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Car Dashboard Warning Lights

Car Dashboard Warning Lights

NOTE: When you start your car, all of your car dashboard warning lights should come on temporarily; this is how you know they are working. Pay special attention to your oil pressure light and make sure it lights up. If something is wrong with your oil pressure, you need to know about it. A problem with your oil can destroy your engine.

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Car dashboard warning lights and their meanings

air pressure warning lightAir Pressure Light: This light is designed to notify you that one or more of your tires has low air pressure and it’s most likely time to drive to the nearest service station and inflate your tire(s). This is not normally an emergency, but don’t put it off too long, keeping your tires properly inflated helps you get better gas mileage and is important for safety. When you see this light, check your tires, if only one of your tires is low, it may mean you have a leak. If this light doesn’t shut off after you put air in your tires, the light may need to be manually reset. Check your owner’s manual for instructions on how to reset your light. Some air pressure lights will flash on and off, indicating that you may have a problem with the system that checks your tire pressure. It could also mean that one of your tires is extremely low. For additional information about tire pressure, check out our tire pressure page.

warning light for absAnti-Lock Brake Light: If this light comes on, take your vehicle to a qualified professional. Your brakes will probably work, but the ABS may not be functioning. Your anti-lock brake system keeps your brakes from locking up. If this system isn’t working you may have to pump your brakes to stop the vehicle or it may skid.

warning light brake and absAnti-Lock Brake and Brake Light Combined: To sum it up – this is not good! Get off the road and get help. This combination signals a serious issue with your braking system. This will require professional assistance.

BrakeLightBrake Light: This could be an easy fix. Did you pull your parking or hand brake? If so, release your parking (hand) brake and the warning light should disappear. If it doesn’t or if your parking (hand) brake is not on, this is a sign that there may be a more serious issues with your braking system. Some cars also use this light to let you know that your brake fluid is low. If your brake fluid is low, you could have a leak, your brakes could be wearing out or your fluid wasn’t topped off when you last had your brakes done.

warning light car batteryBattery or Alternator Light: This usually means your alternator is failing or has failed. It could also mean that some other problem is causing the alternator to not be able to charge the battery properly. Your battery could have enough energy reserves in it to keep the car for going, but not for long, probably for about 5 – 30 miles. Be prepared for your car to stop running, get to a mechanic or somewhere you can safely figure out what needs to be done to get your alternator back on track. Sometimes this light will come on and it’s simply a light or gauge problem.

warning light check engineCheck Engine Light: A check engine light can mean many things. Some are very serious and some, well not-so-much. Before taking your vehicle into a qualified professional, make sure your gas cap is on nice and tight, sometimes a loose gas cap can trigger this light. A free code reading may be able to help you diagnose the problem, but 9 times out of 10, you car will probably need a more thorough check up.

warning light door ajarDoor Ajar Light: Ummm, yeah. One of your doors is open – hence the draft. If you know your door is shut, some cars have the door sensor in the latch that is no longer working. This is something you will have to have fixed by a professional. Some cars have a separate door ajar switch that looks like a turkey pop-up timer or plunger. This should push in when your door shuts, but if it doesn’t or you can’t push it back in, you can probably easily replace it yourself.

warning light engine tempEngine Temperature Light: This light could mean that your coolant is low or that your car is overheating. One way to tell that your car is overheating is that steam is coming out of the front hood. If you have a temperature gauge with actual numbers, over 220 degrees is too hot. If this is the case, pull over. IT IS NOT SAFE TO DRIVE A CAR THAT IS OVERHEATING. Yes, even if you are late for a very important engagement, pull over and turn your car off. If you continue to drive, you can cause serious and expensive engine damage. Let your engine cool down before you open your hood, the steam from an overheating car can seriously scald your skin.

warning light four wheel driveFour Wheel Drive Warning Light: Okay, first off – do you have “All Wheel Drive”? If no – it is time to go to the eye doctor and that is a whole different website. Seriously though, if this light pops up the best thing you can do is look and listen. Is your car more noisy than usual? Is it leaking fluid? If you have more symptoms than just the light, take the car to a professional as soon as possible. If the light is on and you don’t see or hear anything unusual, YOU STILL NEED TO HAVE THE CAR CHECKED OUT, but you have more time. It is safe to drive your vehicle until you can get an appointment at the mechanic.

oillightOil Pressure Light: Pull the car over to a safe spot and shut the vehicle off. It is important that the vehicle is off. Continuing to drive the vehicle with low oil pressure or levels can cause severe engine damage and costly repairs. Open the hood. Check Your Oil. Check your owner’s manual to determine if the oil is at a level where the vehicle can be safely driven. If your oil is too low, add some oil until it is at the correct level. Make sure you do not over fill. If low oil isn’t your problem, your oil pressure may be too low. If this is the case, do not drive your vehicle, call a tow truck!

warning light overdrive off Overdrive Off Light: The first thing you should check is if your vehicle has a switch that allows you to turn the overdrive function off. If it does, try turning it back on. Most newer cars manage this electronically in the transmission. Overdrive allows the engine to turn slower at high speeds, why is this important? It reduces gas use and saves you money! If your light is on and stays on, there could be an issue. It is safe to drive your car, but you should have your vehicle inspected by a professional.

warning light service engine Service Engine Soon: This could be a number of things. It usually relates to exhaust emission issues. It is still safe to drive your vehicle, but you should get it into the shop, make the call on the way home and get it in.

warning light service Service Light: The service light for your vehicle indicates the manufacturer suggested oil maintenance schedule. So either you are due for an oil change, or you just had one and the light was not reset, which happens a lot. It is not necessary to get your oil changed this second, but it is important to change your oil regularly to keep your engine in good condition.

warning light air bag Air Bag SRS – Supplemental Restraint System Warning Light: If your Supplemental Restraint System Warning Light comes on and stays on, this is likely a result of an electrical, sensor or air bag module malfunction. This probably does not mean that your air bag is going to pop up in your face at any moment. Actually, what it most likely means is that it is not going to deploy at all. This is an obvious risk, like not wearing your seat belt. You can drive the vehicle, but realize that you are taking a BIG and unnecessary risk. Take your car to a professional and get this issue resolved as soon as possible.

About The Author

Pedals and Pumps

PedalsandPumps provides direct, honest information about car maintenance and repair. We provide money and time saving tips for readers who want to maximize their dollar and simplify their auto owning experience.


If you have lost a cap on your tire inflation valve, mention it at your next oil change and the technician will probably replace it for your for free. More ways to tell if you have a tire pressure issue.