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Modern cars really have come a long way in improving the driving experience. From touch screen radios to GPS navigation, cars have come a long way from their Model T origins. Another huge improvement that has developed over the history of the automobile is the cars ability to communicate directly with you, the driver.

More specifically, the modern car is much better able to tell you when something has gone wrong. It will do this via the warning lights displayed on your dashboard. It’s important to know what each light means. It’s even more important though to know what to do when you see each light.

In this article we’ll cover just that. We’ll look at the meaning of 5 of the most important lights, as well as taking a look at what it means when each one lights up.

Low Engine Oil Pressure

  • What Does it Look Like?

This warning light will usually take the form of an old school style oilcan. It will usually be red in color but in some cars could be amber or deep orange.

  • What Does it Mean?

We’ve decided to kick off our list with this light for two reasons. Firstly it is one of the lights that is often most misunderstood. That means that when it pings up on the dashboard many drivers are unsure what exactly it means, and so are unable to take the right action to correct it.

That is especially bad because, the second reason we’re starting with this light is the fact it is one of the most serious warning lights you can get in a modern car. Yeah, serious and misunderstood is not a great combination!

Many people assume that this light means you are low on oil. Whilst that could be the case, it does not necessarily mean that every time.  What you could in fact have is a problem with the oil pump or the oil filter.

  • What to do?

This is a tough one, because not taking the right actions after an oil pressure warning light can cause serious damage.

What we would suggest is that if this light illuminates, investigate it immediately. Don’t put it off for a week or two, either take the car to a garage or check it out yourself if you know what you’re looking for.

If you are checking it out yourself, remember that simply tossing a fresh can of oil into the system may not be enough. Check out the complete engine oil system, including the pump and filter.

Tire Pressure Warning Light

  • What Does it Look Like?

It will vary from vehicle to vehicle, but will usually (somewhat unsurprisingly) be some variation of an image of a tire.

  • What Does it Mean?

Given the importance of tire pressure, it’s actually quite surprising that it’s taken this long for tire pressure sensors to become standard pieces of kit on modern cars.

The correct pressure is incredibly important to the safe and efficient operation of tires though. From the efficiency point of view a tire that is not correctly inflated will really chip away at your vehicle’s miles per gallon performance. From a safety point of view, car tires that are not well inflated will not perform properly during braking and can also make the car harder to handle.

So a poorly inflated tire is bad news all round, and the longer you leave it the more money it will cost you in wasted gas. Luckily it is nice and easy to repair.

  • What to Do?

The first thing you need to do is to inspect the problem tire. What you find in this inspection will then have a big impact on how you proceed with your repairs.

Many cars will not only alert you to low pressure, they will also tell you which tire is the offender. That can be a really neat and time saving feature. Do a visual inspection for damage to the tire tread and tire wall. If the wall is damaged, there are few repairs for this, and you’ll probably need to invest in a new tire.

If the tread is damaged – say you ran over a nail – pull the offending item and you could try a slime style tire repairer. These cans of, well, slime, are injected into the tire usually via the valve. Once in the tire they harden and plug any small holes.

Check Engine

  • What Does it Look Like?

One of the most dreaded of all the dashboard warning lights! This light looks the same in all vehicles, and its appearance has the same impact on all drivers too. It looks like a simple outline image of an engine block.

  • What Does it Mean?

As we mentioned this is probably one of the most dreaded engine lights and to our minds this is for two distinct reasons. The first reason is the fact that this light can indicate some very serious issues with your car’s engine.

The second reason though is that this light covers so many issues! It can be a really serious problem, or it can be a simple issue that will solve itself.

That element of the unknown, and the assumption that it is the worst possible scenario, is what makes this light so damn scary.

  • What to Do?

It’s tough to give specific advice to follow if this light illuminates on the dashboard display. As we said above, it covers so many issues you need to be looking out for other signs and symptoms to narrow down the possibilities.

As a very general rule, if the light is flashing it is a problem with the emissions system, most likely the catalytic converter. Try taking the car for an extra long driver so the converter can heat up and dislodge any carbon particle build up.

If that doesn’t solve the flashing light, or if the warning light is solid instead of flashing, this indicates a more serious problem could be the cause. Get the car to a garage for a check up ASAP.

Electrical System Fault

  • What Does it Look Like?

This light will usually resemble a car battery. It is usually red and will be solid in color, i.e. not flashing.

  • What Does it Mean?

You would think that a warning light that looks like a battery would indicate a problem with the battery, right? Broadly speaking, you are correct, however, take a look at the name of this warning light.

It is not called a battery fault light, but rather it is called an Electrical System Fault light. That means that this symbol can illuminate on the dashboard to highlight a fault anywhere in the electrical charging system, such as with the vehicle alternator.

  • What to Do?

No matter which individual component is at fault, this light means a problem with the charging system. That in itself is bad news, as it probably means that the battery is either not charging properly or is damaged itself in which case it may not hold a charge.

Naturally you can’t start the engine again with a flat battery, so a fault in the electrical charging system can lead to you being stranded when you can’t restart the engine.

This warning light needs to be tended to immediately. If it illuminates, drive to the nearest garage or dealership of your manufacturer to get the problem diagnosed and resolved as soon as possible.

If you want to repair the car yourself, immediately return home and get cracking on fixing the problem!

Coolant Temperature Warning

  • What Does it Look Like?

This warning light looks like a thermometer dipped into liquid. A stick represents that here with vertical lines poking out of a couple of wavy lines. It’s hard to describe in words but we’re sure you know what we’re talking about!

  • What Does it Mean?

This light, unlike some of the others on the list, is at least nice and straightforward. At least it is in terms of what it represents. If the engine coolant has risen to a temperature higher than maximum operating temperature then the Coolant Temperature Warning Light will illuminate on the dashboard display.

What does this mean in practical terms? Well, it means that your engine is overheating, son.

  • What to Do?

Here it gets a little more complicated, as there are a number of reasons the engine could be overheating. The light itself won’t give any indication of the underlying cause, just the simple fact that the engine is overheating.

What complicates matters more is the fact that modern engines can be difficult to access, especially when you just pop the hood and look down into the engine block. Therefore if this light illuminates when you are out driving, we would suggest pulling over at a safe location. Once there, pop the hood and this should help the engine to cool quicker.

Be careful if you see steam coming from under the hood. Wait for this to stop before opening it or you risk getting burned. When the coolant is back in normal limits, the warning light will go off.

Bring the car home, driving as gently as possible and investigate the overheating issue once the engine block has completely cooled.

Sources:

  1. How to Change a Car Tire – WikiHow
  2. How Engine Lubrication System Works – HowStuffWorks

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