The more complex modern cars get, the more warning lights appear on the dashboard. As well as the more common lights that feature on dashboards in the majority of vehicles, there are also now modern electronic systems such as airbags and stability controls that all have their own specific warning lights.
Understanding these dashboard warning lights and their meanings is important for drivers, allowing them to be aware of the severity of the issue and what it means for their journey. Although some lights may appear slightly different dependent on the make and model of your car, we have created a guide to some of the most common warning lights.
The colour of the dash light has real significance. In most cars:
- Red lamps indicate a potential serious problem which will require professional assistance as soon as possible
- Orange/Amber lights indicate that something needs attention or requires servicing.
- Green or Blue symbols indicate that a system is working or switched on
Now that we are aware of the importance of the colours we can identify each of the most common dash lights you may have on your dashboard!
Battery charge warning light
In most cars the battery warning light should appear when the ignition is turned on and should go off as soon as the engine starts. If this does not happen, or the light comes on when you are driving, then there may be a fault with your charging system. This could be due to a broken or loose alternator drive belt, or a problem with the charging system, so it is advised to move the vehicle to a safe location and switch off the engine – preventing further damage. We would then advise that you seek professional assistance to resolve the issue.
Oil pressure warning light
As with the battery charge light, in most cars this should illuminate and then extinguish as soon as the engine starts. If the light stays on or appears during a journey, stop as soon as possible in the nearest safe place and switch off the engine and check the oil level. If it’s below the minimum mark on the dip stick, top it up before restarting the engine. If the oil level is at the required level, do not restart the engine until you seek professional advice. In some instances an orange/amber lap may illuminate which may indicate a low oil level warning.
Engine warning light
This is another light that should illuminate and extinguish as soon as the engine starts. If it lights up when the engine is running there could be a malfunction with the engine itself or the ECU (Electronic Control Unit) system. If the light flashes while driving you should reduce the vehicle speed immediately until the flashing stops. Should the engine warning light illuminate in orange/amber, this is advising the driver that a fault has been detected and requires attention as soon as it possible. Make sure you visit a professional immediately.
ABS warning light
The ABS light should illuminate when the ignition is switched on to inform the driver that the system is operational; when the engine is running the light should go off. If it comes on again while driving, this means there is a malfunction. Normal non-ABS braking will function normally – however it is recommended that you seek professional assistance to rectify the fault.
Brake and ABS warning light
However, if both the brake light and the ABS warning light come on at the same time while you are driving, stop the vehicle as soon as it’s safe. Do not step on the brake pedal abruptly, instead slowing down gradually and using the brakes with care. Seek approved assistance as soon as possible.
If you are aware of a warning light showing on your dashboard, The AA advise you to take a look at the vehicle’s handbook for a more detailed explanation of its meaning and what action you need to take, as a lot of warning lights are specific to a car make or model.
Since 2012 there have been some additional mandatory test requirements added to the MOT test, including checks on the function of some warning lights. Some lights that are now checked include brake fluid level, air bag, headlight main beam, electronic parking brake and electronic power steering.
You should never ignore a warning light if it appears on your car, as it could be a sign of a problem that could easily get worse. If a light appears and you are unsure what it means, take your car to a registered garage for advice as soon as possible.