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The Panic-Free Guide to Understanding Your Dashboard Lights

dashboard lights

You’re cruising down the freeway one afternoon, and a dashboard light blinks on. What do you do?

Dashboard lights are designed to keep you informed about what’s going on inside your car and any problems that might arise. But with so many different types of dashboard lights and symbols that don’t necessarily mean what you would think, it’s hard to understand what each one means. That’s why we’ve created this panic-free guide to understanding your dashboard lights.

Urgent Dashboard Lights

These dashboard lights are the ones you really need to watch for. They will typically be red and indicate potentially serious problems, safety issues, or important reminders (such as seatbelt not fastened or door ajar). When you see one of these dashboard lights, don’t take any chances, stop your car immediately, and find an authorized repair shop. These include:

warning light

Brake Warning Indicators - If your parking brake is off and you see this light, this usually means that your brake fluid level is low, there is a fault in the ABS system, or there’s a lack of hydraulic pressure. All three issues can cause your brakes to fail, so stop right away and head to the repair shop, even if you have to get a tow.


Engine Temperature Indicators - If this light comes on and it’s red, it simply means that your engine is overheating, most likely due to low coolant levels. If you see this, pull over, turn off your car, and let your engine cool down before you add any new coolant. Don’t try to open the radiator too soon, as you may be seriously injured by boiling fluids or steam.

engine oil

Oil Pressure Indicator - If you see this light, either your oil pressure sensor has failed or you have low oil pressure, either from a leak or burning oil. Pull over, check your oil level, and add as needed. If the light remains on, call for a tow and get your car to a trusted repair shop.

battery warning

Battery Indicator - This light comes on when there is a problem with the electrical system in your car. This can be as small as a loose wire or could mean that your battery isn’t holding a charge and needs to be changed. In any case, keep your ignition on (as the car might not start up again), and take your car into a trusted mechanic as soon as possible.

Less Serious Dashboard Lights

Even though these lights don’t put your car in any immediate danger, you should still take them seriously as they usually indicate that something needs to be serviced or replaced. These lights tend to be orange or yellow, and if it’s flashing you should contact your dealer or repair shop as soon as possible. These include:

Check engine light

Check Engine Indicator - This light comes when something is wrong with your engine. This can be anything from a loose gas cap to something more serious. Either way, you should schedule an appointment with a mechanic. However, if this light is flashing, pull over and turn your car off immediately as the flashing indicates potentially dangerous engine problems.

tire pressure

Low Tire Pressure Indicators - When you see this, that means there is low pressure in one or more of your tires. This can be repaired by adding air to your tires. But if this light comes on again soon after adding air, it may mean that one of your tires has a puncture.

airbag light

Airbag Warning Indicator - This light indicates that there is a problem with the deployment of one or more of your airbags. While this poses no immediate danger, it poses a huge problem in the event of an accident. We recommend getting the problem diagnosed and fixed as soon as possible.

So if you want to understand your dashboard lights, remember that color is king. Red lights require immediate action and yellow/orange lights mean that you should get your car checked out by a trusted mechanic. There are hundreds of different lights out there, so if you’re still confused about what a particular light means, consult your car’s manual, an online dashboard symbol directory, or an auto repair professional.

If you’re looking for a trusted mechanic in San Diego to help you get to the bottom of those pesky dashboard lights, try San Diego’s favorite auto repair shop. Contact Convoy Auto Repair today to schedule an appointment or service.

Image: Flickr


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