Click or tap a dashboard symbol to learn what it means and what to do.
Check Engine Light: Known as the most misunderstood indicator on your car dashboard, it could mean several things, from a loose gas cap to a misfiring engine. If it’s blinking or turning from yellow to red, that typically signifies a more severe issue.
What to do: To confirm the issue, you should get your car checked by an auto mechanic as soon as possible.1
1 What Does the Check Engine Light Really Mean?, Consumer Reports, 2018.
Battery Charge Warning: The battery powers everything electrical in a vehicle, from the headlights to the dashboard light itself. When this light comes on, it means something in the recharging system failed: It could be a corroded battery cable, or a problem with the alternator or voltage regulator.
What to do: Shut off as many electrical accessories as you can, such as the stereo, air conditioner or heater, and get to the auto mechanic soon to figure out the exact problem.2
2 Why Is the Battery Light On?, Cars.com, 2017.
Oil Pressure Warning: This light could be trying to tell you that your car is low on oil, your oil pump or pressure gauge is faulty, or that something is seriously wrong with the engine.
What to do: Pull over immediately and turn off your engine. If the oil doesn’t need to be topped off, take the car to an auto mechanic as soon as possible.3
3 Is It Safe to Drive With the Oil Pressure Light On?, Your Mechanic, 2015.
ABS Light: The anti-lock braking system (ABS) in your car keeps the tires in contact with the road and prevents skidding. If this indicator turns on, your brakes will still function but the ABS might not engage if you need to make an emergency stop.
What to do: Have a technician diagnose the problem soon. If the ABS light and the brake light are on at the same time, however, pull over immediately, as it’s no longer safe to drive.4
4 Is It Safe to Drive With the ABS Light On?, Your Mechanic, 2015.
Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS): It’s possible at least one of your tires is underinflated. If the TPMS light turns back off, it could have been in response to a change in temperature outside.
What to do: Drive to a gas station and check the tire pressure with a gauge. The recommended pressure level should be on the driver's doorjamb. Add air to the low tire(s) as needed.5
5 My Tire Pressure Warning Light Just Came On. What Do I Do Now?, Consumer Reports, 2017.
Engine Temperature Warning: A faulty cooling system triggers this light, letting you know that your engine is overheating. This could be due to a coolant leak from a broken hose.
What to do: Pull over and wait until your engine cools down to check for leaks. Add coolant and have your vehicle serviced by a professional right away.6
6 Six Cooling System Warning Signs, Pep Boys, 2019.
Brake Warning Light: This alert could mean that your parking brake is on, your brake fluid is low, your brake light bulbs need to be replaced, or in certain cars, that there’s a problem with your anti-lock braking system (if your car doesn’t have a separate ABS light).
What to do: Check your parking brake and your brake lights first. If the brake warning light stays on, take your car to an auto mechanic to determine if your brake fluid needs to be refilled or flushed, or if your brakes need repair.7
7 Why Is My Brake Light On?, Firestone, 2017.
When you see a warning light on your car’s dashboard, do you always know what it indicates? Should you pull over immediately, or can you keep driving? Is it something you can address yourself, or do you need to hire a professional? Use this interactive car dashboard above to learn how to interpret these common indicators and determine when it’s safe for you to get back on the road. Always refer to your owners manual when you’re not sure what a dashboard symbol means.
While repairs can be pricey, disregarding a dashboard warning light can cause even more expensive long-term damage to your car. More importantly, you could be endangering both yourself and others on the road.1 So if you see one of these warning lights on your dashboard, don't ignore it.