13 Dashboard Light Signals and What They Mean

There is always that super driver who knows all the dashboard lights and their meanings. Most people, though, are at least partially mystified by the blinking array of hieroglyphics that assail modern motorists. 

Don’t feel bad if you’re struggling with symbols, because many of your fellow drivers have the same problem. Knowing what they all mean is worthwhile because it can make a huge difference in staying on the road or calling a tow truck. This guide will help you decode your dashboard and tell you who to call for top-class towing services if you get the message too late.

Why Dashboard Skills Matter

A recent study in the U.K. found that almost half of drivers ignored their dashboard warnings. Those little symbols aren’t associated enough with the enormous consequences they’re built to avoid: 

Dashboard Response Times Can Run Into Weeks

Every driver likes to think their on-road response time is good when hazards present themselves. There is a colossal contradiction, though, when 1 in 10 drivers takes up to a month to respond to dashboard signals, while 34% take several days. This can lead to repair-delay costs of up to $200 a day and engine failure that can set you back upwards of $4,000.

Ignoring Dashboard Lights Can Cause Accidents

Dashboards warn you about almost every issue your vehicle faces, from maintaining stability to avoiding impending collisions. Lawsuits from other drivers and significant medical expenses can all be prevented by paying attention to dashboard alerts.

Understanding your dashboard means you don’t have to be a mechanic to stop problems. Familiarity with common symbols – many of which are self-explanatory – can elevate drivers to a position of responsible awareness.

The Top 13 Dashboard Lights to Know

The trick to not being overwhelmed by dashboard lights is never having more than one blinking at you. Swift action prevents a single onboard message from becoming multiple confusing signals. Any red light means something serious is wrong, and you should probably pull over immediately to figure out what’s happening or get expert help. Here are some of the most common warning lights:

13 Dashboard Light Signals and What They Mean 1
1. Brake Warning Light

This light, typically an exclamation point or letter “P” circled in bright red, can be triggered by two issues. The first is forgetting to release the parking brake. The second is that the braking system itself has problems such as fluid leakage.

2. Seat Belt Light

seatbelt warning light

A red image of a person with a seat belt will light up if someone doesn’t have their belt locked in place. This light may remain activated even when everyone is buckled in, which indicates a potential problem with seat or buckle sensors.

13 Dashboard Light Signals and What They Mean 2
3. Temperature Light

This bright red dashboard light is designed to help you prevent the engine from overheating. Temperature lights can indicate either a leak in your coolant system or low coolant. Running an overheated car for even a short distance is a sure way to blow your engine and end up with a large repair bill.

dashboard car oil light
4. Oil Light

Regular servicing prevents your oil from getting too low. Look for a dripping oil can light (typically red or yellow)  to help avoid low oil pressure and an unlubricated engine.

5. Stability Control Light

Stability and traction control are two associated functions of the antilock braking system. Your dashboard stability indicator looks like the traction symbol, with each being yellow and showing a vehicle with wavy track lines. Some dashboards issue this warning as an illuminated “VSC” or “ESC.”

13 Dashboard Light Signals and What They Mean 3
6. Battery Light

This is likely to be a red symbol resembling a Lego block, and it signals that battery power is low. Drivers can solve this in two ways: by driving the vehicle for 30 to 60 minutes to recharge the battery while all power-draining devices are unplugged, or by visiting a mechanic.

7. ABS Light

dashboard lights

Your antilock braking system alerts you to issues through a yellow or red circle with the letters “ABS” in the middle. The ABS controller wheel speed sensors may be at fault, but your vehicle’s braking system should still be functional (unless you also see light No. 1 on this list).

warning symbol for tire pressure monitoring system 2007
8. Tire Pressure Light

Another one of the most important dashboard lights is the Tire-Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) which became mandatory onboard equipment in 2007. Drivers with models made after that year are lucky enough to have tire air pressure reports right on the dashboard. This typically yellow exclamation point warns that you need more air in your tires or may have a puncture.

9. Check Engine Light

Check engine dashboard warning light

This yellow or red warning sign is also called the CEL or MIL for Malfunctioning Indicator Light. It may appear briefly when the engine starts, but it indicates a more serious issue if it remains lit. It can appear as the outline of an engine that may also be marked by an electrical bolt or text alerting you to check or service the engine.

power steering red symbol dasbhoard
10. Power Steering Light (EPS)

Power steering is probably to blame if making turns feels difficult. You should notice a small red or yellow steering wheel light that may also have an exclamation point. This could also indicate a leak if your car uses a hydraulic power steering system.

11. Transmission Fluid Light

This appears as either a red or yellow thermometer symbol or an exclamation point surrounded by a gear. It signals an overheated transmission, which could be caused by internal wear and tear or low fluid levels.

13 Dashboard Light Signals and What They Mean 4
12. Airbag Light

There are four reasons you may be seeing this red or yellow light. It may be indicating a water-damaged air bag module or a faulty sensor, or it could also be signaling a damaged clock spring or depleted air bag battery. (Learn more about air bag basics via SafeMotorist).

13. Traction Control Light

It is normal to see this yellow car symbol with wavy track lines lighting up when the system engages. It could indicate a more significant issue with the traction system if the light remains on longer than that.

You can find many more symbols of dashboard lights via this comprehensive list. You should always address any of these the moment they appear, but sometimes they can sneak up on the best drivers. This is when it pays off to have a friendly and fast-acting towing team on your side to get you where you need to go.

Call the Towing Professionals With Your Questions

Dashboard symbols can create dangerous confusion just as much as they can help. The Geyers Towing and Transport team operates 24/7 to provide stress-free solutions for towing service needs, vehicle maintenance issues, and roadside assistance. Our professionally trained drivers are licensed, insured, and background-checked. 
We make sure you get home quickly and safely, no matter what your dashboard says. Contact Geyers Towing and Transport for all your towing and transport services needs.

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