What Do The Symbols in a Car Dashboard Mean

Believe it or not, a lot of car owners ask “what do car symbols mean?” due to unfamiliarity or its their first time seeing these lights popping up on their dashboard. It is essential to understand the meanings of dashboard warning lights in order to avoid a breakdown or total vehicle failure. A portion of dashboard warning lights and symbols are more prevalent than others. Some are brand-specific, while others can be found in most automobile types. Whether it’s an incorrectly closed door or the dreaded check engine light, dashboard warning lights are how your car alerts you to a problem.

In this article, we will be going over what do the symbols in a car dashboard mean so you have a better understanding of what issues need to be tended to so you may fix them as soon as possible.

Car symbols and what they mean

You should be aware that, when it comes to cars, a red warning light indicates danger and should be examined immediately, but a yellow or orange warning light indicates a warning and should be checked promptly. A green or blue light indicates that the system is operational.

Typically, dashboard warning lights and symbols should illuminate for three to five seconds after the ignition is turned on; if they remain illuminated while the engine is running, there is likely a problem that requires attention. If you cannot locate the desired dash symbol, see your vehicle’s owner’s manual.

Here are the meanings of the various yellow and red dashboard warning lights, their causes, the severity of the problem, and what you should do if you see them. The dashboard warning lights adhere to a traffic light colour scheme:

Green: Is the system operating correctly, or is it in use?; no need to panic, just keep in mind that there is a potential issue.

Yellow: something is not functioning correctly; use extreme caution and investigate immediately after reaching your destination. 

Red: Stop driving and pull off to the side of the road as soon as it is safe since a risky and potentially hazardous problem could destroy your car and cause an accident if you continue driving.

  1. Check Engine Light

The check engine light is the most dreaded indicator for car owners. Typically, this warning appears in the form of a silhouetted engine, although it can also appear as an all-caps “CHECK ENGINE” sign. While it seems the scariest, this light is one the most unclear because it refers to anything related to the car’s motor and emissions system. The possible problem could be as simple as a loose wire, a gas cap that does not fit properly, or a worn solenoid. Or, it could indicate a much more severe problem with the engine’s heart.

If the check engine light illuminates while you’re driving and everything seems good with the automobile, don’t worry, but don’t ignore it. Get the vehicle to a mechanic to do a diagnostic test and source the problem. Every new car and light-duty truck must be equipped with an On-Board Diagnostic system (OBD). This computer monitors the engine’s pollution levels and other vital components. With an OBD scan, identifying the source of a problem is more straightforward; adjusting the gas cap may resolve the issue. This also prohibits an emissions-emitting vehicle from being driven without the driver being aware of an underlying problem.

If the light illuminates and the car begins driving erratically or producing weird noises, pull over immediately and contact a tow truck. This indicates a considerably more serious issue, such as a misfire that could cause lasting engine damage. Ignoring a blinking check-engine light could put you in danger and damage your vehicle’s drivetrain.

2. Coolant Temperature Warning Light

A warning light that resembles a thermometer submerging in water indicates that the engine coolant temperature is too high and that the engine should be shut off immediately to prevent additional harm. This could be the result of a malfunctioning water pump, low coolant levels in the radiator, a leaking or ruptured coolant hose, or even damage to the radiator. These difficulties could lead to even more severe engine problems if left unchecked. Similar to a blinking check engine light, driving a vehicle that is overheated is dangerous and may result in irreparable damage.

3.Oil Pressure Warning Light

This old-fashioned oil can emblem indicates a problem with the oil pressure system of your vehicle. Either you are out of oil, or your oil pump is not circulating enough fluid to adequately lubricate the engine’s surfaces. Inadequate engine lubrication might result in substantial engine damage, which is an important warning. Stop the vehicle as soon as it is safe to do so, turn it off, and check the oil immediately.

Examine the engine compartment for obvious oil leaks, and then remove the dipstick to inspect the fluid level. If the oil level is low, the indicator light may turn off when adding oil. If there is sufficient oil, but the engine is still noisy, there may be a problem with the oil pump. If the oil level is adequate and the engine operates normally, the oil pressure sensor may be defective. In any case, bringing your car in as soon as possible is imperative so a mechanic can examine and fix whatever is causing the low oil/low oil pressure.

4. Battery Charge Warning Light

A battery charge warning symbol indicates that the generator is improperly charging the battery and that the engine may shut down owing to low battery capacity. Many car owners associate this light with the heart-wrenching “whir” of a vehicle attempting to start with a dead battery. Do not be deceived if the battery indicator glows, yet the car starts and operates normally. There could be a long-term problem with the battery or potential issues with the car’s wiring, alternator, or other electrical components.

5. Anti-lock Braking System Warning Light

When braking heavily, such as on slick roads, the ABS pulses the brakes to prevent wheel lockup. If the ABS warning light is lit, it indicates that the system is malfunctioning. When the motorist pulls away with the parking brake engaged, this warning light (or one that says “Parking Brake”) will illuminate. A more troublesome cause may be worn brake pads, low brake fluid levels, or a malfunctioning anti-lock braking system (ABS).

In a similar vein, when it comes to the stopping power of a vehicle, an illuminated ABS light typically indicates a problem with a wheel speed sensor or a problem with connections and wiring that could prevent the anti-lock braking system from operating. It is still safe to drive your vehicle without ABS; nevertheless, a repair is required to restore complete braking efficacy, especially in emergencies.

6 Transmission Temperature Warning Light

If this icon shows on your dashboard, it indicates that your transmission is overheating. This implies that the gearbox’s internal components have reached a critical state. This could result from hefty hauling, low transmission fluid levels, or, more significantly, considerable internal transmission wear. As soon as it is safe to do so, pull over and turn off the vehicle. Wait until the car has cooled before attempting to drive again, and get to a repair shop immediately. If the light won’t turn off and you still have a distance to travel, you should call for assistance.

7. Tire Pressure Warning Light

This light resembles two-thirds of a circle with a question mark in the centre. These lines across the bottom represent the tread of an automobile tire. A tire pressure warning light shows that one or more tires have low air pressure. In addition, a malfunctioning or uncalibrated tire pressure sensor may be to blame.

In many contemporary automobiles, the tire pressure monitors incorporate a display in the driver’s gauges or an infotainment system menu to inform the driver of the exact tire pressure at each wheel. For instance, if one tire has much lower air pressure than the rest, the vehicle should be stopped, and the tire should be inflated to the correct pressure rating. Start the car and wait a few minutes to see whether the warning light goes out. If it does not, the tire may be damaged, resulting in a quick leak.

8. Traction Control Warning Light

This warning is sometimes depicted as a car’s front end with two squiggly lines underneath to indicate how these systems attempt to prevent your vehicle from slipping and sliding all over the road. This symbol shows that the traction control system of your car is active. The traction control and stability control lights will illuminate when the system is activated. It applies the brakes until the vehicle regains traction if it detects a wheel slipping. If you press the gas pedal when it is significantly raining or snowing, this dashboard light may likely glow.

This light indicates that your traction control systems are operating as intended. If they activate when your vehicle is travelling at a modest pace on dry surfaces, there may be a problem with the system. A typical offender would be a wheel speed sensor. Numerous automobiles permit drivers to modify these systems via a mode choice. In many high-performance sports cars, the traction control and stability systems are deactivated or drastically reduced to the maximum performance levels.

9. Low Fuel Warning Light

A low fuel level symbol indicates that the fuel tank level is low or that the fuel level measuring equipment is malfunctioning. Additionally, an arrow might indicate which side the gas cap is on. If you have a long way to travel, do not test your luck! You never know how the weather or traffic will develop, so it’s better to fill up at the nearest gas station.

10. Brake Warning Light

A brake warning light indicates a problem with the vehicle’s braking system. This underlying issue should be checked quickly since failure to do so could result in losing your brakes. The situation might become dangerous if a car does not come to an immediate and controlled halt when the brake warning light starts flickering. When the motorist pulls away with the parking brake engaged, this warning light (or one that says “Parking Brake”) will illuminate. A more troublesome cause may be worn brake pads, low brake fluid levels, or a malfunctioning anti-lock braking system (ABS). 

In a similar vein, when it comes to the stopping power of a vehicle, an illuminated ABS light typically indicates a problem with a wheel speed sensor or a problem with connections and wiring that could prevent the anti-lock braking system from operating. Your vehicle can still be driven safely without ABS. Recall that a repair is required to restore complete braking efficacy, especially in emergencies.

11. Airbag Warning Light

An airbag warning light indicates a problem with the airbag system. It is common for this indicator to illuminate when the vehicle is turned on. If it remains lit while driving, there may be an issue with one of the vehicle’s airbags. You should have your vehicle inspected immediately! Airbags in your vehicle will protect you from potential injuries and deadly impacts; thus, they must function correctly at all times. This will not cause you to become stranded at the side of the road, but it could be extremely harmful in the event of an accident, as the airbags will not deploy if the light is flickering. 

12. Exterior Light Fault Indicator

One of the easiest-to-manage dashboard warning lights on this list. An exterior light fault indicator signals a problem with one or more exterior lights, typically caused by burned-out light bulbs. Alternatively, if the lamp or bulb in question is a headlight or taillight, you risk an accident or a hefty fine. Ironically, the lamp-out indicator typically resembles a sun with rays emanating from it. A smouldering lamp or broken lightbulb would not be as illuminating.

13. Automatic Shift Lock Warning Light 

The shift lock indicator light consists of a green foot within a circle and illuminates when the system is operational. An automatic shift lock symbol indicates that the brake pedal is not pressed, the vehicle will not start, and the shifter cannot be moved out of the park. Modern automatic transmissions feature a shift interlock that stops the car from shifting out of park unless the brake pedal is depressed. In some automobiles, it can also be used to start the engine. This decreases the possibility that the car will roll away if the gear selection is unintentionally pressed. 

14.  Low Washer Fluid Warning Light

The windshield washer fluid icon depicts a windshield with a water jet. When this icon shows, it notifies the driver that the windshield washer fluid level is low. Not a serious issue unless your windshield is covered in sticky insects and you lack the means to remove them. When a low level of windshield washer fluid is detected, the washer fluid indicator light will illuminate. This signal light usually is yellow and shaped like a windshield. The identical symbol appears on the reservoir cap, allowing you to identify where to add the fluid quickly. Most automobiles have a single washer fluid reservoir, which is often located beneath the hood.

15.  Seat Belt Warning Light

A seat belt icon shows that one or more seatbelts are not fastened or that the system has a problem. Most modern automobiles feature a device that alerts the driver if passengers are not wearing seatbelts. Typically, there will be illumination – as above – to indicate whether this is the case. Cars are equipped with pressure sensors in the seats and seatbelts, so if a specific amount of weight is on a seat and the seatbelt is not fastened, the vehicle will alert the driver. An unusual sound may also accompany these alerts.

16.  DPF Warning Light

In addition to glow plugs, diesel vehicles are equipped with a diesel particulate filter (DPF) that gathers engine soot and ash from the exhaust as it travels. The DPF captures the soot produced by diesel engines to prevent it from being released into the atmosphere, and particle gasoline filters are increasingly employed in gasoline vehicles (GPF). They are crucial in the fight against pollution. Nonetheless, diesel filters, in particular, might become clogged if the car is driven mainly on short or sluggish trips; in this case, you will notice this indicator depicting a box with dots. It is a complex and expensive component, so follow the manual’s directions for clearing it or having a garage inspect the vehicle.

Bottom line

Modern cars are equipped with electronics and sensors that monitor the vehicle’s behaviour. Modern automobiles’ electronic systems rely on a series of sensors linked to dashboard warning lights and symbols. Your vehicle will gladly inform you if something is amiss. However, a tiny issue could become larger, more expensive, and perhaps dangerous if you do not understand what a warning light indicates or choose to disregard it. Understanding what warning lights represent and what they mean will aid you in maintaining your vehicle. We hope we were able to answer the question, “what do the car symbols mean?” Remember to always drive safely!


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