What do all those dashboard warning lights mean?

10 October 2019 - 12:06 By Motor News Reporter
A closeup on the dashboard of a modern car with many warning lights.
A closeup on the dashboard of a modern car with many warning lights.
Image: ptnphoto / 123rf

Vehicle warning lights are important to understand, because they could be alerting you to a serious problem and if you ignore these signs you could cause excessive damage to your vehicle. These warning lights are usually an indication that you need some vehicle maintenance or a car service.

“Some warning lights are more serious than others, and the colour of the light usually signifies how urgent the problem is,” says Barend Smit, Marketing Director of MotorHappy, a supplier of motor management solutions and car insurance options.

“Not surprisingly, red warning signs are often the most serious and should be dealt with almost immediately, as this can indicate a safety issue or serious mechanical problem.

"The yellow warning signs usually indicate that a car service is needed. However, if a yellow warning light flashes, it should be attended to immediately.

"Finally, green and blue dashboard lights usually simply let the you know that a system is active and working.”

Red warning signs: Serious and should be looked at ASAP

- Temperature warning light: Usually looks like a thermometer with wavy lines underneath it. This light is a serious warning, as it indicates your engine is overheating and there is a cooling problem.

- Oil warning light: This indicates low oil pressure, which means there is not enough oil in your engine to lubricate all moving parts. Generally, if this light comes on you should turn your engine off to prevent damage from occurring.


- Brake warning light: The brake warning light could easily be one of the most important warning lights that should be looked at right away, as it indicates something is wrong with your brakes.

- Battery charging light: This light indicates something is wrong with your charging system and your battery could be in critically low condition. It’s important to get your battery checked.

Yellow warning sign: Car maintenance

- Traction control warning light: This light indicates that traction control is no longer working and has been deactivated. Traction control can be turned off by the driver. If it stays off and won’t turn back on, it should then be looked at, as this could cause you to lose control of your vehicle in slippery conditions.

- Tyre pressure warning light: Mostly newer vehicles have this warning symbol. The tyre marked symbol indicates that not all tyres are at the same pressure or at the minimum requirements of tyre pressure.

- ABS (anti-lock braking system) warning light: If this light appears on your dashboard, it indicates that your antiskid braking system has failed and you should brake cautiously until the problem has been attended to.

- Fog light warning symbol: Some people may find it hard to believe that this should be a warning light, however it’s important to only drive with your fog lights on when you are driving through fog. This is because the rear fog lights can be mistaken as brake lights and could confuse other road users.

Green and blue lights: Not problematic

- Cruise control light: This light is indicated as a small speedometer with an arrow, to indicate that cruise control is activated at a permanent speed, until the driver disables it.

- Auto engine start light: This light looks like a shoe that has been tilted at a 45° angle and indicates the engine will auto start again once you take your foot off the brake or clutch.

- Blue headlamp symbol: This indicates that your high-beam headlights are on. It’s important to turn these lights off when oncoming traffic is passing as your headlamps reduce their visibility.