What Does the Light On My Dashboard Mean?

close of car interior dashboard “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 should 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 your car’s various components are working 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 severe, and you want to get it looked at soon. If the light is not blinking, you don’t have to take immediate action, but you want to get it checked out as quickly as possible. If you ignore it, it could end up costing you a fortune.

Engine Temperature Warning Light

When this indicator light comes on, the temperature in your car exceeds normal limits. 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 warning isn’t something you want to procrastinate on as it can be dangerous for you and 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 correctly or is short of power. There may be a car battery problem, 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’ll 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 have to get gas more frequently (which no one wants to pay for in 2022) and may have to replace your engine eventually, which is an expensive cost. Do yourself a favor and check your oil 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 warning often appears 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, you might have knocked your traction sensors out of place by going over a curb or hitting a pothole. Since traction control has been a safety feature in all U.S.-made cars since 2012, you want to take caution if the light comes on because it may mean your vehicle loses 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 an accident.

Master Warning Light 

This indicator light with an exclamation point in a triangle signals that more than one system is 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 warning will appear if there is a fault condition in the anti-lock brake system, the traction control system, the electronic suspension system, or the hydraulic brake system.

We hope this helps answer “what does the light on my dashboard mean?”. Plenty of other indicator lights 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 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 access 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 employment barriers, including many recently 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!