Dashboard warning lights – What do car warning lights mean?

Dashboard warning lights on

The warning lights on your car’s dashboard are there for a reason: to let you know when there’s something not quite right with your vehicle.

This can range from anything like your passenger not wearing their seatbelt to a faulty brake system, and while warning lights have come as standard in all cars for some time now, not everybody knows what they mean.

Here’s a look at all car dashboard lights, what the lights on your dashboard mean and what you should do if you see them pop up.

Car dashboard - symbols and meanings

Engine management light

Engine management light

What does it mean? There is no set issue that can cause the engine management light to come on – the only way to find out what is wrong is to get your vehicle checked by a professional.

Is it safe to drive? If the light is constantly lit with no loss of power, your car is safe to drive but should be checked by a professional as soon as possible. If the engine management light is flashing then the vehicle is not safe to drive. Stop the car and wait 2 minutes before restarting the engine – if the light continues to flash, do not attempt to continue your journey.

Brake warning light

brake warning light

What does it mean? Many people will argue that this is the most important dashboard warning light and it indicates that you could have a brake fluid leak, require new brake pads or simply have a sensor failure.

Is it safe to drive? Unlike other components, you’ll be able to tell how serious the problem is with your brakes by testing them. If you need to press down further than usual then your car’s hydraulic brake circuits might have failed; this needs checking as soon as possible and you shouldn’t drive any further.

If not, check your brake fluid (top it up if needs be) and drive your car to a local garage.

Anti-lock braking system

Anti-lock braking system (ABS) warning light

What does it mean? The ABS warning light indicates that there is an issue with your anti-lock braking system. This could be anything from faulty wiring to a simple sensor fault – either way, you’ll need to get it checked out as soon as possible.

Is it safe to drive? Yes. As long as there aren’t any unusual noises coming from your wheels, it is usually safe to drive with an ABS fault – just be sure to take care, as your braking distance will increase without ABS. Get to a garage as soon as you can.

NOTE: If your brake and ABS warning lights come on at the same time, stop your car immediately. This usually indicated a major fault with the brakes and could put both you and other drivers’ safety at risk.

Oil warning light

oil warning light

What does it mean? There are three reasons for why your oil warning light may come on: if your oil temperature is too high, too low or if your oil pressure drops. These can all impact the lubrication of your car’s engine.

Is it safe to drive? No. If your oil warning light is on then we advise that you stop your car immediately, as long as it is safe to do so. Check under the bonnet to see if your oil needs topping up and, if so, your owner’s manual will instruct you how. If your oil level seems to be fine then turn off your engine and request help.

Battery warning light

battery warning light

What does it mean? This light comes on when you first start your vehicle, but if it remains lit after a few seconds, this is an indication that there is an issue with your battery. It might be a faulty alternator or even a bad connection, meaning that your battery will not charge while you’re driving.

Is it safe to drive? No. If your battery isn’t being charged as you’re driving, it could cut out at any time. This would cut power to some crucial components in your car and put you at risk when driving.

Engine coolant light

Engine coolant light

What does it mean? The engine coolant sign on your dashboard indicates that your engine coolant could be running low, meaning that your engine could be at risk of overheating.

Is it safe to drive? No. If your engine coolant light comes on, you should pull over as soon as you can to prevent further damage. You’ll need to check your coolant level, but wait 30 minutes after switching off your engine – any sooner than that and the steam could give you a nasty burn. The light could also come on if you have a clogged radiator or faulty water pump, which will need fixing by a professional.

Tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS) warning light

tyre pressure monitoring system light

What does it mean? When your TPMS light comes on, this is an indication that one or more of your tyres are either over- or under-inflated. Modern cars will show you which tyre is an issue, while older cars will leave it to you to find out.

Is it safe to drive? If your TPMS light comes on then you should head to your closest service station, supermarket or anywhere that you know offers a tyre inflation service. It is advised that, when the light comes on, you check all of your tyres to ensure they aren’t at risk of becoming completely unsafe.

Diesel particulate filter (DPF) warning light

What does it mean? Diesel particulate filters (DPFs) are designed to turn harmful soot particles into ash when the exhaust system gets too hot. If this filter fails, your DPF light can come on.

Is it safe to drive? Yes, if your DPF is blocked then the best way to unblock it is by driving at above 40mph for 10 minutes or more. Keep in mind, though, that failing to do this could potentially lead to further problems which could put your safety at risk.


Airbag warning light

Airbag warning light

What does it mean? A vehicle airbag is designed to offer extra protection to vehicle occupants in the event of a crash, and if it doesn’t work, there is an increased chance of injury, or even worse, death. If the airbag warning light comes on, it means that there is a chance your airbag won't deploy in the event of an accident. If you're unsure how to reset the airbag warning light, get your nearest mechanic to help.

Is it safe to drive? Yes, but not as safe as it would be with an airbag, so you should get it fixed straight away. Not only could your airbag not go off in the event of an accident, but it could also go off at any given time which, ironically, could cause a major accident.

What should you do if a warning light comes on?

All-in-all, the best advice we can give is: if one of your dashboard warning lights comes on, get it checked as soon as you can. It only takes one fault under the bonnet to drastically impact your vehicle’s performance and potentially endanger your safety.

The good news is that, if you’ve taken out a car warranty, some of these faults may not be as expensive as first feared. If your manufacturer’s warranty has expired (they usually only last 3 years) then you should consider investing in a used car warranty.

Bobatoo works with the best warranty providers in the UK to ensure that you’re never left stranded, protecting against everything from engine failure to transmission issues.

Find out if your car is within warranty by tapping the green button below.

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