Learn all things about the most important warning lights
The dashboard is designed as an information center. It gives you a generalized warning when your vehicle may be malfunctioning. When any part of your vehicle is not working properly, a light will turn on notifying you of an underlying problem. These lights may be aided with a bell or buzzer to grasp your attention.
Brake system / brake fluid warning light
Your vehicle’s brakes are arguably the most important feature on your car, so if there’s a warning light flashing on your dash highlighting there’s something wrong with the braking system, it’s best to get it checked out right away.
It could be signaling a low brake fluid level, that your brake pads are worn or that there’s a fault with the ABS anti-lock braking system. Either way, book your car in to a reputable garage to have the potential issue looked over, and if necessary, repaired.
Coolant warning light
Without any coolant, your car’s engine would get so hot it’d effectively ‘weld’ itself together. If you see the coolant light show up on your dashboard, it could mean coolant levels are running low, so check the gauge on the side of the coolant tank under the bonnet and top up if necessary.
In conjunction with a temperature gauge reading well into the red, it could mean your engine is overheating. This is either the sign of a larger problem – like a head gasket failure – or symptomatic of something less major, like a leak in the system somewhere, meaning you’re engine has run low on coolant and got too hot. Get it seen to as soon as possible to avoid a potentially expensive repair bill
ECU / engine warning light
If your engine warning light is illuminated, often it’ll be accompanied by some unusual symptoms – these could include a lack of power, as the car has gone into ‘safe’ mode to protect it; an intermittent stuttering as you press the accelerator, caused by a misfire; or another fault which could alter the normal response from the engine.
Sometimes this can be down to something as small as a faulty electrical sensor, although sometimes it can be a larger mechanical issue. If your car’s engine warning light is showing, get a professional mechanic to look over it straight away, as driving around any longer could cause further and potentially irreparable damage.
DPF / diesel particulate filter warning light
Most modern diesel vehicles are fitted with a diesel particulate filter, which removes harmful soot from the exhaust gases to reduce emissions.
If this is faulty it’ll trigger a warning light and could not only mean you’re releasing a toxic cloud of black smoke every time you press the accelerator, but that you could be causing damage to your engine. Get this checked out straight away as DPFs can become blocked and can be expensive to replace.
This signals a malfunction with the airbags or airbag sensor. This means that they may not go off in a crash. On some cars, there's also a Passenger Airbag Off light that means the car has detected a small person in the front seat and has deactivated the front passenger airbag. This ensures that the (presumably short) front passenger doesn't suffocate or suffer a broken neck when the airbag goes off.
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If your car’s power steering warning light – often known as the EPAS light – is illuminated, it means there could be something wrong with the steering system.
If the system fails, the steering could go heavy, meaning more effort will be needed to make the car change direction. This can be an annoyance at low speed when you’re trying to maneuver, but a real risk at higher motorway speeds if you need to make a sudden lane change to avoid an obstacle.
Oil level / pressure warning
There's no genie in this lamp. Just the magic slippery stuff that keeps your engine lubricated. This typically signals your oil level is low by about two liters. No lasting damage should occur if you top off the oil the moment you see this warning. But if you ignore it, your motor could end up looking like a frying pan that's been left on the burner for a few hours. Not a pretty sight. And a new engine is much more expensive than a new frying pan.
Tire pressure monitoring system
This indicates either an issue with the TPMS itself or low pressure in one of your tires. Check immediately. Low pressures carry increased risk of a blowout on the highway due to tire overheating. Not to mention the danger of hydroplaning in the rain, as wider tires slide over the water more easily than narrower ones.
Battery charge warning light
You should see your battery charge warning light when you first turn your car on, but if it doesn’t go out a few seconds after the engine starts, there could be a problem with your car’s electrical system.
This could be to do with a faulty alternator, faulty battery, a bad connection or damaged cabling somewhere in the engine bay. If your car isn’t charging its battery when moving (the job of the alternator), then you could eventually run out of electrical power and grind to a halt.
At worst, the light could be on due to an alternator drive belt braking. Other systems also use this belt – such as the engine coolant pump, or power steering – so the affects of a failure here could be compounded.
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