What Do All Those Car Dashboard Warning Lights Mean?

Do you ever wonder what all those dashboard warning lights in your car mean? After all, there are warning lights for almost any car issue, such as low battery power, disabled airbags, bad brakes, high engine temperature, low fuel, etc. Some warnings are more serious than others, but you should always be aware of a possible problem emerging after a light turns on.

Modern cars are technologically sophisticated and equipped with numerous sensors for just about every system in the vehicle. These sensors can detect when there is a problem with a specific system. Once a problem is detected, it will illuminate the necessary warning light on the dashboard to let you know about it.

Symbols are used to represent various car issues, such as a gas pump symbol for low fuel or an engine symbol for any engine issue. You may have a general idea of the meanings of some warning light symbols, but you should know all their meanings based on what is written in the owner’s manual.

Of course, very few motorists read their owner’s manual until they have to figure out a problem. But if you can learn about the meanings of the most common car dashboard warning lights, you’ll know how to react more quickly to the situation.

Dash Lights

Below are the most common car dashboard warning lights to learn:

Engine Warning Light

The engine warning light (also known as the check engine light) warns a driver of a problem with the vehicle’s internal combustion engine. It doesn’t indicate the specific problem with the engine other than that something abnormal is happening with it.

You may or may not experience mechanical problems or noticeable symptoms along with the illuminating engine warning light. If you do experience mechanical issues, the best thing to do is pull the vehicle over to the side of the road and request the assistance of a towing service provider. Otherwise, you may put yourself or other motorists in danger by attempting to drive with engine problems.

Brake Warning Light

The brake warning light will illuminate when you set the handbrake next to the driver’s seat. But when you release the handbrake, the brake warning light should turn off. If it doesn’t turn off, bring your vehicle to an auto mechanic to examine the braking system. Perhaps you have a faulty brake sensor or a low brake fluid level.

Don’t take any chances with brake issues because you don’t want to be in a situation where you can’t brake while driving. That would be the worst-case scenario of neglecting to check your vehicle’s braking system after the brake warning light stays on.

Coolant Warning Light

The temperature gauge on the dashboard usually shows the needle between the hottest and coldest points, indicating normal engine temperature due to sufficient coolant levels. But if you are ever low on coolant, the temperature gauge needle will move closer to the hottest point. That means your engine temperature is hotter than normal. If this continues, your engine is at risk of overheating and suffering permanent damage.

Oil Warning Light

The oil warning light could mean one of two scenarios with your engine oil. The two worst scenarios are that you have hot engine oil or a low level of engine oil, both of which could potentially damage the engine if left unresolved. In some cases, the oil warning light could mean your oil is too old and needs to be replaced.

Battery Warning Light

The battery warning light looks like a battery-like symbol with plus and minus sides. If you see this warning symbol illuminate on your dashboard, it means you have an electrical issue with your vehicle. Some possible scenarios are low battery power, an old battery that cannot hold a charge, a poor wire connection, or a problem with the alternator. If you experience electrical issues preventing you from operating your vehicle normally, pull your car over to the side of the road and call a tow truck operator for assistance.

Tyre Pressure Warning Light

Newer vehicles have tyre pressure sensory technology that lets you know if the air pressure in one of your tyres has dropped. Therefore, the tyre pressure warning light on the dashboard will illuminate if one of your tyres has low air pressure. Fill up the low tyre with air, and it should turn off the warning light after the sensor detects the new tyre pressure reading.

Brake Light

Traction Warning Light

Modern vehicles have traction control systems to give them more stability and balance while driving, especially at high speeds. But if there’s a problem with the wheel alignment or the traction control system itself, the traction warning light will illuminate. However, sometimes the light will temporarily illuminate when turning fast around corners or when having low tyre pressure.

Anti-Lock Brake Warning Light

The anti-lock brake warning light is a dashboard symbol with the letters “ABS.” Seeing these letters light up indicates an issue with your vehicle’s anti-lock braking system. Some cars can still function okay without a functional anti-lock braking system, but you should avoid quick braking because your brakes may lock up. You might be better off driving to the nearest auto mechanic or calling a tow truck to bring your vehicle there.

Seatbelt Warning Light

The seatbelt warning light should be easy to figure out. For example, if the driver doesn’t put on their seatbelt, the seatbelt warning light will turn on. In addition, some cars have sensors in the seats to determine if multiple people are in the vehicle and whether they have their seatbelts on too.

Door Warning Light

The door warning light means someone has their door open or not closed all the way. If it looks like all the doors are closed, and the door warning light still illuminates, bring your vehicle to an auto mechanic to diagnose the problem. One of your doors may need repair.

Fuel Warning Light

The fuel warning light looks like a gas pump symbol. When you see the fuel warning light turn on, it indicates you have low fuel in your gas tank. Looking at your fuel gauge should verify that you’re low on fuel, which means you need to find a fuel station as soon as possible to refill your tank.

Engine Light

Engine Start Warning Light

It is sometimes called an automatic shift lock warning light or an engine start warning light because it serves two purposes.

The engine start warning light symbol looks like a foot or boot positioned at a 45-degree angle. When you see this warning light, your car is telling you to apply some pressure to the brake pedal to switch gears from park to drive. Either that or it wants you to apply pressure to the brake pedal in order to start the engine.

Airbag Warning Light

The airbag warning light symbol shows a person wearing a seatbelt with a ball on their lap. If you see this light turn on, there is an issue with one of your vehicle’s airbags. You may see the light turn on after starting your car, which is normal. But if the light doesn’t turn off after a couple of minutes, you should take your vehicle to an auto mechanic to investigate the problem with your airbag system.

Fog Light Indicator

This is not really a warning light but more of an indicator that your fog lights are on. Most jurisdictions only allow you to drive with fog lights on if there is actually fog outside. But you’re not supposed to drive with your fog lights on if there is no fog. The fog light indicator helps ensure you know whether they are on.

Windscreen Fluid Warning Light

The windscreen fluid warning light symbol shows a fountain stream over a windscreen. When your vehicle is low on windscreen washing fluid, the windscreen fluid warning light will illuminate. So what you have to do is add more windscreen washing fluid to your vehicle, and the light will turn off.

High Beam Light Indicator

The high beam light indicator turns on when you turn on your high beam headlights. It is not good to continuously drive with high beam headlights because you could blind the other drivers coming toward you in traffic. For this reason, you should only use high beam headlights in remote areas with total darkness outside. But if you must use the high beams on a public road, ensure no other cars are coming toward you. Then you can reduce the risk of an accident.


Many warning lights indicate a car problem is imminent, which means you may still have an opportunity to drive your vehicle to a mechanic before your car can no longer operate. But if you notice any issues operating your vehicle after a warning light activates, pull your vehicle over safely and contact a tow truck company. Never take any chances when your vehicle has mechanical or operational malfunctions because it could cause an accident or further damage to the vehicle.