Driving and maintaining your car is more complicated than ever before.
Your vehicle isn’t just a bunch of mechanical parts all working together. Over the past twenty-five years, cars have become more technologically advanced, with the parts integrating and working together.
Where mechanics used to use a wrench and a little elbow grease to figure out what was wrong, today they use highly sophisticated computers to plug into your car and determine where the problem lies. A recent Popular Mechanics article shows the most important milestones that have brought us to where we are today; they include the electronically controlled torque vectoring differential, the dual clutch transmission, and the on-board diagnostics system, among other things.
Drive a new vehicle today, and you’ll no longer have to guess when a part of the system is wearing out or in need of repair. Instead, Dashboard lights will provide vehicle warning indicators telling you when there is a weakness in the system.
Dashboard lights are nothing new. But with the advancement of technology, we have more indicator lights than ever before. What does that tiny little icon flashing on your dashboard mean? Is it something that needs immediate action, or can you put it off for your earliest convenience?
It is important to note that most dashboard icons will flash on as you start up the engine, then turn back off. Think of this as a test mode to ensure everything is working the way it should. Be concerned if the fault lights don’t turn off after a few seconds of turning on your vehicle.
Here’s a list of dashboard lights and their meanings.
Airbag Fault Light – The Airbag Fault Light will illuminate if it detects a problem within the airbag system. You can continue to drive the car with this dashboard light on, however, keep in mind that the airbags may not deploy if you get in an accident. The only way to be sure what the problem is will be to schedule a maintenance visit, fix defective parts, and reset the light.
Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS) Light – This indicates there is a defect somewhere within your braking system. It could be a problem with a wheel speed sensor, or an indicator that you have a low fuel level in one of the reservoirs. The only way to properly determine where the problem lies is with professional diagnosis.
Battery Alert – This light warns you when your battery is charging below normal levels. The charging function of your vehicle isn’t working properly; check the battery terminals, the alternator belt, or change out the battery altogether.
Brake Pad Warning Light – Not all vehicles have this dashboard warning light, but if yours does, it can alert you to failing brake pads and give you a chance to make an appointment with your local mechanic before they grind down further.
Brake Fluid Warning Light – If the brake system dashboard light is flashing, it’s an indicator that your brake fluid levels are low. Brake fluid isn’t something you should try and replace yourself. Instead, make an appointment to top off brake fluid, and give your entire brake system a check to ensure it’s running correctly.
Check Engine Light – The check engine light is one of the most common dashboard lights on a car’s diagnostic system. This light can illuminate for a variety of reasons, and stay lit to remind you of simple maintenance issues, or alert you to potential danger. Your mechanic can use a diagnostic tool to determine why it’s lit. A check engine light is usually lit for one of these reasons:
- The oxygen sensor needs to be replaced
- The gas cap is loose, damaged, or missing
- Spark plugs or plug wires need to be replaced
- You have a bad catalytic converter
- The Mass Airflow Sensor (MAS) needs to be replaced
Coolant Temperature Warning – This indicator warns when temperatures exceed normal limits. When this appears, check coolant levels, ensure coolant isn’t leaking, make sure the radiator cap is tightly sealed, and that your fan is operating as it should.
Cruise Control – A steady cruise control light indicates you have activated the cruise control. If, however, this light flashes without using the system, it might be an indicator that something is wrong with the cruise control features of your car.
Door Ajar – This indicates either a door or your trunk lid is ajar. If left this way overnight, it has the possibility of draining your battery. Check for safety and to ensure you conserve power while you’re away.
Electronic Stability Program (ESP) Warning Light – If the ESP lights up, it indicates there is a problem with the chassis system. It could be an issue with your car’s traction control, anti-skid, or electronic stability program. It might be something as simple as a wiring issue, or more serious and an indicator you could face problems on the road.
Exterior Lamp Out – When this symbol illuminates, it’s warning you that one of your exterior lights has burnt out. Replacing a bulb should take care of this problem. Your owner’s manual will provide you with the right size of bulb to buy, and how to access the exterior lights.
Fog Lamp – When lit, it merely reminds you your fog lamps are on.
Oil Pressure – This is an indicator your vehicle has a sudden loss in oil pressure. Check oil levels and pressure immediately.
Overdrive Light – This dashboard indicator warns you that the overdrive system has been manually turned off. For most vehicles, the overdrive system has an on/off switch. If it’s bumped, a steady warning light alerts you to the problem. If the overdrive blinks while you’re driving, it could be a sign of a more serious problem with your transmission; check in with a mechanic as soon as possible.
Service Vehicle Soon – This indicator light warns you to schedule an appointment soon to check out the inner workings of your vehicle. Pay particular attention if it illuminates with another light, such as the ABS light. It’s a diagnostic tool that warns you of a particular problem with your car.
Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) – If you see this dashboard light, it’s warning you that one or more of your tires has low tire pressure. Pull in to a fueling station and check each tire and fill it to its manufacturers’ guideline levels. You can find this in your owner’s manual, or search out your car online for the proper levels. Low tire pressure can cause dangerous driving conditions, so it’s important to fill your tires appropriately as soon as possible. If the light doesn’t turn off after you have each tire adequately filled, it may be a sensor malfunction.
Washer Fluid Level – Here in Colorado, this might be the dashboard light you are most familiar with. With dirt and grime from winter driving, it might feel like you fill up your washer fluid regularly. This little indicator light will warn you when levels are getting too low.