Car dashboard lights explained: what should not be ignored?

by Evaldas Zabitis
January 17, 2021
by Evaldas Zabitis
January 17, 2021

Car dashboard lights explained: what should not be ignored?

There are plenty of different lights icons on the dashboard of every car. Perhaps the number of exact dashboard lights varies depending on the year and complexity of the car – the newer or more technologically advanced the car is, the more ancillary systems are supposed to be installed thus requiring unique lights for each of them. However, different lights have different symbols and colour-coding. Here is CarVertical guide to know what exactly your car wants to tell you.

What do dashboard lights indicate by colour?

All the dashboard lights are classified to 3 different groups by colours. Some of them simply indicate what kind of equipment is being activated or what system requires drivers’ attention. While some of the dashboard lights are there to provide the signals of possible danger or even harm and are not worth ignoring.

Dashboard lights by colours:

  • Red warning lights indicate drivers about malfunctions or failures of systems that should not be ignored. It might also show safety issues. Usually, red dashboard lights require immediate attention. Please look further for exact red dashboard lights meanings.
  • Yellow or orange warning lights. These lights provide important information, although not as critical as the red ones. Check engine light (CEL) or low fuel sign light have orange colour-coding. It is advisories and means that you can carry on driving your vehicle, but you have to be aware that the attention is required.
  • Green or blue warning lights appear to inform the driver about systems or features that are currently enabled or activated. Drivers can stay calm because blue or green light indicates that the systems are working properly.

Dashboard lights icons explained

Red dashboard lights:

Engine temperature warning light

Engine temperature warning light

Red engine temperature warning light is a sign that the engine coolant temperature is too high. To prevent the engine from severe damage, the driver should immediately turn the engine off and wait for it to cool down. It is 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 usually is a sign of serious trouble. Most often it means that the oil pressure or the level of the oil is too low. Since the oil is the most important lubricant of the engine it is highly recommended to visit the dealer or workshop as soon as possible to prevent the serious damage oil starvation may cause. 

Active parking brake light

Active parking brake light

This light does not tell about specific problems. It simply shows that the parking brake (handbrake) is currently applied. Make sure to disengage it before taking off.

ABS warning light

Red ABS warning light shows that there are problems with the ABS brake sensors. It is tricky to identify which ABS sensor is broken down. Drivers are recommended to visit the workshop since it may be dangerous to brake the car during emergency situations without the functioning ABS system. 

Low brake fluid indicator light

Low brake fluid indicator light

When there is insufficient brake fluid in the car this light comes on. Brakes system is the most important factor of cars’ safety and it will work without the required fluid. Make sure that the main cylinder of brakes has enough fluid to do the job.

Master warning light

Master warning light

Master warning light usually comes on with an additional notification on the screen. This light suggests about one or more problems with your vehicle’s systems. It is recommended to get the car to specialists to identify problems before any damage can be caused. 

Seatbelt indicator light

Seatbelt indicator light

Unfastened seatbelt light indicates that the driver or passengers are not buckled up by their individual seatbelts. 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 the 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 are not working. It may be some sort of airbag system malfunction as well as a signal telling about missing airbags if the car was repaired after an accident. Usually, this light comes on if the seatbelt is not secured since the airbags could provide even more damage for unfastened passengers. CARVERTICAL CTA – check if your car was not seriously damaged.

Open bonnet or 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 the car. Due to high wind resistance, the hood may rapidly open and break the windshield with a great force. It is better to secure the hood or bonnet before increasing the speed of the car.

Open boot or trunk light

Open boot or trunk light

This light indicates that the boot or trunk is opened. The car may be driven with the boot opened, but it is better to lock it since some of the belongings may fall out of the car. Also, if you open the window at a greater speed the latch may get broken and the trunk door will open rapidly.

Open doors light

Open doors light

Open doors light comes one if one of the doors are not properly closed. The car can be driven with this particular light on, however, it is better to stop and close the door. Some of the cars also provide an irritating warning sound of the opened doors.

Battery or charging system warning light

Battery or charging system warning light

A battery of charging system warning light may be a sign that an alternator’s life is coming to an end. It may also signal that the battery needs replacement so it is highly recommended to visit the dealer or workshop for further inspection.

Power steering problems light

Power steering problems light

Power steering light comes on when there are troubles with the power steering system. Usually, it is activated by the snapped belt, if the power steering pump is being driven by one. It may also be engaged if the level of power steering fluid gets too low. Visit the dealer if there is no lack of steering fluid.

Low key battery light

Low key battery light

Having this light on the driver should remember to change the battery of the key. Having this light ignored there is a chance that one day the key will be powerless and it will be trouble opening doors or even getting the car running. You certainly do not want to be in this situation on the rush.

Towing hitch warning light

Towing hitch warning light

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

Adjustable suspension problems light

Adjustable suspension problems light

If your car is equipped with an adjustable hydraulic or pneumatic suspension and this light comes on it usually can be a sign of one expensive service in the near future. Make sure to visit the dealer or specialist of suspension systems for further inspection since this light can be issued by a simple leak or a major breakdown. 

Yellow or orange dashboard lights:

Check engine light

Check engine light

Perhaps one of the most common lights that make drivers worry. Usually, this icon does not 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

Blinking yellow or orange traction control light can be brought in 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 the car unstable.

Tyre pressure warning light

Tyre pressure warning light

If the tyre pressure light comes on, make sure to inspect, whether all the tyres are inflated at the correct pressure. After the check reset the tyre pressure warning light via cars’ system control in the multimedia system.

Service vehicle light

Service vehicle light

In order to remind owners of the vehicle service schedule, service lights were introduced. If such yellow or orange light appeared, it means that the vehicle must be delivered to the 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. Some vehicles may have limited access to the headlights or taillights bulbs and even for such simple task owners are forced to visit dealerships or workshops.

Adaptive light system light

Adaptive light system light

If the yellow or orange adaptive lights system sign is turned this function can not be operated. Since the adaptive light system is operated via various computers and electronics, it is highly recommended to visit the authorised dealership for the inspection of this particular problem.

Rear fog lights indicator

Rear fog lights indicator

Rear fog lights icon means that these particular lights are turned on. It may be odd to notify drivers via yellow or orange dashboard lights since everything is working fine. However, in some cases, drivers forget about this light even when the fog or mist is a long way behind.

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 the car in order to start the engine. However, if you enter the unlocked car without keys you will not be able to start the motor – instead, it is likely you see this icon. It may remind you that there are no issues with the car whatsoever, you simply forgot the key.

Glow plug indicator light

Glow plug indicator light

This one is designed especially for diesel-powered vehicles. Diesel needs to be heated in order to be easily consumable by the engine so whenever the car is being started after it has rested for a while, these glow plug indicator lights come into play. When you turn the key to ignition, make sure this light is on and start the engine only when the glow plug indicator light goes off. During the winter, make sure to repeat the process twice before starting.

Low temperature warning light

Low temperature warning light

Low outside temperature light is designed to let drivers know about the freezing conditions. The frosty or icy surface may be a trap for inexperienced drivers. However, this dashboard light is usually followed by a beep that additionally informs about the dangerous road conditions.

Press clutch pedal light

Press clutch pedal light

Cars with manual gearbox require the clutch to be activated during the start if the gearbox is in gear. The car will not start if the clutch is not pressed in such occasions, but this light may simply remind drivers who are not used to manual operation of gears.

Particulate filter problems light

Particulate filter problems light

If the yellow or orange particulate filter light comes on, make sure to visit dealer or specialist soon for the inspection or cleaning of the particulate filter. It is mostly used for diesel-powered vehicles since burnt diesel emits denser particles.

Headlights control problems light

Headlights control problems light

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

Rain sensor problems light

Rain sensor problems light

Rain sensor malfunction may occur for a number of reasons. It may be covered with something that cannot be moved by windscreen wipers. It may also be a sight of a faulty system – if there is nothing covering the rain sensor make sure to visit a dealership or workshop for further inspection.

Low windshield fluid light

Low windshield fluid light

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

Traction control off light

Traction control off light

This light comes on if the traction control is manually switched off or if the system has issues with the monitoring of the traction. A faulty ABS sensor can activate this particular light since the monitoring of the rotation of all wheels is not functioning. Make sure to visit a dealer or workshop to fix the issue.

Blue or green dashboard lights:

Low engine coolant temperature light

Low engine coolant temperature light

Right after you start the engine of your vehicle it is highly 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

Blue high beam light indicates that this feature is activated. If often distracts upcoming traffic so be aware to switch the high beams off in order make life easier for other drivers. High beam lights can blind others 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 the driver about the lighting equipment in use.

Hold brake pedal light

Hold brake pedal light

This dashboard light informs the driver to press the brake pedal. Most cars with automatic transmission require the brake pedal to be depressed 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 the 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 of your car it means that the parking sensors are active. It is a handy feature in tight parking areas, especially when it comes to manoeuvring bigger vehicles. It is possible to switch it off, but be aware that some objects may be difficult to notice due to the bulky shape of the car.

Start-stop system light

Start-stop system light

Start-stop system light comes on when the 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 get on the nerves of the driver.

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