Apr 132018

New research suggests 48 percent of motorists don’t understand what each dashboard warning light means. While the light may signal a minor issue, it could also be something dangerous or cause expensive damage to your vehicle.

Warranty Direct has put together a complete guide to help any car warning light novice to recognise what your car is trying to tell you…

Engine warning light

The engine light could come on for a host of different reasons, from a loose fuel cap to something more serious like a broken catalytic converter, so it can be hard and frustrating for drivers to pin-point the problem.

Head to a garage if the light appears and they will be able to run a diagnostic check to see what’s going on under the hood.

Coolant warning light

The car’s computer constantly monitors the coolant temperature and overall fluid level to ensure correct temperature is maintained. A warning light on the dashboard means the coolant temperature is too hot, so your engine may be overheating.

Pull over safely as soon as possible and turn your car off and let the engine cool down for at least 30 minutes. Using a thick rag, remove the radiator cap to check coolant level. If it’s low, temporarily add water, then get the car checked by a mechanic.

Airbag warning light

If you ignore your Airbag light and you have an accident, but your airbags don’t deploy, it could have devastating consequences. The airbag warning light can also mean there is a seatbelt fault. Without a seatbelt, you’re twice as likely to die in a car crash so don’t ignore the warning!

Brake warning light

Faulty brakes are the second most common cause of an accident and one of the most important car safety features. The brake light could signal many minor or major issues, such as; broken brake lights, ABS sensor malfunction, worn brake pads, low brake fluid or your handbrake is simply left on.

If the light comes on, it’s essential to go to a mechanic straight away to fix any potential problems.

Oil warning light

The oil light may come on for a few different reasons, such as low oil pressure or a low oil level. If your oil light comes on while you are driving, the first thing you should do is safely pull over and turn the vehicle off. Without oil, your engine is not lubricated and may stop at any point. It can also result in expensive engine damage,) so if it lights up, stop and call out a professional.

Tyre pressure monitor warning light

If the tyre pressure monitoring light is illuminated, your tyre pressure is either too high or too low. This could be because your tyres are underinflated, or you could have a puncture. Firstly, manually check tyre pressures with a gauge and add air until it reaches the vehicle manufacturer specification and resets the light. If the pressure drops again, you probably have a puncture and will need to repair or replace the tyre.

Power steering warning light

The power steering warning light will let you know when a fault has been detected with the steering system. With hydraulic power steering systems, you may be low on power steering fluid. If you see this sign light up, pull over and check the fluid level. Top it off with the correct fluid type and the light should turn off.

For electrical power steering systems, try pulling over and restart the engine to ‘reset’ the computer. If the warning light doesn’t turn off after restarting, the issue needs further inspection.

Without power steering, the car will be very hard to manoeuvre so be cautious, avoid motorways, and take it to a garage as soon as possible.

Battery charge warning light

If your battery charge light stays on after turning your engine on, you could have an electrical fault. This could be a damaged alternator, cable, or battery in the engine. If the battery light comes on while driving, this indicates a problem with the alternator. Turn off everything that uses power in the car (except headlights in the dark) and go to a mechanic.


Warranty Direct is a trading style of BNP Paribas Cardif Limited. BNP Paribas Cardif Limited is a company, registered in England and Wales No. 3233010 at Pinnacle House, A1 Barnet Way, Borehamwood, Herts, WD6 2XX and is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, Register No.309075.

  6 Responses to “The complete guide to car dashboard warning lights”

  1. Very thoughtful – thank you. Can we look forward to more of the same? I have a new Jazz, my 5th, but this one is unlike any car I’ve had before, and I’ve been very confused during the learning curve -itself a new experience, as I am a seasoned motorist. The handbook is neither legible at times, nor helpful. There are times when a backlit icon appears in front of me, or a sound attracts my notice, but I am at a loss to fathom what it signifies. A quick reference chart that I could print off & keep in the car would be reassuring. Best wishes, Marie Landau

  2. You missed one: car with a giant spanner in sunroof? What dies that mean.

    • The Spanner usually just means a service is due; although I bet few service engineers use spanners these days? In fact, as cars are so highly computerised, they ought to replace the icon with a laptop or USB-style diagnostic engine plug-in thingy!

  3. Very useful info explaining in greater detail than most Vehicle Handbooks. The problem today is that vehicles are far too complicated today even on occasions for Main Dealers, we the humble motorist are at their mercy. But particularly with the Engine Warning Light, having to take your vehicle to a garage/Main Dealer to have a diagnosis will cost you the thick end of £60 + VAT! And result could be as simple as a loose fuel cap or something far more serious, but scares the shit out of the driver, not knowing the problem, what to do & how much it’s going to cost! Absolute bonkers, the industry needs to get its act together!

  4. Hellow my name is MartinVassy. Wery good-hearted article! Thx 🙂

  5. Please advise.
    I Have a Suzuki Vitara 2005
    Engine Warning light.
    Is it a Pass or Fail on MOT?

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