It can be exceptionally nerve-wracking when a warning light pops up on your dashboard. Is your car still safe to drive? Should you pull over and get a tow? Should you keep driving straight to the mechanic? We know it can be frustrating to describe what's wrong with your vehicle in these tense situations so, to help out all our wonderful customers, we created this quick guide with 13 of the most common dashboard warning lights
so we can quickly diagnose the issue when you give us a call.
1. Steering Lock
Steering lock is an essential theft-prevention feature that activates when the wheel or the tires are turned while the key is not in the ignition. It locks the steering so no one can cruise away with your vehicle. If you get in your car and see that your steering lock light is on, there’s a chance that someone attempted to turn the wheels in your vehicle.
2. The Battery Light
The battery light tells you that your charging system isn’t working properly. It’s normal for cars to flash this light upon start-up but, if the light doesn't shut off after a few seconds or if the engine won't turn over, you definitely have an issue with your battery system. Typically, it’s a problem with the battery itself but this light it could also indicate an irregularity with the voltage regulator, wiring, or alternator. Electrical problems can be tough to diagnose and resolve on your own so, if you’re having any electrical trouble, stop in for a check-up.
3. Adaptive Headlight System
An adaptive headlight system adjusts the direction of your headlights as you turn. That means that as you round a corner, the headlights start to turn in the direction you’re going. If this dashboard warning light comes on, it usually just means that the system is no longer turning – your actual headlights should be fine but it's a good idea to have the system checked out.
4. Airbag and Seat Belt System
If this light is on, it's important to get it checked out right away. You don't want malfunctioning safety equipment in your vehicle-- and these are some of the most crucial.
5. Windshield Washer Fluid
Oddly enough, this indicator light is one of the most confusing designs-- but one of the easiest to solve. It simply means you're low on windshield washer fluid. Just go to an auto parts store-- or most any grocery store for that matter-- and buy some more, pop open your hood, and refill it. Just make sure your engine is cool and your hood is safely propped open before you start, then securely close and latch the hood when you're done.
6. Anti-Lock Brake System
Anti-lock brakes keep your car from skidding whenever you hit the brake pedal. If this light is on, there’s a problem with your braking system-- meaning your car is likely to skid instead of stopping. If this light is on your dash, you should get to the mechanic right away.
7. Automatic Gearbox
This dashboard warning light means that you have a problem with your automatic transmission. If this light comes on, you probably already know your transmission is in need of repair. In most cars, you'll be able to feel, hear, and sometimes even smell a transmission problem before this light comes on. If the problem does get bad enough for the light to come on, get your car in for service asap.
8. Brake Lights
This turtle-looking light means you’ve got a burned-out brake light. Go get that replaced before you get pulled over for no reason.
9. Bulb Monitoring
You’ve got a burned-out headlight. You should always replace a burned-out headlight Replace it for obvious reasons.
10. Electronic Stability
If this light is on, your car’s computer is no longer helping to keep the car stable when you turn. You might notice that turning feels heavy and laborious. Take a minute to make sure you didn’t accidentally turn off the traction control. If the traction control switch isn't the culprit, you'll need to bring your car in for service. Your car is technically still drivable but we recommend you drive it straight to our shop.
11. Emissions Control
Also known as the check engine light, this light can indicate a lot of different problems. It could be something small, like a bad sensor or an unscrewed gas cap, but there might be a serious problem with your engine. The best thing to do is to go to the shop and get the issue diagnosed. There’s just no telling with this light.
12. Engine Oil Level
This light indicates that your oil levels are low. Either your vehicle is leaking oil, or you’re long overdue for an oil change.
People call us all the time trying to describe the warning lights in their car. We hear things like: “It looks like a stopwatch with an exclamation point in it.” Or, “it looks like a sideways taco with a squiggly line beside it.” So, to help out all our wonderful customers, we decided to write about the 13 most common car warning lights.
13. Tire Pressure Monitoring
This last one is a light many of us see as the winter months start to roll in. When the temperature drops, the air in your tires contracts, and the pressure decreases causing the "low tire pressure" light to come on. You should check your tire pressure as soon as possible, refilling them if necessary and monitoring the levels for about a week or so to make sure you don't have a slow leak.
Any time a dashboard warning light comes on, feel free to give us a call or stop in the stop! Our expert mechanics use the latest diagnostic equipment, and high-quality CARQUEST auto parts, to make sure we get the job done right. Plus, our auto repair services are backed by an industry-leading 3 year / 36,000-mile warranty on parts and labor. Call us today at (413) 314-2280 or schedule an appointment online.
This article was originally published in 2019 and has been updated with current best practices.