Our vehicles communicate through the lights on the dashboard. Sometimes these warning lights and symbols are easy to decipher, such as the fasten seatbelt sign or low fuel indicator. However, there are also times when a symbol appears that we don’t recognize and may cause alarm, especially while driving.
To help, here are a few of the common dashboard warning lights you should memorize and that should never be ignored.
Check Engine Light
One of the most important — and dreaded — lights is the check engine light. Typically, this warning is indicated by the shape of a silhouetted engine, but it may also appear as “CHECK ENGINE” in all-caps text. There are many reasons why this sign appears on the dash. It could be relaying there is a minor matter, like an ill-fitting gas cap, worn solenoid, or loose wire. There are also occasions when the matter is serious and attention is needed sooner, rather than later.
Because of the ambiguity of this symbol, it’s essential to have the vehicle checked out by a professional mechanic quickly. If the light turns on while you’re driving and there is no noticeable change in the car’s performance, don’t panic. Focus on the road and parking somewhere safe. Then, get your vehicle to a trusted mechanic for a diagnostic test to locate the source of the problem.
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On the other hand, if your vehicle suddenly makes strange noises or operates erratically when this light turns on, you should pull over immediately and call for a tow service. Such behavior is signifying a serious problem and the car’s engine is at risk of permanent damage. Put simply, ignoring a solid or flashing check engine light could put you and your car in harm’s way.
Coolant Level Warning Light
Another serious problem for both cars and drivers is overheating. When this is happening, a symbol appears on the dash in the shape of a small thermometer with wavy lines underneath. Overheating could be caused by a number of issues, but regardless of the reason, you should safely stop the car and pop the hood to let the engine cool when you see this light.
After cooling down, grab a rag to protect your hand as you check the coolant level. If you’re unsure how to do this, or if the coolant tank is smoking, you should strongly consider calling a tow truck.
Brake System Warning Light
Issues with the braking system are terrifying when out on the road. If there’s a problem with the braking components or some part of the system is malfunctioning, you’ll see an exclamation mark with a circle around it on the dash.
Ignoring this light is extremely dangerous. You should pull over as safely as possible, stop the car, and call to get the car towed to a mechanic right away.
A dashboard light that’s easier to recognize than others is the battery light as it actually looks like the item in need of attention. If your engine isn’t on, this light is probably just letting you know the car is being powered by the battery alone.
That’s normal. If the engine is on, however, it could be warning you there’s a problem with the alternator, vehicle wiring, electrical components, or the battery itself. You should park somewhere safe or take it in for inspection as soon as possible.
These are just a few of the many dashboard warning lights. If you would like to learn more, please see the accompanying resource for further information.
Infographic provided by Goodwill Car Donations, donate car to charity