Car Care: Dashboard warning signs
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WHAT TO DO WHEN THE LIGHTS COME ON: PULL OVER AND TRY NOT TO PANIC
You're driving along, minding your own business, when you happen to glance at your instrument panel and spy a warning light you've not noticed before. The illumination of a dashboard warning light -- or malfunction indicator lamp (MIL) -- is often the first signal that your vehicle has a problem.
It means the vehicle's engine management system is detecting a fault has happened, or is happening, and that it needs your attention.
The seriousness of the fault often depends on the colour of the light and the symbol it's illuminating. Just like traffic lights, red means stop, orange is caution, and green is go. A red warning light needs immediate attention, while orange or yellow may mean you need to head down to your local garage and have the problem sorted by a professional.
A green or blue light can mean a system or function is active or operating. Either way, try not to panic and pull over somewhere safe to take a moment to find out what the light is telling you.
Engine oil pressure or level warning lightThis is crucial. Engine oil is the lifeblood of your engine. Without it, your engine will screech to a halt.
If it comes on while you are driving or fails to go out after you start the engine, it means your oil level is low, or the engine has lost oil pressure and the oil will no longer circulate around the engine to provide lubrication.
Stop as soon as it is safe to do so, turn off the engine immediately and call for assistance.
Malfunction indicator lamp, or engine check lampThis means the vehicle engine management system has detected a sensor fault and needs attention.
This light illuminates when the ECU (electronic control unit) detects a fault with any one of the 50 plus sensors responsible for making the engine run efficiently. While it may not point to a specific fault, a technician can run a diagnostic check to retrieve a fault code and then let you know the best method of repair.
Engine temperature indication lampsThese lights are now more commonly replacing the traditional temperature gauge.
The blue light usually displays when the vehicle temperature is cold or warming up, and switches off once the correct operating temperature has been reached.
If the symbol is illuminated red or blinking, it's indicating that the cooling system is above the desired temperature threshold and you must stop. Continuing to drive could cause the engine to overheat and potentially result in an expensive repair bill.
Though some warning symbols like those noted above are universal and common in the majority of makes and models, there are also manufacturer specific warnings. In these instances, it pays to check your manual or handbook which should offer vehicle specific information about its warning lights.
One final thing to note is the increasing number of manufacturers building information displays and on-board monitoring systems into the instrument cluster of new vehicles.
These are often prompted by the push of a "display" button to keep the driver aware of the features in use, how they're operating and when maintenance may be required.
If you do own a newer vehicle and see such an alert pop up, it's worth checking you've not accidentally knocked the display button, to avoid any embarrassing call outs.