By the Numbers

What's that Warning Sign?

Decoding your dashboard

As vehicles become more advanced, so have their dashboard displays. With a variety of symbols and warning lights, your vehicle is like an advanced computer on wheels with the ability to tell you when something is wrong.

Mission control for your vehicle, the instrument cluster has a wealth of knowledge – if you know what to look for. While some warning lights are universally known, there are many new ones in use that you may not be familiar with.

Some warning lights require immediate attention while others can wait. Do you know the difference? Use this handy guide to learn what your car is trying to tell you. 


The basics

The color of a warning light can give a clue to the severity of the issue. A red light typically indicates a critical problem that could require immediate attention.  A yellow or orange light signals that something may need to be repaired or serviced soon. A blue or green light can show that a certain system is in operation.

There are well over 100 different dashboard warning lights in use by car manufacturers. While there are lights for every conceivable system and situation, the lights can be broken down into five broad categories: engine, brakes, safety, lights and stability & traction control. Also listed are some lights that are specifically for electric/hybrid vehicles. Check out some of the most common lights from each category.

Please note that every vehicle is different and may not have the same warning lights that are shown below. For specific information about the warning lights on your vehicle, consult your owner’s manual.    




Check Engine Light
If this light remains on after you start the engine, it can indicate an issue with your engine. Check out this article for tips on what to do if this light is illuminated.


Engine Oil
If this lights up, it indicates a malfunction. Stop the vehicle and check the oil level.


Engine Coolant Temperature
This comes on if the engine coolant temperature becomes too high. Read this article for tips on avoiding engine overheating.


If this comes on, it indicates a problem with your battery. Get your vehicle checked out before it leaves you stranded.




Brake System
Comes on if there is a problem with the brakes or if the brake fluid is low. Can also illuminate if you drive with the parking brake engaged. These can appear together or as separate lights for the brake system and parking brake. For more information on what to do if your brake light comes on, read this article.


Anti-lock Braking System
This light illuminates if your ABS system malfunctions or will come on when the ABS is activated.




Fasten Seatbelt
Lights up and chimes as a reminder to fasten your safety belt.


Front Airbag
Should come on briefly when you start your car. If it doesn’t illuminate, flashes or stays on, there could be an issue that needs to be checked out.


Door Ajar
Lights up if the ignition is on and one of the doors isn’t completely shut.


Low Fuel
Comes on when the gas level is getting low.


Low Tire Pressure
Lights up if your tire pressure is low. Check the pressure in all tires when possible.




Turn Signals
Lights up when left or right turn signal is activated.


Fog Lamps

Comes on when fog lights are turned on.


High Beam
Illuminates when high beam lights are activated.


Park Lights
When parking lights are turned on, it will light up.


Daytime Running Lights
Comes on to indicate the daytime running lights are on.


Lamp Out
Turns on when there is an exterior light that isn’t functioning.    


Hazard Lights

Comes on when the hazard lights are engaged.


Stability & Traction Control


Cruise Control
Lights up when the cruise control is in use.


Traction & Stability Control
Briefly illuminates upon start up.    


Traction & Stability Control Off
Illuminates if you turn off the stability control.


Electric/Hybrid Vehicles


Low Battery Warning
Illuminates when your electric vehicle needs to be charged.


Charging Indicator
Lights up when the battery is being charged.


EV Mode
Comes on when the vehicle is operating in electric vehicle mode.

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The content contained in this article is for entertainment and informational purposes only and should not be used in lieu of seeking professional advice from a certified technician or mechanic. We encourage you to consult with a certified technician or mechanic if you have specific questions or concerns relating to any of the topics covered herein. Under no circumstances will we be liable for any loss or damage caused by your reliance on any content.