Dashboard Lights: Basic Diagnostics


Sep 02nd, 2020

Dashboard Lights: Basic Diagnostics

Have you ever sat down in your car and counted the number of dashboard lights you have? Well, don't worry. Most people probably haven't. Usually, people only notice the handful of lights that always come on during a drive, like the signal indicators and maybe even the low-fuel light. The truth is, there are many more lights on your dashboard, but most of them only come on when there's a problem. That's because dashboard lights are meant to provide you with basic diagnostics of your car's problems.

Your dashboard lights can't always tell you what the problem is, exactly. But at the very least, they can tell you there is indeed a problem, and where it may be coming from. That'll make it easier for you to communicate with your mechanic when you bring it in for a check.

In this article, we're going to get a basic understanding of what your dashboard lights mean. That way, the next time one comes on, you won't have to panic trying to figure out what it means!

What do the dashboard lights mean?

Your dashboard has plenty of different lights that illuminate symbols. Some car brands and models will have marks unique to them. Generally speaking, though, the marks used in the dashboard are universal across makes and models.

They  can be broken down into a few categories. Some dashboard lights warn you that something needs to be attended to urgently, others might indicate an impending problem with any of the parts. Lastly, other symbols indicate whether your car's features are on or off.

In terms of colouring, you'll notice that your dashboard lights follow traffic light colours. So, a red dashboard light or symbol means that it’s a severe problem and you should probably pull over immediately. Yellow usually means you can keep driving but should get the problem checked as soon as possible.

Urgent Symbols Warning

Here are a few examples of urgent warning symbols

  • Engine temperature warning light - If the symbol looks like a thermometer and its red, that's your engine temperature warning light. If it comes on, that means your engine is overheating, and you should pull over immediately. Driving with an overheating engine can be very dangerous!
  • Oil pressure warning light - This light looks like a little oil can, and it's usually red as well. It's indicating that your engine has lost its oil pressure, either because there isn't enough oil, or because of another significant problem. The reason it's red is that there's a potential of a severe issue with your engine oil, so pull over and call for help. 
  • Airbag warning light - If the light looks like a picture of an airbag, then it's your airbag warning light. This one should never come on, so if it does, that means your airbag may be faulty. Seeing as how the airbag is a critical safety feature, you must get it checked immediately.

Possible Problem Symbols

While red dashboard lights typically indicate a severe problem, yellow ones usually point to less dangerous issues. Still, if they come on, you should drive to your trusted workshop to get it checked out.

Here are a few common symbols that indicate a possible problem with one of your car parts:

  • Engine warning light - this light tells you only one thing, and that can be quite confusing. When it lights up, it means that there might be a problem with your engine, which can be any of a dozen or so potential issues. Since it doesn't point to a single issue, you'd have to delve deeper or refer to your mechanic. A common reason for this light to come on is an electrical issue with your engine. 
  • Tyre pressure warning light - some newer models have tyre pressure sensors. So, they include tyre pressure warning lights on the dashboard as well. If this light comes on, it merely means that you need to inflate your tyres at the nearest petrol station. An underinflated tyre can decrease fuel efficiency and cause uneven wear. So, while it may not be life-threatening, you should still get it sorted out quickly.
  • ABS indicator - most cars these days come equipped with an anti-lock braking system or ABS. These help to prevent your vehicle from sliding if you suddenly apply your breaks to avoid a collision. So, if you see a yellow light with the letters "ABS" come on, that usually indicates there's an issue with the system. This is an important safety feature, so even though you can continue driving, its best to get it checked as soon as possible. 

Other Common Symbols

Your dashboard lights aren't all about warning you that there's a problem. Some are reminders that you have turned a feature on or off. Here are a few of the standard symbols comprising your dashboard lights:

  • High-beam symbol - this one is pretty straightforward: it's to remind you that you have your high-beams on. The dashboard light will probably be blue since it's not a warning but rather a reminder. 
  • Low fluid indicators - in your car, there may be a few different lights that fall into this category. For example, some vehicles have low wiper-fluid dashboard lights. All vehicles, however, have low-fuel indicators on the dashboard. As we all know, cars need fluids to operate correctly. These lights are just a reminder that something needs to be topped up.

What does it mean when the dashboard lights are not working?

The dashboard lights, especially the warning ones in red and yellow, shouldn't come on unless there's a problem. Still, you may find yourself in a situation where no dashboard lights are coming on at all!

The following reasons could cause dashboard lights not lighting up.

  • If they're on but flickering a lot, that could be an indicator that your car battery may be dying. Remember: everything electrical and electronic in your car is powered by your battery. If there's a problem with the battery, electrical parts like your dashboard lights won't operate correctly.
  • The lightbulbs or LEDs might be faulty. In newer models, the dashboard is lit up with LEDs. Older ones use old-school lightbulbs. In either case, if they are faulty, none of the dashboard lights will come on.
  • A fuse may be blown. All electrical parts of your car are connected to fuses. So, if the dashboard lights have blown a fuse, you'll need to get that fuse replaced. Remember: a blown fuse may be an indicator of another more significant problem. So, have your mechanic check for any other issues with your electrical system. 

If you ever find your dashboard lights not working but the car still runs, its best to get to a mechanic immediately. Driving without functioning dashboard lights is almost like driving blind!

As a responsible car owner, it's essential to stay educated and informed about all parts of your car, including your dashboard lights. To learn more, check out our blog at Carpart.com.au to learn more about how your car functions!

By Ray Hasbollah