Car dashboard lights explained: what shouldn’t be ignored?

January 17, 2021
January 17, 2021

Car dashboard lights explained: what shouldn’t be ignored?

by Evaldas Zabitis

There are many different lights on a car’s dashboard and sometimes it can be tricky to know what each one of them means. Especially if we’re talking about the latest vehicle models that are more technologically advanced. We prepared a guide on car dashboard lights, which will help you to understand your vehicle better.

What do dashboard light colors indicate?

All the dashboard lights are classified by color into 3 different groups. When you know what each color means, you can understand if a dashboard light only informs about a safety system being activated or alarms about potential danger.

Dashboard lights by colors:

  • Red warning lights alarm drivers about malfunctions and system failures that shouldn’t be ignored. It might also indicate safety issues. Usually, red dashboard lights require immediate attention.
  • Yellow or orange warning lights provide important information, although not as critical as the red ones. The check engine light (CEL) or the low fuel sign are both in orange. You can carry on driving your vehicle, but you have to be aware that your attention is required.
  • Green or blue warning lights inform a driver about systems or features that are currently enabled or activated. Drivers can stay calm because these lights indicate that systems work properly.

Dashboard light icons explained

Red dashboard lights

Engine temperature warning light

Engine temperature warning light

The red engine temperature warning light is a sign that the engine coolant temperature is too high. To prevent the engine from severe damage, a driver should immediately turn the engine off and wait for it to cool down. It’s highly recommended to turn the ignition on after the engine is shut down and activate the wind blower on the highest temperature – it will help to cool the engine.

Oil pressure warning light

Oil pressure warning light

When the oil pressure light comes on, it either means that the oil pressure is too low or you don’t have enough oil. Since the oil is the most important lubricant of the engine, it’s recommended to visit a workshop as soon as possible to prevent damage oil starvation may cause.

Active parking brake light

Active parking brake light

This light simply shows that the parking brake (handbrake) is currently applied. Make sure to disengage it before taking off.

ABS warning light

The red ABS warning light indicates problems with the ABS brake sensors. It’s tricky to identify which ABS sensor is broken, therefore drivers are recommended to visit a workshop, as it may be dangerous to brake a car during emergency situations without the functioning ABS system.

Low brake fluid indicator light

Low brake fluid indicator light

This light comes on when the amount of brake fluid in your car is insufficient. However, the brake system will work even without the fluid, but it will affect your brakes in the long run.

Master warning light

Master warning light

The master warning light usually comes on with an additional notification on the screen. This light suggests that there’s a problem with one of your vehicle’s systems. It’s recommended to consult professional mechanic to identify problems before any damage is done to your car.

Seatbelt indicator light

Seatbelt indicator light

The unfastened seatbelt light indicates that a driver or passengers aren’t buckled up. No real danger here, just an important reminder to fasten the seatbelts while driving. Most of the cars also have special sound indicators for the same task since a seatbelt is one of the greatest safety inventions.

Airbag indicator light

Airbag indicator light

The red light of a person with an airbag means that the airbags aren’t working. It may be some sort of airbag system malfunction, as well as a signal telling about missing airbags if a car was repaired after an accident. Usually, this light comes on if a seatbelt is not secured since the airbags could provide even more damage for unfastened passengers.

Open hood light

Open bonnet or hood light

You may continue driving with this light being turned on. However, if the latch of the hood is not secured, you may end up needing to change the windshield of a car. Because of high wind resistance, the hood may rapidly open and break the windshield with a great force. It’s better to secure the hood before increasing the speed of a car.

Open trunk light

Open boot or trunk light

This light indicates that the trunk is opened. You can drive your car with an opened trunk but it’s better to close it before you lose your belongings.

Open doors light

Open doors light

The open door light comes on if one of the doors aren’t properly closed. You can drive your car with this light on, however, it’s better to stop and close the door. Some cars also provide an irritating warning sound.

Battery or charging system warning light

Battery or charging system warning light

The battery or charging system warning light may be a sign that your alternator’s life is coming to an end. It can also mean that your battery needs replacement, so visit a dealer or workshop for inspection.

Power steering problems light

Power steering problems light

The power steering light comes on when you have problems with the power steering system. Usually, it’s activated by the snapped belt (if the power steering pump is being driven by one). It may also mean that the level of the power steering fluid is too low.

Low key battery light

Low key battery light

This light means that you have to change the battery of your key fob. Otherwise, you’ll have trouble opening the doors or even getting your car running.

Towing hitch warning light

Towing hitch warning light

If you see this icon on the dashboard of your car, make sure a trailer you attached is secured and the plugs are connected properly. It’s usually a sign of improperly connected light plug.

Adjustable suspension problems light

Adjustable suspension problems light

If your car is equipped with an adjustable hydraulic or pneumatic suspension, this light can be a sign of an expensive service in the near future. Make sure to check your suspension, since this light can be triggered by a simple leak or a major breakdown.

Yellow or orange dashboard lights

Check engine light

Check engine light

Perhaps one of the lights that make drivers worry the most Usually, this icon doesn’t provide any additional information about faults in the system, but with on-board diagnostics, the error codes can be identified.

Traction control light

Traction control light

The blinking yellow or orange traction control light can be triggered by slipping wheels. Usually, it blinks on the slippery surface when full throttle is applied. With the traction control switched off, the wheels may slip at a greater margin, thus making a car unstable.

Tyre pressure warning light

Tyre pressure warning light

If the tyre pressure light comes on, make sure to inspect if all the tyres are inflated at the correct pressure. After the check, reset the tyre pressure warning light.

Service vehicle light

Service vehicle light

To remind owners about a vehicle’s service schedule, service lights were introduced. It means that a car must be delivered to a dealership or workshop for regular maintenance.

Replace lamp light

Replace lamp light

As simple as it may be – if you get a burnt lamp, simply replace it with another one.

Adaptive light system light

Adaptive light system light

The yellow or orange adaptive light system sign indicates that this function can’t be operated. It’s highly recommended to visit an authorised dealership for inspection.

Rear fog lights indicator

Rear fog lights indicator

The rear fog lights icon means that these particular lights are turned on. This helps drivers not to forget to turn this light off when the fog or mist is gone.

Windscreen defrost light

Windscreen defrost light

This particular light comes on when the windscreen defrost function is activated.

Rear window defrost light

Rear window defrost light

This particular light comes on when the rear window defrost function is activated.

Key not in the vehicle light

Key not in the vehicle light

Keyless vehicles require keys to be inside of a car to start the engine. However, if you enter an unlocked car without keys you will not be able to start the motor – instead, you’ll likely see this icon. It reminds you that there are no issues with a car, you just simply forgot your key.

Glow plug indicator light

Glow plug indicator light

This light is designed specifically for diesel-powered vehicles, as diesel engines need to be heated before starting. When you turn the ignition key, make sure this light is on and start the engine only when the glow plug indicator light goes off. During winter, make sure to repeat this process twice before starting your vehicle.

Low temperature warning light

Low temperature warning light

The low outside temperature light is designed to inform drivers about freezing conditions, as frosty or icy surfaces may be a trap for inexperienced drivers. However, this dashboard light is usually followed by a beep that additionally warns about the dangerous road conditions.

Press clutch pedal light

Press clutch pedal light

Cars with manual gearboxes require the clutch to be activated during the start if a vehicle is in gear. A car will not start if the clutch is not pressed, thus this light also works as a reminder for drivers who aren’t used to a manual gearbox.

Particulate filter problems light

Particulate filter problems light

If the yellow or orange particulate filter light comes on, make sure to clean the particulate filter. It’s mostly used for diesel-powered vehicles, since burnt diesel emits denser particles.

Headlights control problems light

Headlights control problems light

Headlight movement problems may occur if dust is being caught in between the moving parts. It may also be a mechanical or electrical damage – make sure to take your car to a dealership or workshop for inspection.

Rain sensor problems light

Rain sensor problems light

Rain sensor malfunction may occur for a number of reasons. For instance, it may be covered with something that can’t be moved by windscreen wipers. However, it can also be a sign of a faulty system – if there’s nothing covering the rain sensor, make sure to visit a workshop for further inspection.

Low windshield fluid light

Low windshield fluid light

Not a big worry here. Just fill in some windshield fluid to get this dashboard light go away.

Traction control off light

Traction control off light

This light comes on when the traction control is manually switched off or if the system has issues with the monitoring of the traction. A faulty ABS sensor can also activate this particular light if the monitoring of the rotation of all wheels is not functioning.

Blue or green dashboard lights

Low engine coolant temperature light

Low engine coolant temperature light

Right after you start the engine, it’s recommended to avoid instant acceleration. Drive smoothly until the blue light of low engine coolant temperature remains lit.

High beam headlights light

High beam headlights light

The blue high beam light indicates that this feature is activated. Switch off the high beams to make life for other drivers easier, as they can blind them and even cause accidents.

Low beam headlights light

Low beam headlights light

Usually, active low beam headlights are followed by this green light on the dashboard. It simply informs a driver about the lighting equipment in use.

Hold brake pedal light

Hold brake pedal light

This dashboard light informs a driver to press the brake pedal. Most cars with automatic transmission require the brake pedal to be pressed in order to shift between the D, N, and R modes.

Active cruise control lights

Active cruise control lights

When you set up the cruise control, this light comes on. It reminds a driver that the selected speed is being maintained automatically.

Active parking sensors light

Active parking sensors light

If you see this light on the dashboard, it means that the parking sensors are active. It’s a handy feature in tight parking areas, especially when it comes to manoeuvring bigger vehicles. You can switch it off, but be aware that some objects may be difficult to notice.

Start-stop system light

Start-stop system light

The start-stop system light comes on when a car is being stopped in stop-go traffic jams. This particular system improves the fuel economy. However, it can also be switched off if the constant stop and start of the engine gets on your nerves.

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Article by

Evaldas Zabitis

Evaldas has been writing since middle school and has had a passion for cars for as long as he can remember. Right after getting his driver’s license, he spent all of his savings on shoddy cars so he could spend time fixing, driving, and selling them. Evaldas is always interested in automotive technical innovations and is an active participant in automotive community discussions.

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