Dashboard warning lights: What do they mean?
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Have you ever been driving along when all of a sudden you see a warning light you’ve not noticed before light up?
Before thinking the worst, pull over somewhere safe and take a moment to find out what the light is telling you.
The first indication your vehicle may have a problem is with the illumination of a dashboard warning light or malfunction indicator lamp (MIL).
This means the vehicle’s engine management system is detecting a fault has happened or is happening, and attention is required.
The seriousness of a fault depends on the colour of the light and the symbol it’s illuminating. Like traffic lights, red means stop, orange is caution, and green is go.
A red warning light needs immediate attention, while orange or yellow means you need to head down to your local service centre and get the problem sorted by a professional.
A green or blue light can mean a system/function is active or operating.
While most drivers will have a fair idea of what their dashboard warning lights look like, some may not know what they all mean, and most importantly what to do if they light up.
It pays to familiarise yourself in advance with what these lights are before something happens.
Engine oil pressure or level warning light
This is a critical one. Engine oil is the life blood of your engine. Without it, your engine will quickly screech to a halt.
If it lights up while driving or fails to switch off 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 you are safe, or turn the engine off right away and call for assistance or a tow.
Engine check or malfunction lamp
This means the vehicle engine management system has detected a sensor fault and needs attention at your nearest convenience.
This light illuminates when the ECU computer detects a fault with any one of the 50 odd 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 suggest the best method of repair.
Engine temperature indication lamps
These lights are replacing the traditional temperature gauge. The blue light tends to illuminate when the vehicle temperature is cold or warming up — switching off once the operating temperature is reached. If illuminated in red or blinking, this indicates that the cooling system is over the desired temperature threshold and you must stop, as continuing to drive could cause the engine to overheat.
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, or contact the manufacturer.
Whether it’s a simple reminder to “buckle up” or an engine issue that’s best left to the professionals, dashboard warning symbols should never be ignored.
Regular servicing is the best way to keep those warning lights on your dashboard from making frequent appearances.