Lighting the Way: what your car is trying to tell you

Lighting the Way: what your car is trying to tell you

By guest writer James Clayton

A Guide to Dashboard Warning Lights

Liaising with motorists on a daily basis we see first-hand the troubles drivers have with understanding the dashboard. It was no surprise when it was reported that 98% of British drivers are unable to correctly identify all of their dashboard warning symbols.( In this post we will overview each of the most widely used dashboard warning lights, provide a more detailed examination of the four lights most likely to illuminate and list our top tips to bear in mind when you encounter a dashboard alert.

Highlighting what each of the lights often indicates and the best course of action for remedying the issue, the dashboard warning light guide below helps to improve awareness for what is a very important aspect of maintaining a safe and reliable car. Addressing and fixing a fault at an early stage can often reduce the possible impact it can have on your car, thus saving money on future repair bills that may arise if the issue is left to escalate into a bigger problem.

Produced by Claytons MOT of Leeds

5 Top Tips

To maximise the safety of you and your vehicle, please consider the following key points.

Check Immediately – If an unknown warning light illuminates, you should stop in a safe place as soon as possible and check what the problem is. Keep your vehicle manual handy so that you can easily check what that symbol means as well as the recommended action to take.

Multiple Meanings – Not all warning lights refer to a single specific issue, many including the engine warning light can be triggered by numerous vehicle detections.

Exercise Caution – Some warning lights alert the driver to not continue driving (where possible). If you’re unsure what your dashboard is alerting, pull over and seek advice from your handbook or speak with the manufacturer/qualified motor technician.

Model Specific Meanings – Each make and model of car comprises a unique set of warning symbols. Please be aware that information relating to each of your vehicles warning symbols can be found in the driver handbook, along with relevant details on how to resolve the issue.

Act Promptly – Addressing and fixing a fault at an early stage can often reduce the possible impact it can have on your car, thus saving money on future repair bills that may arise if the issue is left to escalate into a bigger problem.

Overview of Common Warning Light Issues

We take a closer look at each of the symbols most likely to illuminate on your vehicles dashboard and discuss the potential issues that these may cause.

Battery Warning Light

This battery charge warning light should illuminate when the ignition is switched on and then extinguish as soon as the engine starts. If it does not illuminate at all, or if it illuminates while driving, your battery is not being charged as there is a fault with your charging system.

Illumination of the battery warning light may be due to one of the following;

• Problems with the car battery or starter terminal
• Alternator drive belt becoming broken or loose
• None functioning alternator

Whatever the possible cause of fault, immediately move the vehicle to a safe location and switch off the engine, seeking qualified assistance.

Engine Management Light

It is impossible to determine the nature of the problem without diagnosing the fault codes. Once this has been done, further diagnosis and testing may be required to isolate the fault so the correct parts(s) can be replaced.

Don’t be alarmed by the engine management light. Often the problem is something minor that won’t affect the way your engine runs, or you car’s ability to start or drive. Depending on the nature of the fault, your engine may not run as good as it normally does, or it may use more fuel than usual.

Common reasons for the engine management light to illuminate include;

• A loose fuel cap
• Issue with the spark plugs
• Dirty fuel injectors
• Failure of an engine sensor such as the oxygen sensor, throttle position sensor or manifold absolute pressure sensor
• A problem in an emissions control system or device such as the EGR valve or catalytic converter.

Brake System Alert

This light will remain illuminated when the handbrake is engaged. Illumination after releasing the handbrake may indicate low brake fluid level.
Refer to the handbook and add the correct brake fluid at once to bring the level up to the max mark. As the brakes wear, the fluid level will slowly drop, so check your brake fluid level frequently to ensure there is no further rapid loss of fluid.

If the brake fluid is too low and brake pedal travel is distinctly longer than usual, one of the two hydraulic brake circuits may have failed. Do not continue your journey and seek assistance.

If the light remains illuminated, even though the brake fluid level is correct, this may indicate a sensor fault. Take your vehicle to a dealer or garage as soon as possible.


James Clayton is the Technical Director at Claytons MOT & Service Centre in Leeds. Established in 1982, this award-winning company is part of Bosch Car Service National Network of Independent Garages.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s