Dashboard lights: what do they mean? (2023)

We have all experienced it. She's driving down the highway when he notices a new light on the dash that wasn't there a minute ago.

It caught your eye, but a problem persists: You don't know what that glowing icon means.

How to recognize warning lights on the dashboard

The modern car is an incredibly complex machine, built on dozens of systems that have to work together every time you get behind the wheel. When one of these systems encounters a problem, your car's internal computer is programmed to notify you with an appropriate error message.

In general,the colors of the lightscan help determine the severity of the problem. Green or blue lights often tell you that the system is active, for examplethe headlights of your carhetechnologically advanced security. Amber and yellow lights indicate a more serious problem, indicating that the car may need to be serviced or repaired soon. And red lights often highlight the most urgent errors.

When the dashboard light comes on, you can always find the meaning of the symbol in your car manual. But to help you save some time, here are the top 12 dashboard controls you should be familiar with.

oil pressure

how it looks: An image of an old fashioned oil can.

What does it mean: This light comes on when the car detects low engine oil pressure. This low oil pressure can be caused by several factors. At best, your engine oil level is low, so start by pulling over to the side of the road and check your car's engine oil gauge, if it has one. Many new cars no longer come with a dipstick and instead have an internal "check oil level" program. This usually involves parking the car on a level spot while the program checks the engine oil level. If the oil level is fine, then something more serious is wrong, like an oil leak or a bad oil pump.

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When the oil light is on, you can assume that the internal parts of your car's engine are not properly lubricated. Therefore, avoid driving with the light on. This can lead to significant engine damage and major repair bills.

tire pressure

How it looks:This symbol is designed to resemble the cross section of a tire, which looks like an exclamation point between two square brackets - (!).

What does it mean:The tire pressure warning light is activated by your car's Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) to let you know when the tire is low on air. Newer vehicles can tell you the exact pressure in each tire, but older systems need to be checked the old-fashioned way with a tire pressure gauge. The warning light only goes off when the tire pressure reaches a certain threshold (typically 25% below the recommended pressure). That is, it can meanflat tirelubricantlow tire pressure due to cold weather. When you see this light, inflate your tires as soon as possible.

refreshing temperature

How it looks:A thermometer immersed in water.

What does it mean:This warning light appears when the car's engine is overheating. When the coolant temperature is too high, it often means that something is wrong with one of the components in the cooling system. This can indicate a problem with the fan, radiator, thermostat, water pumps, hoses, and coolant.

If you see this light, find a safe place to stop.Driving a car when it overheatsit can cause serious, and sometimes permanent, damage to the engine, so it is best to stop driving as soon as possible. If you need a trailer,emergency road services1with Erie Insurance can help you get your vehicle to the nearest repair shop. The service is available 24/7 and can be added to yoursCar insurancepolicy to about $5 per vehicle per year.2To know more ask yoursERIE Agent.

Traction control

How it looks:The outline of a car with two wavy tire tracks behind it.

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What does it mean:If this light is steady, vehicle stability or traction control is off. In most vehicles, you can press a button to disable this feature yourself. But if the light comes on by itself, then some part of the system has failed. Visit your local mechanic to have it repaired as soon as possible.

check the engine

How it looks:On most vehicles, this icon will look like the outline of a car engine. But some manufacturers may use the text "CHECK ENGINE" instead.

What does it mean:The check engine light indicates that something is wrong with a component of the vehicle's engine or emissions system. This could mean a serious mechanical issue or something as small as a loose fuel cap. Modern engines contain dozens of sensors designed to detect and help diagnose potential problems. A lit check engine light means an error has been detected, but the specific "trouble code" must be retrieved from the car's computer using a special code reader. In order for the car to run smoothly, go to the workshop as soon as possible.


How it looks:Image of a car battery that looks like a box with "+" and "-" signs.

What does it mean:The battery light is a sign of a problem with the car's electrical system. In some cases this can mean that the battery is bad and needs to be replaced. But more often than not, the battery light can indicate that the vehicle's alternator is no longer working, which means that the battery is not charging while driving.

If the battery light is on, go to your local mechanic or auto parts store as soon as possible to get the problem diagnosed. Ignore that light and it's only a matter of time before you find yourself trapped.

low on fuel

How it looks:Gasoline pump schematic.

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What does it mean:When your low fuel light comes on, it's time to start looking for a gas station. For most vehicles, this means there are only two to three gallons of fuel left in the tank. On newer cars, this light may also be accompanied by a countdown of remaining miles.


How it looks:Side profile of a person sitting in a car with a large sphere (representing an airbag) in front of their head.

What does it mean:This means that your vehicle has detected a problem with the occupant safety system. The airbag indicator may indicate a problem with the airbag or one of the sensors designed to deploy the airbags in a crash. If you see this light on your dash, you will need the help of a mechanic to diagnose and fix the source of the problem. Please note that ignoring this indicator means that you may not be protected by the airbag system in the event of an accident.

windshield washer fluid

How it looks:Windshield with a stream of water splashing up.

What does it mean:This light means that the windshield washer fluid reservoir is empty. To ensure that you can see properly, top up the washer fluid as soon as possible. You can buy a gallon of fluid at your local auto parts store, gas station, grocery store, or home improvement store.

Break system

How it looks:A circle with what looks like parentheses on both sides. Some vehicles may choose the word "BRAKE" instead.

What does it mean:There is something wrong with your vehicle's brake system. Depending on the make and model of the vehicle, this could include low brake fluid, worn brake pads, or a problem with the parking brake. The braking system is critical to the safety and performance of the vehicle, so do not drive with your light on. Call a tow truck and fix your car as soon as possible.

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Anti-lock braking system (ABS).

How it looks:An icon similar to the brake system, but with embedded ABS lettering.

What does it mean:Your car's ABS indicator light means there is something wrong with your vehicle's anti-lock braking system, which is designed to prevent the wheels from locking up under hard braking. Usually this light means the ABS sensor will need to be replaced. Although your car's brakes will still work without ABS, you should have your vehicle serviced as soon as possible to restore this important safety feature.


How it looks:Gear icon with an exclamation point or a thermometer in the center.

What does it mean:When this light appears on the dash, there is a problem with the vehicle's automatic transmission. The exact cause of this indicator light can vary depending on the car manufacturer. For this reason, it could mean that the transmission is overheating, or that the sensor has registered a mechanical problem with the transmission itself. Whatever the reason, it's never a good sign. Therefore, have your vehicle inspected by a mechanic as soon as possible.

Also, don't be surprised if your vehicle goes into limp mode when the transmission warning appears. This setting limits the top speed of the vehicle as a safety measure to prevent further damage to the transmission.

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(Video) Dashboard Warning Lights Explained | Quick Tip


Dashboard lights: what do they mean? ›

Green or blue lights simply let you know that a system is on or operating. Orange/yellow warning lights generally signify that your vehicle needs to be serviced or repaired soon. These warnings are less urgent than if you have a red and/or flashing light. A red light means that you should take action immediately!

What do the lights on my dashboard mean? ›

Green or blue lights simply let you know that a system is on or operating. Orange/yellow warning lights generally signify that your vehicle needs to be serviced or repaired soon. These warnings are less urgent than if you have a red and/or flashing light. A red light means that you should take action immediately!

What is the meaning of the dash symbol? ›

It is primarily used in places where a set of parentheses or a colon might otherwise be used, and it can also show an abrupt change in thought (or an interruption in speech) or be used where a full stop (period) is too strong and a comma is too weak. Em dashes are also used to set off summaries or definitions.

What is the most serious warning light in a car? ›

The check engine light is usually the most serious and feared warning because of the kind of damage it can signal. This warning often indicates the potential for serious engine damage. When ignored, your vehicle could suffer from a blown head gasket or a seized engine.

When should I worry about dashboard lights? ›

Red dashboard lights are serious warning lights. You should stop immediately, or risk damage to the car (or worse, yourself). If you are out driving when you see a red warning light, pull over and deal with the problem. If it requires attention from a professional, don't drive down the block to get one.

What are the 3 main warning lights in a car? ›

There are 3 different categories of warning lights; red, amber and green:
  • Red warning lights mean you should stop the car as soon as it's safe.
  • Yellow warning lights mean that action is required.
  • Green warning lights are for information only.

What does a transmission warning light look like? ›

Transmission Warning Light

When this red or yellow transmission warning symbol is illuminated, your car is alerting you that your transmission is overheating. If this warning light turns on, you should immediately stop your vehicle and turn it off when it's safe to do so.

What are the different types of dash symbols? ›

There are three forms of dashes: em, en, and the double hyphen. The most common types of dashes are the en dash (–) and the em dash (—). A good way to remember the difference between these two dashes is to visualize the en dash as the length of the letter N and the em dash as the length of the letter M.

What are the different symbols of dash? ›

There are three lengths of what non-typesetters simply think of as a dash: the hyphen (-), the en-dash (–), and the em-dash (—).

What are the examples of dash symbol? ›

Use dashes to mark the beginning and end of a series, which might otherwise get confused, with the rest of the sentence: Example: The three female characters—the wife, the nun, and the jockey—are the incarnation of excellence. Dashes are also used to mark the interruption of a sentence in dialogue: Example: “Help!

What are the 2 main types of dashboard warning lights? ›

There are two main types of dashboard warning lights: red and orange. A red warning light generally indicates a serious issue with your car. You should act quickly if your dashboard warning light is red – it could be an overheating engine, low engine oil pressure or a braking system problem.

What warning light indicates there is a problem with the electrical system of the vehicle? ›

It works in the same way: an amber light warns of a problem with the electrical system, which could include the batteries, motors or wiring, a red light indicates a more serious fault, so the car may shut down or operate with reduced power.

What are the hazard warning lights of a car? ›

Hazard warning lights are a pair of intermittent flashing indicator lights that flash in unison to warn other drivers that the vehicle is a temporary obstruction. They are also called hazard flashers and hazard lights. Different countries use hazard warning lights in different ways.

Which dashboard light tells you when engine needs service? ›

If the check engine light illuminates, it will either blink or remain constantly illuminated, depending on the problem. A blinking light, or in some cars a red light instead of a yellow or orange light, indicates a problem that needs immediate attention. Either way, you should have the vehicle checked by a mechanic.

Can a bad battery cause dash lights? ›

The Dashboard Lights Flicker

If you notice any flickering, be sure to check your battery before you end up stranded. Similar to dimming headlights, these flickering lights are a sure indication of a failing car battery.

What color is dashboard warning? ›

In general, a red dash light indicates a warning and something that requires you attention, an orange / amber light suggests an advisory issue that you should be aware of but not necessarily take immediate action and a white / blue / green light is most often simply for information / confirming an action / function.

What does a check engine light look like? ›

The check engine light (typically a yellow or orange outline of an engine with the word “Check” or “Service Engine”) should come on for a few seconds every time you start the engine with other warning lights. If it stays on, that means there is a problem.

What color is an urgent alert car? ›

Red. Red lights are instinctively associated with emergency situations, and are most often used in police vehicles, fire trucks, and ambulances.

What is the first thing to check when the check engine light comes on? ›

Check your gas cap first. Many vehicles have a loose gas cap indicator that will be triggered before your check engine light comes on. If your gas cap is loose or the seal is not tight, the vapor leakage can cause your fuel system to trigger the check engine light.

What are the dashboard indicators or warning lights of a bad battery alternator? ›

If your alternator is failing, its voltage may drop below capacity, causing the battery warning light to appear on your dash. Similarly, the battery light will also appear if the alternator is exceeding its voltage limit, depending on how much stress it is under.

What light comes on if your transmission is bad? ›

An illuminated check engine light is an early indicator of transmission and other related problems. NOTE: Your vehicle may be forced into a fail-safe or limp mode when the transmission dashboard warning light turns on.

How many dashboard symbols are there? ›

There are 64 warning lights and symbols on a car's dashboard - but how many do you recognise? They are an everyday sight that could mean the difference between a smooth journey and a costly repair bill. But many of us have no idea what the lights and symbols on our car dashboards actually mean and when to take action.

What are the three different dashes? ›

There are actually three different types of dashes: the em-dash, the en- dash, and the 3-em dash.

Why is the engine warning light on? ›

Just about anything wrong with your vehicle's ignition system will likely cause your check engine light to come on. If you haven't had your plugs changed and your vehicle has over 100,000 miles on it, it's time for new plugs and possibly new wires. Stalls are another indicator of spark plug trouble.

What is the 3 dash symbol? ›

The triple bar or tribar, ≡, is a symbol with multiple, context-dependent meanings indicating equivalence of two different things. Its main uses are in mathematics and logic. It has the appearance of an equals sign ⟨=⟩ sign with a third line.

What is the middle dash symbol? ›

An em dash is a punctuation mark that can be used to replace commas, parentheses, colons, and semicolons. In general, the em dash is seen as being more interruptive or striking than other punctuation, so it is often used stylistically to draw a reader's attention to a particular bit of information.

How do you identify a dash? ›

A hyphen joins two or more words together while a dash separates words into parenthetical statements. The two are sometimes confused because they look so similar, but their usage is different. Hyphens are not separated by spaces, while a dash has a space on either side.

What are the 5 uses of dash? ›

With that background information in mind, let's take a look at some ways to put dashes to work in your writing.
  • To set off material for emphasis. Think of dashes as the opposite of parentheses. ...
  • To indicate sentence introductions or conclusions. ...
  • To mark “bonus phrases.” ...
  • To break up dialogue.

What are the two types dash and dash? ›

There are two types of dashes: em dashes and en dashes.

What is the two dash symbol? ›

The 2-em dash—two consecutive em dashes—indicates missing or disguised letters or words. It is sometimes called the omission dash or the double em dash.

What are the names of common indicating lights in a car? ›

Yes, warning lights can vary from car to car, however, most of them are common such as check engine light, brake alert light, oil pressure warning light, and battery light.

What does the 2 cars crashing light mean? ›

Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) System- This light resembles two cars crashing head-on with each other. This light will briefly illuminate when the car starts, and tells you when the AEB system is set to OFF on the vehicle information display.

What warning light comes on when your oil pressure is low? ›

Any red warning light that your vehicle displays is an indication that your vehicle needs maintenance as soon as possible to avoid serious damage. When the oil warning light comes on, it is a sign that the engine oil pressure has dropped to a low level, which is dangerous.

What do hazards warning symbols look like? ›

Hazard pictograms alert us to the presence of a hazardous chemical. The pictograms help us to know that the chemicals we are using might cause harm to people or the environment. The GB CLP hazard pictograms appear in the shape of a diamond with a distinctive red border and white background.

What is master warning light? ›

The Master Warning light is used to notify you of a potential problem with one or more of your vehicle's advanced systems. It will be accompanied by a message in your car's vehicle information display with a more detailed system message.

Can bad gas cause check engine light to come on? ›

If you have a tank of bad gas in the car, your check engine light may come on. For example, if your vehicle is designed to run on premium gas (octane grade 91 to 94), the engine may struggle to run on regular gas (octane level 87). You can safely solve this problem by having a professional drain your gas tank.

Is it OK to drive with check engine light? ›

Can you drive a car with the engine light on? It's okay to drive for a few miles, but be sure to schedule an inspection of the engine as soon as possible. If the check engine light comes on while you're driving, don't panic! Pay attention and see if the car is driving any differently than normal.

What does a solid yellow check engine light mean? ›

So how do you know when you have an emergency? You can judge how serious an issue is by looking at the warning light. The check engine light can show up in two ways: Solid yellow/amber light: Indicates a less urgent issue. Flashing light or red: Indicates a severe problem that needs immediate attention.

What does a bad alternator light look like? ›

Dim Lights. An early warning sign that your alternator is going bad could be dim, flickering lights. This symptom could show up on any or all of your dashboard lights, reading lights, headlights or other lights. The alternator is supposed to provide the electricity for your car's lights.

What does an alternator light look like on a dashboard? ›

If you notice a small red light that looks like a battery illuminated in your dashboard, this indicates an issue with your battery or alternator.

What does the check engine light look like? ›

The check engine light (typically a yellow or orange outline of an engine with the word “Check” or “Service Engine”) should come on for a few seconds every time you start the engine with other warning lights. If it stays on, that means there is a problem.

What does the orange engine light mean? ›

A flashing orange light means that there is a problem that could affect how the car drives or handles, such as an engine misfire. You might be able to feel your car shake, or the engine could suddenly sound different. If this light comes on, you should take your car to be inspected immediately.

What is the temperature warning light? ›

The engine temperature warning light, which looks like a thermometer or simply the word “TEMP,” illuminates when your vehicle's engine has exceeded the recommended maximum temperature. Because an overheated engine can result in major damage that's often irreparable, you should take action right away.

What is the malfunction symbol on a car? ›

The engine's Malfunction Indicator Light (MIL) is illuminated on a dashboard. A small, yellow engine-shaped light indicates that the car's electronic system has detected a problem that needs to be checked. This warning light is known as the Malfunction Indicator Light (MIL).

Is it OK to drive with engine light on? ›

Can you drive a car with the engine light on? It's okay to drive for a few miles, but be sure to schedule an inspection of the engine as soon as possible. If the check engine light comes on while you're driving, don't panic! Pay attention and see if the car is driving any differently than normal.

What is the most common reason for check engine light? ›

There are a variety of reasons why your check engine light may be on. Some of the most common causes include a faulty oxygen sensor, a loose gas cap, catalytic converter issues, ignition coil failure, spark plug problems, and mass air flow sensor issues.

Can check engine light mean oil change? ›

An illuminated check engine light is the first warning sign that your vehicle needs an oil change. It can activate because the oil is too dirty or when there's not enough flowing throughout the engine.

Can low oil cause engine light to come on? ›

Low oil pressure is a common cause of a check engine light turning on, and it can seriously interfere with your car's performance. Usually, if this is the case, your oil light will also appear.

What does yellow check engine light mean? ›

In some cars, a yellow check engine light means there is a problem that needs to be investigated and a red or flashing light means there is a serious problem and you need to stop right away. Your gauges will help you to determine problems like overheating and low oil pressure.

Which dashboard warning light will illuminate when the alternator belt is broken? ›

The battery charge warning light indicates that there is a problem regarding the charging of the battery. The most common cause for a battery light to get on is that the alternator belt is broken.

What is the oil pressure warning light? ›

When the oil warning light comes on, it is a sign that the engine oil pressure has dropped to a low level, which is dangerous. An engine running with low oil pressure can quickly destroy the engine.

What does a coolant light look like? ›

the light usually shows either a thermometer or a box, often with wavy lines to indicate liquid. it can also say “low coolant.” depending on the vehicle, this message can appear on the driver information center in the middle of your instrument panel. if the light comes on, it's cause for serious concern.

What does the catalytic converter warning light mean? ›

What the catalytic converter warning light means. This light is made to warn the driver that the catalytic converter is either overheating or not operating as intended. The inside of the catalytic converter consists of a honeycomb design that increases the surface area in contact with the air.

What does a transmission light mean? ›

A transmission light can turn on for several reasons ranging from an overheating transmission and bad transmission fluid to gear change issues. Checking the transmission fluid level and getting regular transmission service can help prevent car issues.


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