Reading your car dashboard: The meaning of 10 common symbols

May 29, 2019, 8:38 AM | Updated: 8:46 am

SPONSORED — If you change your car’s oil on time, get your tires rotated frequently and fill the chips in your windshield soon after they happen, you’re a pretty responsible car owner. You’ll likely feel that way, too, right up until a light flashes on your dashboard and you have no idea what it means.

In fact, most drivers don’t know what the most common dashboard warning lights mean, according to automotive data company HPI. Half can’t even identify a brake warning light. Not knowing is problematic, especially if a signal indicates a serious malfunction and you don’t investigate right away.

Here are some of the most common symbols you might see on your dashboard and what they mean.

Red symbols mean STOP

Like the red light in a traffic signal, a red light on your dashboard means you should stop right away. A vehicle with a red signal shouldn’t be driven until it has been checked and cleared by a mechanic.

Low coolant light

This engine coolant temperature light tells you when the engine is overheating. If it isn’t shut off promptly, an overheated engine could begin to warp or melt.

Oil pressure light

Engines need oil to reduce friction and to seal, clean and protect any moving parts. The engine oil pressure light tells you when the oil pressure is too low to protect the engine from damage.

Brake light

You’ll see this light if the parking brake is still on or if the vehicle’s hydraulic system has lost pressure. Either way, you will end up with brake failure if you ignore it, which could result in a collision.

Charging system light

If your vehicle’s charging system has a problem, your battery won’t charge, which means it will eventually run out of power, and your engine will stop running.

Yellow symbols mean CAUTION

While problems indicated with a yellow light need to be addressed, they won’t cause immediate vehicle failure.

Tire pressure light

Your tire pressure warning light lets you know when a tire’s air pressure has dropped by 20 percent, which means you’re not getting the best mileage and your tires will wear faster than normal. It could also mean one of your tires has a leak. If the tire pressure light blinks, the computer has lost communication with at least one of the pressure sensors in the tires.

ABS light

This light will turn on if something is compromising the effectiveness of your anti-lock brakes.

Check engine light

When your vehicle is not running as efficiently as it could and is putting out excessive harmful gasses, this light will illuminate. If it blinks, you should shut off your vehicle or change the driving conditions immediately or risk damaging the emissions-control devices known as catalytic converters.

Stability system light

This light will come on if there’s a problem with the vehicle’s traction control or anti-skid system. It may illuminate briefly when your tires slip on water, ice or gravel.

Other possible warning lights

• Fast-blinking turn signal: If one of your turn signals blinks at hyper speed, the lightbulb is out or on the fritz. You can usually fix this problem with a quick trip to the store for a new lightbulb.
• High beams indicator: This light tells you when your high beam lights are on. High beams improve visibility when driving in the dark, but they can temporarily blind an oncoming driver. The indicator reminds you to turn off your high beams when approaching a driver from behind or when you see someone driving toward you.

These are only some of the lights you might see on your vehicle’s dashboard. Your owner’s manual can familiarize you with other warning.

For tire questions or to replace worn tires, visit a Point S Tire & Auto Service location near you.


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Reading your car dashboard: The meaning of 10 common symbols