What Does the Light On My Dashboard Mean?

It probably comes as no surprise that when a light pops up on your dashboard, as much as you may want to run and hide, you want to pay attention to it. But it’s likely that some lights on your dashboard are unfamiliar to you and may initially cause you to panic. You may find yourself thinking:

  • How important is this warning light?
  • Is something wrong or is it just an error?
  • How expensive is this going to be to fix?

Before jumping to the worst-case scenario, let’s go over common dashboard lights you could see, which ones require immediate attention, and which ones you have a little time to call a mechanic and inquire about first. Making sure all the different parts of your car are working properly is of the utmost importance as your safety and the safety of those around you are on the line.

Understanding Car Warning Lights

Check Engine Warning Light

When this indicator light comes on, it means that something could be wrong with your engine or something simple like your gas cap is loose. If the light is blinking, it may mean the problem is more serious and you want to get it looked at soon. If the light is not blinking, then you don’t have to take immediate action, but you do want to get it checked out as soon as possible. If you ignore it, it could end up costing you a fortune.

Engine Temperature Warning Light

When this indicator light comes on, it means that the temperature in your car exceeds normal limits. Just like sometimes your smartphone will alert you when it’s too hot, your car will do the same. Check your coolant level, fan operation, radiator cap, and coolant leaks. If you need more coolant, you can find it at stores like Target or on Amazon and it’s usually pretty affordable. This isn’t something you want to procrastinate on as it can be dangerous for you and can completely ruin your engine which isn’t cheap to replace.

Battery Charge Warning Light

When this indicator light comes on, it means that the charging system in the car is not charging properly or is short of power. There may be a problem with the car’s battery, and you may need a new one.

Oil Pressure Warning Light

When this indicator light comes on, it means your oil is low or empty. You’re going to want to get your oil changed as soon as possible. And as a reminder, you want to change your oil every 3,000 miles. Think of oil as the main ingredient that keeps your car running. If you ignore this warning light, you’ll end up having to get gas more frequently (which no one wants to pay for in 2022) and may have to eventually replace your engine entirely which is an expensive cost. Do yourself a favor and get your oil checked as soon as possible when the indicator line comes on.

Brake Warning Light

When this indicator light comes on, it means your handbrake is on. If it continuously comes on, it means that hydraulic pressure has been lost on one side of the brake system or that the fluid level in the master cylinder is low, which is dangerous. You’ll want to call and get a mechanic to look at your car if this keeps happening.

Understanding Safety Symbols

Tire Pressure Warning Light

This indicator light means that your tire pressure is low and needs more air. This often happens when seasons change, like from summer months to colder months in the fall. You can find gas stations with air pumps for you to inflate your tires for a small fee.

Traction Control Off

Traction control is always on unless you turned off. When it’s turned off, the indicator light may come on, however, this can differ from car to car. If you didn’t switch off the traction control, then you may have knocked your traction sensors out of place by going over a curb or hitting a pothole. Since traction control is a safety feature included in all U.S.-made cars since 2012, you want to take caution if the light comes on because it may mean your car lost traction briefly. If the light comes on and stays on, you may call someone to realign the sensors.

Steering Wheel Lock

This indicator light signals that your steering wheel light is locked and cannot be moved. To get the steering wheel lock off, put your keys in the ignition and turn the key to start the car while turning the steering wheel.

Side Airbag 

This indicator light signals that there is a fault with the side airbag. You will want to get this fixed to protect you in case of an accident.

Master Warning Light 

This indicator light that has an exclamation point in a triangle, signals that there is more than one system not operating correctly in the vehicle. When this light comes on, you want to pay immediate attention and call a mechanic to service your car.

Service Vehicle Soon

This indicator light will come on when you need to take your car in for service. This will happen if there is a fault condition in the anti-lock brake system, the traction control system, the electronic suspension system, or the brake hydraulic system.

There are plenty of other indicator lights that can go off in your vehicle, but in this article, we have covered the main ones. If any light comes on in your car, you will want to consult the owner’s manual or call a mechanic.

Contact Us Today

At Vehicles for Change, we accept car donations to help low-income families get access to a car and a better life. If you have a vehicle you’d like to donate but worry it’s not in the best condition or has warning lights lit up on the dashboard, contact us today and we can have someone on our team look at it for you.

Vehicles for Change began a Full Circle Service Center designed to provide mechanic training to individuals with multiple barriers to employment including many who have recently been released from prison. Our mechanic, Wayne T. Farrar, is a Master Automobile Technician and Maryland State Certified Inspector. He trains interns to work on cars that we receive as donations. Call us at 855-820-7990 or fill out our donation form here to begin the process. We look forward to hearing from you!