Everything is running great with your car when suddenly – a warning light comes on the dashboard. There are literally dozens of warning and check engine lights on today’s modern cars, each of them with their own meaning and sources. While they will always vary based on each automotive manufacturer, five car dashboard warning light indicators are generic across the board.
Warning lights can be divided into 3 general colors. Most of these five warning lights are red, but it’s important to know the level of attention a light requires based on color and steady or blinking status.
Red. Lights of a bright red color to indicate a potentially serious issue requiring immediate servicing by a mechanic. Red could also be a scheduled maintenance reminder that turns on after a certain mileage is reached, or notify the driver that certain systems are engaged, like the parking brake or airbag.
Yellow/Orange. A yellow or orange light, like the check engine light, tends to signal a part that needs servicing or replacement outside of regular servicing. A flashing yellow light means this component needs to be inspected immediately.
Green/Blue.Mellower green or blue dash lights typically let the driver know of an active system, like headlights or air conditioning.
These 5 car dashboard warning lights should be considered very serious when they illuminate.
1. Engine Temperature Warning Light
This warning light is intended to alert drivers that the engine temperature has increased past the recommended degree. While it can often indicate the vehicle is overheating, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes this warning light will illuminate if the engine temperature sensor is damaged or not sending accurate data to the ECU. In other instances, it means the coolant temperature is too hot, or the engine is overheating.
What to do if it happens: Since an overheating engine can cause serious damage – from a blown head gasket to damaging internal engine components – you should immediately pull over to a safe location, shut the engine off and contact a towing service to have your vehicle brought back home. This will permit a mobile mechanic to inspect the vehicle to diagnose the light’s cause and recommend the right repairs.
2. Oil Pressure Warning Light
To keep metal moving parts properly lubricated, your engine has a complex oiling system. It depends on maintaining a recommended oil pressure to accomplish this vital task. When there is engine sludge, the oil is dirty or contaminated, or if an oil pump or filter is damaged, it can cause oil pressure problems. If oil pressure falls below the threshold, it will trigger the light.
What to do if it happens: Anytime this warning light comes on, it should be taken very seriously. Like when the engine temperature warning light illuminates, you should pull over to a safe location and turn the car off as soon as possible. Call a tow truck and have the vehicle towed to your home for a further mechanical inspection by a professional.
3. Battery Charging Warning Light
This one is not as serious as overheating or low oil pressure but should be resolved as soon as possible. The battery charge warning light indicates that your car battery is running low on cranking amps or volts. Amps are required to start the car, while volts power headlights, radios, and other accessories when the car is not started. Here is the “yeah but” section: this warning light can also indicate a fault with the charging system, such as a dead alternator or damaged charging wires.
What to do if it happens: When this light comes on, you should drive home without shutting the vehicle off. If the battery is low, it’s likely that your car won’t start again until it’s resolved. Once home, contact a professional mechanic to complete a warning light inspection, which will permit them to isolate the root issue.
4. Brake Warning Light
According to most professional mechanics, this is one of those warning lights that can be 100% avoided. In most situations, when the brake warning light is illuminated, it means the parking brake has been left on. Try verifying that the parking brake is in good shape first to see if it goes away. If it does not, it is possible that you are running low on brake fluid or there is a mechanical issue with the brakes. While replacing brake pads, rotors and calipers as recommended can significantly reduce this issue, it is something that should be taken seriously if it illuminates on the dash.
What to do if it happens: When the brake light is on, check your parking brake first – 80% of the time this will resolve the issue. If it does not, contact a professional mechanic and have them complete a brake warning light inspection before driving further.
5. Check Engine Light
The check engine light has the most possible sources. This will illuminate in a yellow/orange color when the vehicle’s ECU detects a mechanical or electrical fault as picked up by one of the sensors that monitors your engine, transmission and safety systems. It could be as simple as a faulty sensor or a serious problem with internal engine components.
What do to if it happens: Anytime the check engine light is triggered, you should take it seriously. Contact a professional mechanic and have them complete a check engine light inspection, so they can determine why this light is on, and what repairs are needed to fix it. You should not drive the vehicle until this issue has been resolved if at all possible.
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