How to Interpret Dashboard Lights

The icons that illuminate on the dashboard of a vehicle are called malfunction indicators or warning lights. Dashboard lights are connected to sensors in most major vehicle systems. Refer to an owner’s manual for make- and model-specific details about dash lights, windshield wipers size and parts numbers.

Quick Guide to Dash Board Lights

Indicator lights tend to resemble relevant components. An icon representing a vehicle with open doors indicates that one more doors are ajar. A battery warning light with positive and negative terminals may indicate a low battery or other issues involving the alternator or loose connectors. Oil can-shaped lights indicate oil pressure problems or the need for an oil change.

While a light that looks like a windshield with a dotted line indicating spray points out the need to replenish washer fluid, no light may indicate the need for windshield wiper replacement. It is a good idea to switch out conventional blades every six months and get new hybrid or beam blades every year.

The yellow or red warning light in the shape of the engine or the words “Check Engine” may illuminate. Other indicators relevant to the engine include an engine temperature indicator that may look like a thermometer or be displayed on the dash in another way. Some makes and models also have a “Service Vehicle Soon” light.

Almost every critical vehicle system has an indicator light. A steering wheel light may indicate power steering problems. Two brake lights include a red light with an exclamation point in a circle or the word “Brake” and an amber anti-lock braking system indicator displaying ABS. An U-shaped amber warning light with an exclamation point indicates low tire pressure.

Other lights indicate input by the driver. The letter “P” in a circle indicates the parking brake is engaged. A steady or flashing red triangle shows that hazard lights are on. Other lights indicate the use of systems such as cruise control. Lock icons usually correspond to security systems.

The gas tank icon indicates low fuel levels. A fuel cap indicator reminds drivers to secure this component, which can also trigger a Check Engine light. Some lights appear depending on the fuel system and type of vehicle. Diesel vehicles may have glow plug, particle filter or emissions additive indicators.

Most vehicles are also equipped with lights for essential safety systems. Indicators also show fog lights or headlights are turned on and indicate low or high beams. Other safety lights include traction or electronic stability control systems, seatbelts and supplemental restraints or airbags. Collision warning, lane departure or blind spot monitoring lights may illuminate based on surroundings.

Dignosing Check Engine Lights

The Check Engine light is a common indicator. Diagnostic testing is necessary to obtain error codes that point toward faulty components. An auto repair shop can run a diagnostic test to find out why this light is on. OBD-II codes are standardized across all vehicle makes and models. Some dashboard lights indicate the function of vehicle systems while other lights are malfunction indicators or warnings of problems in critical systems.