What do your dashboard warning lights mean?

21 September 2023 | Vehicle Care

With the increasing cost of living and maintaining our vehicles, no one wants to see a warning light illuminating on their dashboard. However, do you know what they’re telling you? Or the potential costs it might involve?

Philip Hirons, our Collections Manager, responsible for Vehicle Remarketing, talks us through various warning lights; their meanings, and advises on the action to take if they illuminate.

Last year, we witnessed over 136,000 road casualties and 1,695 fatalities in the UK, and yet vehicle safety and maintenance are not a widespread concern.

It takes drivers, on average, over a week to address dashboard warning lights.

  • Over 77,000 drivers said that they ignore them completely.
  • Only 33% of drivers would stop if the oil pressure light came on, even though it can result in engine failure and lead to accidents.

Some warning lights are easily resolved and self-explanatory. For instance, the fuel warning light – notably, it came second on the list of most ignored warnings and is a frequent cause for roadside assistance. So ensuring we have enough fuel is crucial.

However, other warnings can be harder to understand, but doing so may help you avoid breakdowns or major vehicle failures.

An often-overlooked tip is the traffic light principle.

Red warning lights signify urgent issues requiring immediate attention. Anything related to the engine, brakes, or airbags demands swift action, and you should stop driving as soon as safely possible.

Amber warning light indicates the need for extra caution or monitoring, and it’s advisable to have a professional inspect the matter. These situations are still highly significant and can escalate into serious problems.

Green (and sometimes blue) warning lights offer information and details deserving of our attention. For instance, the high beam lights are on.

Airbag Warning Light

This light signifies a malfunctioning airbag. This is serious – it might not inflate during an accident or, worse, could unexpectedly inflate while driving, leading to injury.

Brake System Light / Handbrake Warning

Let’s start by checking if the handbrake is on. If not, it indicates a braking system fault, possibly related to worn pads/discs, low fluid, or issues with ABS (anti-lock brakes). It could also indicate a significant problem with the hydraulic brake system.

Engine Cooling System

Cars circulate coolant to maintain engine temperature. If this light activates, it might be due to critically low coolant or an engine-overheating blockage, which can result in costly repairs.

Engine Oil Pressure

This warns of low oil pressure or insufficient oil. If you haven’t checked or changed your oil recently, it could be low. Before adding oil, consult your manual for the correct type, as using the wrong one could lead to further problems.

Power Steering

Most of us rely on power steering. It’s a hydraulic or electric pump assisting with steering, which if illuminated is malfunctioning.

Vehicle Charging System

This indicates your battery isn’t charging properly or something’s draining it when the car is off.

Steering Lock

Amber means release the steering lock before driving; red suggests a malfunction if it remains after starting the car.

Ignition Switch

In modern cars, this light could signal various electronic issues. Get your car checked for safety.