We have all been in a situation where we’re driving and an unrecognizable dashboard symbol appears. As we continue on, we start to wonder what could be wrong. We know we can check our owner’s manual, but that can be overwhelming.
Some symbols on your dashboard are more obvious than others. However, it’s important to know what they mean in case you find yourself in a situation where you need to call for help. To make your life easier, we’ve highlighted some symbols that you may not be as familiar with.
It is important to note that not all dashboard symbols are the same and can vary depending on the make and model of your vehicle.
Although not regulated by the automotive industry, dashboard warning lights share a common colour coding among most vehicle manufacturers. There are three different categories. In simple terms, think of it as a traffic light. This is a great rule of thumb for understanding what the different colours mean.
These dashboard light colours are considered normal vehicle operation. Generally speaking, if a colour of this category appears, these lights are telling you that a system is on or operating. The following are some normal vehicle operation alerts you can expect to see:
Engine Coolant Temperature Gauge
When you see this light come on after starting your vehicle, a temperature check is being performed. This light will stay on until the engine has reached optimal operational temperature. You can still drive safely with this on, but it is best to wait until it has shut off. It will only stay on for a minute or so unless it’s extremely cold outside; in that case, it will take a few more minutes.
Front Fog Lights
For vehicles with front fog lights, this light comes on when the fog lamps are on. Remember that these lights should only be used in the fog when visibility drops below 100 meters. These are designed to increase visibility during low-visibility situations and can be distracting to on-coming traffic.
Automatic Shift Lock or Engine Start Indicator
If this symbol appears on your dashboard, it’s likely from attempting to shift gears or starting your ignition without engaging the brake. The automatic shift lock will lock your vehicle in park or neutral until you engage the brake properly.
Adaptive Cruise Control
A few different symbols can represent the use of Adaptive Cruise Control, so check with your owner’s manual. When Adaptive cruise control is in use, this light will appear and help your vehicle maintain a safe following distance and stay within a specific speed limit. The speed is adjusted automatically.
Yellow and orange are the designated colours for medium importance. Do not ignore these warnings, as your vehicle will likely require maintenance. A symbol will also flash if an even greater alert is to be observed. For example, the check engine light will flash when the engine is misfiring, which could result in damage to your vehicle’s catalytic converter. Common examples of medium importance alerts are:
Malfunction Indicator Lamp (Check Engine Light)
The check engine light is one of the most common warning lights and one of the least specific because it warns of any engine-related issue. It can be something as minimal as a loose gas cap or as significant as a misfire. If this light is on while the engine is running, your vehicle detected a malfunction and service might be required.
Antilock Brake System (ABS) Warning Light
The ABS light is a circle with the letters “ABS” in the center and will light up when there is a problem with the anti-lock braking system. This system improves driving performance on slippery roads and prevents the wheels from locking up and skidding. If the symbol appears while driving, your brakes should still work properly, but it could affect emergency braking performance. Some reasons for the light to turn on include a faulty wheel sensor or issues with the ABS controller.
Tire Pressure Warning
This indicates that one or more of the tires are significantly underinflated. Stop as soon as possible, and inflate or deflate the tires to the pressure value shown on your Tire and Loading Information label. Too much or too little tire pressure is unsafe and can cause damage to your vehicle.
This symbol warns the driver that the catalytic converter is either overheating or not operating correctly. The catalytic converter works along with the oxygen sensors built into your exhaust system. If malfunctioning, it will throw off the oxygen sensors, resulting in your engine not running efficiently. If this issue is severe enough, you will not be able to start your engine. To avoid any potential damage, call your preferred auto repair shop right away.
Red lights indicate major safety hazards and should be taken very seriously. These are usually malfunctions that require immediate attention. If you see one of these red symbols, pull over right away, shut your vehicle off, and call for assistance. Often, these types of symbols will beep to notify the driver of the extreme importance.
Brake System Warning Light
If you see this symbol light up, it could be an issue with hydraulic pressure, low brake fluid, or severely faded brakes. You may also see this light come on when the parking brake is on. Depending on the make of the vehicle, a separate light with a “P” in the centre of the icon may appear. If you receive any of these, and they are not due to the parking brake, safely pull over and call for assistance.
Engine Oil Pressure Light
If oil is not flowing through the engine properly, this warning light will appear. The vehicle could be low on oil or have some other type of system problem. Pullover and shut off your engine immediately to avoid any damage. Get your vehicle serviced as soon as possible.
Engine overheating/engine temperature warning
When this red light appears on your dashboard, shut the engine off immediately. Driving with it on can lead to vehicle damage. This indicates that the engine temperature has exceeded normal limits and is extremely hot. You should check your vehicle for coolant levels, fan operation, and the radiator cap. Take note to allow your vehicle to cool down before opening any caps.
This symbol lit up indicates that the vehicle’s charging system is not functioning properly. The battery could be malfunctioning, or it could be from a loose or corroded cable, worn alternator, or other electrical issues in the system. Be sure to have your vehicle serviced right away.
There are dozens of different dashboard lights to notify you of an operation, warning or hazard. If you find yourself in an uncertain situation, or you are unsure how to proceed, give our Service Department a call. We can help you with all your appointment needs. No matter where you purchased your vehicle, your service business is always welcome!