Dashboard Warning Lights: A Complete Guide

Published on

May 29, 2024

Red, yellow, and orange dashboard warning lights lit on dashboard.

Uh-oh, you're driving along and just heard your vehicle chime. All of a sudden, there's a light shining on your dashboard indicating a potential problem with a component or system.

Panic time, right? Not necessarily.

It's important to note that not all dashboard lights are bad news. While it's true that some serve as warnings about mechanical problems that should be addressed sooner rather than later, some dashboard lights are nothing more than indicators to communicate certain vehicle features. On that note, it's important to know what the lights on your dashboard are trying to communicate to you when they do come on. In this post, we'll discuss what some of the most common dashboard lights mean and what you need to do about them (if anything).

Just think of this post as your complete guide to dashboard warning lights. Here's a closer look at what you need to know:

Know Your Warning Light Colors!

Colors matter when it comes to dashboard warning lights. The color of the light indicates the severity of the potential issue your vehicle may be facing. For instance:

  • Green or blue lights aren't anything to be overly concerned about. These colored lights just indicate that a certain system or vehicle feature is operating. Some common green or blue dashboard lights include those that indicate your fog lights or brake lights are on, or that the cruise control is engaged.
  • Orange or yellow lights often indicate a need to have your vehicle serviced or repaired soon. These could be something simple, such as an indication that your car's fuel tank is nearly empty, to something that could be more serious and should be addressed.
  • Red or flashing lights indicate the need to take immediate action. Some of these aren't emergency matters. For instance, a red dash light could simply tell you or a passenger to buckle their seat belt. Another common red dash light indicates an ajar trunk or door. Others are more serious. For instance, red lights could indicate engine overheating or the need to pull over and stop your vehicle immediately.

Check Engine Light

The check engine light is yellow and resembles an engine - and it can be triggered by a variety of issues. Sometimes, the issues are minor and easily fixable - like a loose gas cap. However, the check engine light can be indicative of more serious issues related to the engine and its performance. If the check engine light is on, it's always a good idea to get a diagnostic check to see what the issue is. If it lights up red or starts blinking, it's likely to be indicative of a major problem that needs to be addressed promptly.

Oil Pressure Warning Light

This light is often red and resembles an oil can. The red color indicates an imminent problem. In the case of this dashboard light, it means that you're either running dangerously low on oil or your oil pump isn't working correctly.

If this light comes on, pull over and shut off the vehicle immediately. Check oil fluid levels and fill accordingly if the fluid is low. If there are adequate levels of fluid, there's likely an issue with the oil pump.

Brake Warning Light

If a red circular light with an exclamation point inside of it illuminates on your dashboard, it could mean that your braking system is experiencing major issues. The first thing you'll want to do is make sure that your parking brake is not engaged. If it is, release the brake and see if the light goes off. If it doesn't, it's likely a sign that there's something wrong with your vehicle's braking system - and you should seek service immediately.

Engine Temperature Warning Light

This red light resembles a thermometer and indicates that your engine is on the cusp of overheating. If this light comes on while you're driving, blast the heat in an attempt to redistribute the heat generated in the engine elsewhere in the vehicle. This may cause the vehicle to cool down enough for you to get home or safely pull over. The most common culprit for engine overheating is a lack of coolant.

Transmission Temperature Warning Light

The engine isn't the only component that's capable of overheating. If a red light resembling a thermometer inside a gear comes on your dashboard, pull your vehicle over, turn off the ignition, and wait for it to cool down. The transmission temperature warning light often comes on when there's low transmission fluid, damaged parts, or your vehicle's transmission has been significantly overworked. Seek service immediately if this light comes on.

Battery Charge Warning Light

The battery alert light is usually red and resembles a battery - often complete with both plus and minus signs. When it comes on, it's a sign that there's trouble with the vehicle charging system. Culprits may range from a loose cable, to a bad battery, to a faulty alternator. Regardless of the underlying issue, it's important to have your vehicle services immediately or else you could risk your vehicle soon not starting at all and have to either charge or jump the vehicle.

Airbag Warning Light

Airbags are an important safety feature in just about every vehicle, as they work to provide cushion for your upper body and head in the event of a collision. If the red airbag indicator light comes on, it's a sign that there's something wrong with one or more of your airbags. To ensure this safety feature is available for you in the event of an accident, make sure to have the system serviced as soon as possible.

Anti-lock Braking System

If a yellow light comes on that spells out "ABS," it's likely a sign that there's something wrong with your vehicle's anti-lock braking system. The ABS is an important safety feature in most cars, so it's important to seek service as soon as you're able to and have any issue with the system properly addressed.

Tire Pressure Warning Light

Most modern vehicles have sensors that gauge your tire pressure. Some vehicles can even take the TPMS symbol - which is often yellow or orange, resembling a tire with an exclamation point in the center - further and detail the exact pressure on each tire to pinpoint issues.

If this light comes on, it means one or more of your tires are either under or overinflated. Check your tire pressure and fill or let out air according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Failure to do so could lead to uneven tread wear, lack of friction on the road, or even an increased chance of a tire blowout.

Traction Control Light

This light is yellow or orange and mimics a vehicle that is swerving. It simply means that your car's traction control system has been activated, which occurs when the system indicates that a wheel is slipping. You don't need to do anything when the traction control indicator comes on - just be aware that the conditions might be a bit slick and proceed with caution.

Traction Control Malfunction Light

There's the traction control light... and then there's the traction control malfunction light. This light tends to be yellow and features a tire with the letters "TC" within it. These letters are often crossed out, indicating that there's a problem with the traction control. This light could simply mean that the traction control has been deactivated. But it could also mean that there's a problem with the system. As traction control is a big part of how your vehicle handles and an important safety feature, the only way to restore this is to seek service for it.

Need Your Vehicle Serviced?

If you have a yellow or red light come on your dashboard, make sure you understand what the light means and seek professional service accordingly. That's where your local GreatWater 360 Auto Care-affiliated shop can help. As a network of full-service automotive repair and maintenance centers, we specialize in everything - and this includes diagnostic checks and inspections related to car warning lights. We'll thoroughly assess your vehicle and find the problem, then work to fix it so you can get your car back out on the road operating how it's intended to.

In addition to high-quality workmanship, we pride ourselves on exceptional customer service. We treat all of our customers as we’d want to be treated, are always transparent about any issues we find, and we'll never try to sell you on a service that you don't need. It's all a part of the GreatWater value proposition of treating our customers as if they're one of our family members and our customers' vehicles as if they were one of our very own.

For more information on dashboard warning lights and to schedule an appointment to have any issues related to car warning lights diagnosed, find your local GreatWater 360 Auto Care location today to schedule an appointment.