Car Warning Lights Explained: Everything You Need to Know

Car owners know that initial confusion from seeing a flashing light on their dashboard. If it’s your first car, you’re probably on the verge of panic, wondering what’s wrong with the automobile. Not every warning light on your car’s dashboard indicates a problem, though. 

Some point to system features or let you know it’s time to visit the mechanic for some servicing. However, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with your dashboard’s indicators so you can spot issues with your vehicle. 

Ignoring your car’s warning lights could turn a simple problem into a complex one and even threaten your safety during usage. 

Call Nationwide Report’s Car Genius™ from RepairPal at 1-877-671-3040 from 9am-6pm ET, Monday through Friday. 

Types of Dashboard Warning Lights and What They Mean

While car warning lights are crucial to understanding your vehicle, not all of them should cause you to worry about your car. In a nutshell, a warning light’s colours can give you an idea of what’s wrong. 

The green lights signify when a feature in your car is operational, while the yellow lights let you know that you need to service the vehicle soon. Conversely, red lights are those requiring a bit more urgency. They indicate that you need to take immediate action. 

Some red car warning lights point to a safety feature, such as a reminder to fasten your seatbelts, while others highlight a mechanical fault like an overheated engine. 

When a red warning light flashes on your dashboard, you should stop the car instantly to figure out what’s wrong. The car might develop a severe fault if you keep driving. That said, some few things you should note when it comes to car warning lights include:

All cars aren’t the same. In other words, you may not find some of your car’s symbols in this article. As such, you should consult your car’s user manual to find out what they mean. 

You may notice that some indicator lights will turn on for a few seconds when you start your vehicle. There’s no need to worry; the car is running a check. If the lights flash for only a few seconds, you’re good to go. 

That said, here are the most common warning signs on your car’s dashboard: 

1. Oil Pressure Car Warning Light

The oil pressure indicator indicates there’s something wrong with the oil pressure system in your vehicle. It showcases one of two things — either you’re running out of oil or the oil pump isn’t getting enough oil into the engine to lubricate its systems. 

This warning light car maintenance signage could also mean your engine has a leak or you have a damaged piston ring. 

Some vehicles don’t have this sign; instead, you’ll see “oil” on your dashboard to indicate an issue with your oil pressure system. 

Since a poorly lubricated engine could lead to serious engine faults, you need to stop the vehicle immediately after you see this sign and check the oil. If you’re out of oil, the indicator should turn off after adding more oil.

However, if the sign still blinks after adding oil, it may be time to visit the mechanic for an oil-pressure car warning light repair. 

Don’t drive with a flashing oil pressure warning light as you could be a few kilometers away from major engine repairs. 

2. Engine Temperature Indicator

This symbol typically points to an overheating engine due to a damaged water pump, leaking coolant hose, or faulty radiator. These problems could evolve into more severe issues and permanently damage your car. 

To disable this warning light, turn off the air conditioner, and turn on the heater to distribute heat throughout the automobile’s passenger compartment. If the indicator is still on, stop the vehicle and wait for fifteen minutes so your engine can cool.  

Don’t open the hood of the car immediately when you pull over. Popping the hood when you’ve got a heating engine could lead to burns due to the smoke or spewing steam. Once the car is cool, get assistance to tow the vehicle to a mechanic’s workshop. 

3. Engine Warning Light 

Every car owner dreads the engine warning indicator (otherwise called Check Engine), and for good reason. This warning sign often points to your motor and emissions system. Typically problems could include a loose wire, worn solenoid, broken gas cap, and low oil pressure. 

Some vehicles have a “CHECK ENGINE” instead of an engine warning indicator. Regardless, it’s a sign you should always pay attention to. If you’ve not noticed any significant changes in how your car operates or encountered worrying smells, you can still drive a moderately safe distance. 

However, if the Check Engine sign is flashing red, it’s best to stop the vehicle immediately. A red/flashing engine warning sign indicates a significant issue with your car that could lead to permanent damage. Get a mechanic to check the vehicle immediately.

4. Low Fuel Warning Light

Every driver knows the low fuel indicator. It simply means you’re running out of fuel for your car. Some vehicles have an arrow next to this warning light. It’s basically telling you which side of the automobile has the fuel tank. 

Of course, most drivers enter the temptation of driving a few distances instead of stopping immediately for some fuel. However, you never know if you’ll encounter a traffic jam along the way, so it’s best to find a gas station and get fuel for the vehicle immediately. 

5. Battery Alert Warning Light 

The battery warning indicator on your dashboard is one of the easiest to spot. It looks exactly like a car battery and often points to faulty battery cables, a damaged alternator, or some other electrical issue. Your headlights or clock may also dim when this light flashes. 

However, the car may continue to operate normally even if this indicator is on. That doesn’t mean nothing’s wrong with the vehicle. Don’t hesitate to get the car to a workshop just because it’s operational while the battery warning light flashes. 

6. Tire Pressure Car Warning Indicator

The tire pressure indicator displays an exclamation mark in between two-thirds of a circle mounted on tire threads. It often lets you know there’s something wrong with the Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). 

Usually, it indicates extremely low or high pressure in one or more of your tires. The tire pressure symbol is typically solid whenever this scenario occurs. 

However, if the sign flashes for up to 60 seconds and stays on after you’ve inflated your tires properly and started the car, you have a faulty TPMS. 

Regardless, it’s unsafe to drive with under or overinflated tires, no matter how short the distance. It’s best to stop when you see this symbol to deflate or inflate the tires to the ideal pressure range. 

Most modern cars have a menu in the infotainment system to tell you the pressure in each tire. This feature should help you determine which of the tires require attention. 

7. Traction Control Symbol

The traction control lights turn on when your car’s traction system is activated. It typically looks like a vehicle driving down a curvy road. You’ll see it whenever you hit the brakes while driving in extreme snow or rain.  

This sign lets you know that one wheel is faster than the others and probably slipping. As such, it’ll apply the brakes while the car gains stability. When you notice this symbol, keep driving but be cautious of slippery road surfaces. 

However, if the light comes on while driving on a dry surface, the traction system might be faulty. 

8. Traction System Malfunction Warning Light 

The traction system malfunction indicator tells you there’s a damaged sensor in the traction control system or some other fault. Depending on the vehicle, this indicator may also work for the anti-lock braking system (ABS). 

However, this indicator doesn’t affect your driving. It’ll be in your best interests to have a mechanic fix it so you’ll have a fully-functional car. 

9. Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) Indicator

When you hit the brakes on your vehicle, the ABS ensures your wheels don’t lock up. However, when this light flashes, there’s a fault in the anti-lock braking system. 

Since the ABS plays a crucial safety role, you should visit a mechanic for ABS warning light maintenance whenever this indicator comes on. 

10. Engine Start Warning Indicator

This symbol lets you know you’ve tried shifting gears or igniting the vehicle without engaging brakes. 

The automatic shift lock system keeps the car in park mode till you step on the brake pedal. Whenever you see this symbol, hit the brakes. Afterwards, ignite the car or shift gears — whichever you were trying to do before this light flashed on. 

11. Airbag Warning Light

This indicator will turn on immediately when you start the vehicle. That’s perfectly normal, so you shouldn’t panic. However, if it stays on while driving, you’ve got at least one faulty airbag. 

While this problem won’t deter your driving, it’s best to check your airbags as soon as possible because they’re safety features for accidents. 

12. Fog Light Symbol

This indicator is one of those less worrying car warning lights. It basically tells you your car’s fog lights are on. It’s best to use your fog lights when you can’t see as far as 100 yards or less. 

However, if you turn on this light when you don’t have visibility issues, you could endanger the lives of other drivers and even get a ticket. 

13. Security Warning Light 

If you’ve got an anti-theft system in your car, this sign will come on whenever there’s a security threat. When flashing solid, the car won’t start because the security system has activated the immobilization feature. 

However, if you’re driving and notice this light, you’ve got a faulty security system and it’s advisable you get it fixed immediately. However, if the system has activated the immobilization feature while you’re in the car, follow the car’s guidelines to disable the security functions.

14. Seatbelt Warning Light 

The seatbelt car warning light tells you or a passenger to fasten your seatbelts. You might hear a ding while this indicator flashes. Your seatbelts are an essential safety feature during accidents, so you should listen to this warning light once it comes on. 

15. Brake Warning Light

When this symbol comes on, you’ve either got the parking brake engaged or a faulty brake system. You should stop immediately to check if your automobile has its parking brake engaged. If it’s engaged, release it while the car is in park mode. 

If the indicator doesn’t turn off, there could be other faults with the brake system. Some common issues include worn-out brake pads, faulty wheel speed sensors, damaged wiring in the brake system, and low brake fluids. 

While you can drive without the brake warning light, your brakes are critical components in your vehicle, especially during panic stops. As such, you want to get this system checked and fixed when it’s faulty to know when you’ve got damaged brakes or other mechanical problems with the brake system.

That said, some cars may display “Brake” or “Parking Brake” instead of the traditional brake indicator symbol. 

16. Washer Fluid Indicator

Another symbol that shouldn’t cause panic is the washer fluid warning light. This sign informs you that you’ve run out of washer fluid. To turn it off, fill up the fluid reservoir. 

17. Lane Departure Symbol 

Modern cars feature a lane departure sign to let you know your automobile is driving out-of-lane. You’ll also hear a beeping noise alongside the flashing indicator. Correcting your steering should turn off this warning light. 

18. Transmission Temperature Indicator

You’ll see this symbol once your transmission starts to overheat. Often, an overheating transmission results from limited transmission fluids or faulty transmission parts. It’s best to pull over immediately to allow the car to cool before going to a workshop. 

If the indicator stays on after the car cools, get a tow instead of driving. 

19. Door Open Warning Light 

The door open symbol tells you one of your doors or trunk is open. Close them properly, and the indicator should go off immediately. 


Your car’s warning lights tell something is wrong with your vehicle. If you notice any of the vehicle’s safety feature indicators coming on, pay attention and visit a mechanic for a warning light repair as soon as you can. 

Don’t hit the road with a faulty car, no matter how much you’re in a hurry. If you’re driving and your automobile flashes a warning light car repair signage, it’ll be best to stop immediately to rectify the issue or get help. 

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