On most new cars, the dashboard lights up like a Broadway theater marquee with a series of warning lights when the ignition is engaged. And while they typically go out after a second or two, if one or more of those signals remains illuminated, it’s usually a sign of trouble.
“Warning lights on the dashboard are simply that, warnings. If one of the lights stays on after you start your car, you could potentially have a problem and should have your vehicle inspected for needed repairs,” says Rich White, executive director of the Car Care Council in Bethesda, Md. “By learning the meaning of each specific dashboard warning light, you’ll be better prepared to take action if one illuminates.”
Here’s a quick look at what the warning lights on a vehicle’s instrument panel are trying to tell you.
Check Engine: Noted by either an outline of a car’s engine or the words themselves it commonly means either the ignition, fuel injection or emission control system is not operating properly, though the engine may still be operating normally.
It could note any of a range of problems, from a fuel filler cap that hasn’t been fully sealed to a faulty oxygen sensor or even bad spark plugs and wires. However, if the light is flashing the condition is critical and should be checked out immediately by a technician.
“ABS”: Something’s wrong with the car’s antilock braking system; normal braking might not be affected, but the vehicle could lose its ability to stop properly on wet or icy surfaces. Have the system examined by a technician as soon as possible.
“ALT” or “GEN”: If you see either of these words or the outline of a car battery, the charging system is not functioning correctly. Switch off accessories to save power and head for the nearest repair shop or find a safe place to pull over and call for assistance.
“BRAKE”: The emergency brake is engaged or there’s a loss or low level of brake fluid (the symbol may also appear as a circle with a slash through it). If the emergency brake is released, have the system checked immediately; if braking is adversely affected, pull over and call for assistance.
“OIL”: When this word or a silhouette of an oil can illuminates it means the oil pressure is low. Pull off the road and call for assistance to prevent engine damage.
“TEMP”: When you see this warning or a thermometer symbol it means the car is overheating. Turn off the air conditioning and switch the heater on full to help relieve the pressure. If possible, pull over and fill the reservoir (usually at the back of the engine compartment) with a 50/50 percent mix of water and coolant. If the light goes out after the car idles for a few minutes, drive it to a repair shop to have the cooling system examined; if it stays on call for assistance.
“Tire Pressure”: A cross-section of a tire with an exclamation point means one or more tires are underinflated. If there’s a flat or severely deflated tire, either change it according to the automaker’s instructions or call for assistance.
If not, head to the nearest service station and check the air pressure in each of the tires with a good-quality gauge. Inflate the tire or tires that are low according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Have a flat tire repaired by a technician, or replaced if necessary (it’s usually best to swap out tires in pairs, front or rear) and/or have the tires checked to ensure there are no leaks or other damage.
If your car is trying to tell you something with its dashboard lights, get it checked out by the ASE-certified technicians Jack Furrier Tire and Auto Care.
For more than 55 years, the experts at Jack Furrier Tire and Auto Care have been serving the Tucson, Marana, Oro Valley and Sierra Vista communities. Whether you’re looking for new tires, need your vehicle repaired or just a check up, the team at Jack Furrier have the skills and experience to service your vehicle. They were even voted “Best Auto Repair Shop,” “Best Tire Store,” “Best Locally Owned Business” and “Best Customer Service” in the Arizona Daily Star’s 2016 Reader’s Choice awards.
To request a quote or find one of the Jack Furrier Tire and Auto Care location nearest you, visit JackFurriers.com.