What Are Your Dashboard Lights Telling You?

Dashboard Warning Lights

Vehicle problems have a habit of striking at the worst possible time. One moment you’re happily driving on the road, the next your dashboard lights up like a Christmas tree. There’s a temptation to panic when this happens to you—a pang of fear that strikes even the most experienced motorists—but with a little know-how (and a reliable vehicle protection plan), most issues can be resolved.

If you experience any unusual dashboard warning lights that don’t go away, stopping in a safe place should always be first on your list. Next, it’s time to diagnose the problem, but there are so many different lights and symbols, you’d be forgiven for not knowing what they all mean.

At Robert’s Auto Service, where we’ve repaired just about every vehicle possible over the last five decades, we’ve come across various instances where a breakdown could have been avoided by understanding your dashboard symbols and having a plan in place.

You should always refer to your owner’s manual for a full breakdown, but if you can’t find it, I’ve curated a list of the top 10 dashboard symbols that should be paid attention to right away. From low oil pressure to airbag issues, here are the most important dashboard warning lights explained.

Dashboard Lights Explained

  1. Battery Charge Warning Light

This is a common one, especially when you haven’t been driving your vehicle for a while. The battery charge warning light indicates your battery is below the normal voltage, meaning there’s an issue with your vehicle’s charging system.

Surprisingly enough, this might not be a problem with the battery itself. It could be down to a loose or damaged cable, but it may also be the result of a broken alternator drive belt. While a loose cable is easily reattached, a broken drive belt is a major problem that needs the attention of an expert. When this light turns on, your best bet is to pull over and call your local mechanic or roadside assistance.

  1. Oil Pressure Warning Light

The low oil pressure warning light can appear for a few different reasons—your oil may be too hot, its level is too low, or there isn’t enough pressure to keep it flowing. Without proper lubrication, your engine can fail completely, so this is a serious problem that needs addressing right away.

Stop in a safe spot, let the engine cool down, and then if you feel confident, pop the hood and try to get to the bottom of the issue. Check your oil level, and if it’s low, try topping it up. If you do and the light disappears, you’re good to go, as the engine will lubricate itself while you drive. If the light stays on, you’re going to need a professional.

  1. Engine Warning Light

This is one of the most important dashboards light symbols that can suddenly appear, and while it isn’t always an emergency, you’ll need to take it seriously. The engine warning light can be triggered by something as small as a faulty electrical sensor or low engine oil, but it can also indicate a much larger mechanical issue. Your car may seem fine, but if this light is on, make sure you don’t ignore it if you want to avoid expensive repairs.

Stop driving as soon as possible and arrange to take the vehicle to a repair shop. If the light is accompanied by other worrying signs such as smoke, smells, or clunking, stop immediately and call out an expert. If there’s a major fault developing, the more you drive, the greater the chance of doing some serious damage to your vehicle. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

  1. Tire Pressure Warning Light

It’s recommended that you check your tire pressure once a month, but sometimes life gets in the way. Leave it too long and your tires may deflate to the point where the low tire pressure turns on your dashboard. In more extreme cases, you could have a puncture.

Driving on a flat tire can do significant damage to your rims and suspension, so quickly get to a safe spot and check each tire for deflation. If there are no signs of a puncture and you have an air compressor in your trunk, bringing everything back up to the correct PSI will make the light disappear. If you find a puncture and have a spare tire, you can try to change it. Rather than sharp objects, some punctures can be caused by general wear and tear. Proper tire rotation can prevent this in the future.

  1. Anti-Lock Brake System Warning Light

It goes without saying that brakes are one of the most important functions of any vehicle, so this light is a big deal. It means there’s an issue with your anti-lock braking system, which is designed to prevent your wheels from locking when you have to stop. Without it, you could lose control of your vehicle.

As always, you’ll need to find a safe place to stop but do so with caution. If your brakes aren’t working properly, you’ll want to use them gently to gradually come to a halt. Once you’re safely out of the car, call a professional, and don’t drive again until they’ve given you the all-clear. There may be a chance you’ll need to replace your brake pads, and with EnduranceAdvantage™, you can get up to $140 towards your next replacement. Request a free, no-obligation quote to learn more about our newest protection plan.

  1. Engine Temperature Warning Light

If your engine experiences overheating then it can get so hot that it effectively welds itself together—a one-way ticket to total engine failure. This light can often indicate an issue with the level of coolant, which decreases naturally over time, but it may also be leaking.

If your A/C is on, switch it off and pull over. Once the engine is cool, pop the hood and check the coolant level. If it’s running low, try topping it up and the light should leave you alone. If the level looks okay, there could be a bigger problem brewing. Driving with this light on is a no-go, so you’ll need to call an expert if you can’t sort it yourself.

  1. Airbag Warning Light

In a crash, an airbag can be the difference between serious injury and coming out unscathed. To ensure you’re as protected as possible whenever you’re on the road, you’ll need every airbag in your car to be fully functioning. This light means there’s a problem, resulting in one of two outcomes: either your airbag won’t go off in a crash, or it could go off unexpectedly and cause one.

Pullover and call a professional, or get your car to a mechanic as soon as possible. Your safety is paramount, and a faulty airbag puts that at risk. Remember, if you have an Endurance coverage plan, 24/7 roadside assistance comes with it, so you can get recovered at a repair shop. If you’re away from home, trip interruption costs are also covered.

  1. Low Fuel Light

This one’s pretty self-explanatory, but if you’re a diligent refueller, you may have never seen it before. The low fuel warning light means you’re simply low on gas. When this happens, you have an average of 30-50 miles left in the tank. Let this run out completely and you could cause damage to your engine.

If you carry gas with you, pull over and fill up. If that’s not an option, make a detour to the nearest gas station. It’s never a good idea to risk seeing how far you can make it before you run dry, especially when a string of red lights or heavy traffic could be waiting around the corner. Plus, driving on a near-empty tank can allow unwanted elements or air into the engine, which can cause damage.

  1. Washer Fluid Light

Another easy one, this light indicates a lack of washer fluid. Having nothing to clean your windshield with can put you in a tough spot if you’re driving somewhere dusty, or packed with bugs. Impaired visibility is a common cause of accidents on roads, so do something about it—it’s quick and simple to fix.

Maybe don’t rush to pull over, but top-up as soon as you can. Washer fluid is easily picked up from most gas stations or larger grocery stores and doesn’t cost too much either. There are also some popular retailers that do it for free, like Jiffy Lube, which can tackle this out at no additional cost.

  1. Fog Lamp Indicator

At long last, a light that doesn’t indicate a problem. Whenever you see this on your dashboard, it means your fog lights are switched to ‘on’. 

If you’re driving in heavy fog, you’re fine to keep your fog lights running. If not, make sure to switch them off, as unnecessary use can affect other drivers’ view of the road.

Gain Peace of Mind With Reliable Auto Protection

Whatever your car dashboard displays, having the right auto protection plan in place can help you feel empowered when any light turns.

For complete peace of mind and reliable extended warranty coverage, check out Endurance’s newest protection plan, EnduranceAdvantage, which offers up to $3,500 in maintenance coverage. The program also has unrivaled eligibility—most coverage plans have a steep list of disclaimers and exclusions, but not EnduranceAdvantage™. Request a free, no-obligation quote today to learn more.

With Endurance, you’re getting the most comprehensive auto protection package on the market. It can save you thousands on auto repairs and maintenance—helping you avoid any unwanted warning lights altogether.

With all our coverage plans, you can drive with complete confidence, knowing that if the unfortunate happens you’ve got instant access to all the Endurance warranty benefits, including 24/7 roadside assistance, substitute transportation, and trip-interruption coverage. Not only that—you’ll also get one year’s free Endurance Elite membership, meaning you’ll enjoy even more everyday driver benefits.

Find out more about how an extended warranty can help you avoid any bumps in the road, or request a free, no-obligation quote today.

A Vehicle Service Contract (VSC) is often referred to as an “auto warranty” or an “extended car warranty,” but it is not a warranty. A VSC does, however, provide repair coverage for your vehicle after the manufacturer’s car warranty expires. A VSC is a contract between you and a VSC provider or administrator that states what is a covered repair and what is not. Not all vehicles qualify for coverage; Endurance does not offer VSCs in California.