Car Dashboard Warning Lights – The Ultimate Guide

Have you ever been in the driver’s seat and noticed some of the car warning lights come on and weren’t sure what they meant? Don’t worry as most other drivers have been in the exact same situation! ClickMechanic has pulled together the ultimate guide for instrument panel warning lights so the next time you see those dashboard warning signs come on you’ll know exactly what it means and what to do!

How do dashboard warning lights work?

Before getting into the actual warning car dashboard symbols and their meanings there are some important things to understand upfront to help save time in the process and will indicate whether you need to  seek immediate assistance:

The initial light-up moment

Many vehicles will briefly illuminate a number of the warning lights briefly when you turn on the ignition, and should go out soon after. If they do not go out, it could be a sign something is wrong and will require attention. Don’t worry this does not always mean your vehicle is in need of lots of repairs.

The warning light colours

You may have noticed the warning lights on cars often come in different colours typically green, blue, amber and red.

As you may have guessed red and amber light typically denote a more serious problem, and would warrant the issue being investigated. In these instances, the vehicle should be stopped as soon as possible bearing in mind to park the vehicle in a safe manner and location.

On the other hand, Green and Blue lights may be less severe but would still warrant an investigation to resolve an issue or prevent it from getting worse.

Examples of warning light issues

  • Examples of Red and Amber light issues:
    An oil pressure warning light could be one such example that would warrant immediate action to prevent extensive engine damage and expensive repair bills
  • Examples of Green and Blue light issues:
    A windscreen washer fluid warning light could be an example that would warrant you resolving as soon as possible but would not be as critical as a red or amber light.

Car dashboard warning symbols and meanings

Here are some of the car warning lights you may encounter if there’s something wrong with your car and an explanation of their meaning:

Brake warning light

Also known as a brake fluid warning light, brake system warning light, and in some vehicles it also represents the parking brake warning light (it will show a ‘P’). This warning light illuminating can be a sign that there may be something wrong with your brakes, for example:

  • The brake fluid level is low in your vehicle
  • There may be a leak in the brake fluid system
  • The brake pads have worn too much
  • There is a sensor failure in the braking system

Can I drive if the brake warning light in my car is on?

It’s very important not to ignore the brake warning light, you shouldn’t risk driving when it’s on. Stop the car as soon as possible safely and follow the guidance in your vehicle’s owner manual or get help from a professional. Make sure to get the braking system checked by a professional, and fixed before driving again.

If you notice the ABS warning light is also on then this may suggest further issues with the braking system and that it is not operating correctly. This too can be very dangerous and you should get it checked and fixed by a professional as soon as possible.

Engine management light

Also called the check engine warning light, or ECU warning light the illumination of this light is often complemented with other easy to recognise symptoms. Feeling the vehicle judder when you press on the accelerator or even a lack of power when you press down on the accelerator are two classic signs.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to identify the full extent of the issue without a professional diagnostic inspection and issues could range from catalytic converter problems to broken sensors. Read our complete guide to the check engine light here.

Airbag warning light

When the airbag warning light illuminates in red it means that the airbag system is not working as it should.

Issues can range from a problem with the actual airbag system to an error with the sensors which detect the front passenger’s weight and position in order to safely deploy the airbag. As with other red warning lights, it is advisable to seek advice from a professional mechanic for an airbag inspection as soon as possible.

Power steering warning light

You may have also heard this being referred to as the EPS car warning light and it indicates you have an issue with your power steering system, and your car may become difficult to steer.

If your car has hydraulic power steering common issue is a low fluid level in the system, but there can be a more serious problem. Often this problem would require the visit of a professional mechanic to repair the power steering.

If your car has electric power steering it can sometimes be a simple fix by rebooting the vehicle’s computer. To do this you will need to park in a safe location and simply turn the car off for one minute before turning it back on. If you are lucky you will have resolved the issue however if the light stays on then you absolutely need to visit a qualified mechanic to have the issue resolved.

DPF warning light

If your vehicle runs on Diesel fuel then this will be a warning light relevant to you. The DPF removes harmful particles from the exhaust system which in turn reduces emissions. If you see this light is turned on it could indicate that your filter has become blocked with soot which you need to get resolved.

Not addressing a DPF issue will most likely see your vehicle spit out plumes of black smoke when the accelerator is engaged or you may fail your next MOT. As well as being bad for the environment could cause extensive damage to your car. To resolve the issue a visit to your local garage or a call out from a ClickMechanic is advisable to get the DPF inspected and fixed before the issue gets worse!

Engine temperature warning light

If you see this dash warning light appear then it means your vehicle is overheating! This can happen for a variety of reasons but a common culprit is related to your antifreeze (or often referred to as the vehicle’s coolant). If you see this car warning sign appear then the first thing to do is pull over as soon as it is safe to do so.

When you have pulled over in a safe place, call the roadside assistance who will help top up the coolant or even help tow the vehicle to a nearby workshop if the engine has encountered any damage from overheating.

Finally, it’s important to remember that when you do find a safe place to park, the vehicle’s engine will be extremely hot so leave the engine alone and don’t be tempted to pull open the bonnet and inspect the vehicle.

Oil pressure warning light

Often called just the oil warning light, the Oil pressure warning light highlights that there is a problem with your car’s oil pressure system. Typically the light would be displayed if your oil pump is not circulating oil effectively to lubricate the key components of the engine or it could mean you’re simply running low on oil. Without proper engine lubrication serious engine damage can occur so you need to act promptly if you see this instrument panel warning light appear!

Can I drive with my engine oil light on?

You should not risk driving with the engine oil light on. If it comes on the first thing to do is pull over to a safe location as soon as possible, turn off the engine and let it cool down (for at least 30 minutes but this could be longer if the engine is still giving off heat). Once cool, check the oil level by pulling out the dipstick to check the fluid level is where it should be. It is also advisable to check under the engine for any leaks also.

If the oil level is low, the problem could be fixed by topping up your engine oil levels. If, however, there is enough oil in the vehicle, and often accompanied by unusual noises from the engine then this could be an indication that there is a problem with the oil pump.

Either way, it is advisable to get help from a mechanic promptly who shall be able to properly diagnose the issue and get you back on the road as soon as possible with a safe and healthy vehicle.

Tyre pressure warning light

Some modern cars are now fitted with sensors that can measure the pressure of a car’s tyres. If your vehicle is fitted with such sensors and you see the tyre pressure warning light come on it will most likely indicate that your tyre pressures are low and that you need to get your tyres inflated as soon as possible.

It should be noted low tyre pressure can make the vehicle more dangerous to drive as well as less fuel-efficient. Most petrol stations will have an air machine (often called an air compressor) which will enable you to measure your tyre pressure and inflate the tyres.

You can find out what pressure to inflate your tyres to by checking your owner’s manual or a tyre’s sidewall markings should also indicate the pressure the tyres need to be inflated to. Read our full guide on tyre pressure here.

Battery warning light

This light is sometimes referred to as the Battery Alert Light and indicates that there is an issue with the charging system. There are a variety of reasons which could cause this light to illuminate ranging from a faulty alternator, a loose battery cable or another electrical fault.

As well as seeing the battery warning light illuminate you may also notice that your headlights are not as strong as they were or there may even be issues getting your car to start. When you see this light come up it’s worth getting the vehicle to the workshop as soon as possible before the problem gets even worse and you need to jump-start the vehicle to get going!

Anti-lock brake system (ABS) warning light

Sometimes referred to as the ABS warning light, this light will typically be highlighted when there is an issue with your ABS system which is the system which helps prevent your brakes from locking up when you brake hard. Typically when you brake hard on a slippery surface the ABS will pulse the brakes which will prevent a lock-up.

As ABS is an important safety feature which helps with bringing your car to a safe stop and can help prevent dangerous situations on the road, it’s important that you get this inspected by a professional as soon as possible.

Electronic stability control (ESC) warning light

This light is also called the Electronic stability programme (ESP) warning light. If illuminated, it can indicate that you have an issue with the vehicle’s traction control system.

It is important that if the light is permanently on then this means the ESC has an issue which needs to be resolved whereas if the ESC light is flashing this means that the ESC system is in operation and the traction control will be assisting while driving on a slippery surface.

If the light stays permanently on after stopping and turning off your vehicle in a safe location and back on again then it’s advisable to have a professional inspect the vehicle. The issue will need to be fixed as the ESC or ESP is an important safety feature that helps keep the vehicle stable when driving. with keeping the car stable.

Brake pad warning light

The brake pad warning light is often referred to by other names including the brake pad wear light and brake warning light. If you see this warning light on the dashboard it means that the brake pad wear sensors have signalled to the car’s computer that the brake pads have worn excessively and need replacing.

Brakes are a very important safety feature of any car so it is important to take notice of the brake pad warning light. Get your vehicle to a mechanic or garage at the earliest convenience and have new brake pads fitted (and often brake pad wear sensors need replacing at the same time). Read our dedicated guide on brake pad warning lights.

Fuel Warning Light

Sometimes called the low fuel indicator light this light simply means that you are running low on fuel and you need to top up soon! It’s always worth pulling up at the nearest petrol station as continuing to try to make it to the next one could be a big inconvenience if your car runs out completely before you reach the next petrol station. It could give you a much larger bill to get your car filled up or towed by the breakdown service company should you need them.

Seat Belt light

Also called the seat belt reminder light, when illuminated this indicates that you (or your passenger) need to buckle up the seat belts. It is often accompanied by a loud ringing noise until the seat belt is actually fastened. It’s worth noting that as well as being a driving offence to drive without a seat belt on, it also increases the risk of serious injury dramatically in the event of an accident.

Security Indicator Light

Often simply called the security light this car warning symbol will only tend to show if you have an anti-theft system. When the security system is on then you will see the light flashing, however, if the light is solid and not flashing then most likely the immobilisation system has activated. This may be due to a security threat to the vehicle or could be a malfunction if no security issue is encountered.

If the light is lit solid and you are able to drive your vehicle then there is an issue with your anti-theft system and you will require a professional mechanic to inspect and resolve the issue. Finally, if the system is working correctly and the anti-theft system has been enabled, and you can’t start your car, then you will need to check your vehicle’s handbook to deactivate the security system so you can drive your car again.

Washer fluid light

If you see this light highlighted it means that you are running low on washer fluid and need to get this topped up very soon. Failure to do so can lead to a dirty windscreen which can make driving more challenging and dangerous.

When topping up it’s important to use a mix recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer. Washer fluid can be purchased from any good automotive maintenance retailer, like EuroCarParts.

Glow plug warning light

Only relevant for diesel vehicles, glow plugs are an integral part of every Diesel vehicle. Glow plugs create heat to combust the fuel-air mixture in the engine when the engine’s warming up. The glow plug light will normally light up when you switch on the ignition, this indicates that the glow plugs are warming up. The light will go off when they’ve warmed up, the sign that you can start your vehicle.

If the glow plug light remains illuminated it indicates something is wrong with the actual plugs or the sensors and computers that make them work.

You may not notice any immediate issues but your engine will not run as smoothly leading to poorer fuel efficiency. It is always advisable to get your glow plugs checked out as soon as possible after seeing this light come on.

Door warning light

Have you ever accidentally started driving and realised that your door is not shut properly? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there and you’ll see this accompanied by your door warning light coming on.

Driving with your door not fully closed is dangerous. If you see this light illuminated you will need to pull over into a safe location at the earliest convenience and ensure your door is closed properly before carrying on with your journey.

Ready to drive warning light

This light will only be relevant for hybrid or electric cars and not petrol or diesel only cars. When starting a hybrid or electric car the vehicle will be silent unlike petrol and diesel vehicles so to avoid confusion this light will be lit up to tell you the car is on and ready to drive off!

Battery charge level warning light

Exclusive to hybrid and electric vehicles this light will illuminate if your battery is very low on charge which could leave you unable to drive the vehicle any further. If this is illuminated you should seek out your nearest available charge point which may be at your home or a public charging station.