your car in to us for a service we will use our diagnostic systems during its service to ensure it is working efficiently and safely. 

Some of the most dangerous car problems can be unnoticeable and only detectable by using diagnostics equipment so it’s always advisable to have your car serviced every 6 months for a mini service and a full service every year for any issues to be detected. 

AP Autocare Car Diagnostic Equipment

We are a recognised and trusted diagnostic garage which means we are given the latest car diagnostic equipment from the main car manufacturers. We are a specialist and recognised garage for many of the main car manufacturers including; BMW, Citroen, Peugeot, Mini, Porsche, Audi, VW, Seat, Skoda and Land Rover and we have main dealer level diagnostic equipment along with main dealer knowledge and expertise. Bringing your vehicle to us for any of our services can save you up to 30% compared to main dealer prices.

Our diagnostic equipment combined with our years’ of experience and knowledge in car diagnostics and mechanics means we are able to diagnose car problems and fix it for you at a highly competitive rate. 

Our car diagnostics team will plug your vehicle into our highly advanced diagnostic equipment, which includes advanced oscilloscopes and signal generators, to test and simulate any failed components.

About AP Autocare

We have been in business for over 40 years. We are one of the most reputable and independent MOT, Repair and Service Centres in Bristol and we are Bristol’s Largest Independent Multi Manufacturer Specialist.

We are within walking distance from Bristol City Centre and Temple Meads Train Station and are ideal for any Service, MOT, or Repair if you work in the city centre or any of the surrounding areas.

We offer a courtesy car if you need a car whilst it’s booked in with us or we can arrange a lift to work or home after you’ve dropped your car off to us, or a collection and delivery service to ensure that being without a car isn’t an inconvenience for you.

Our team is friendly, professional and we offer highly competitive rates with the skills of a main dealership but without the costs associated with them.

We offer services for all vehicles of any age and size from small cars to light commercial vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes (Class 7).

Our Services include:

  • Engine Diagnostics and Repair

  • Winter Car Checks

  • Servicing (Annual and Interim Services)

  • MOT’s

  • Bodywork & Paint Repairs

  • Air Conditioning Servicing & repair

  • Tyres & Exhausts

  • Brakes

  • Clutches

  • Remapping

  • Suspension & Steering

  • Welding

  • Battery Testing & Replacement

  • Wheel Alignment

  • Tyre Replacement

  • Remapping

If you have a dashboard warning light come on or you notice something not right with your vehicle then please call us on 0117 963 8916 or book online here and one of our experts will be able to answer any questions you may have and arrange an appointment for you.


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