You’re driving down the road on a clear sunny day. The windows are down, the wind is in your hair, and the music is turned up.
You look down to check your speed and you see an unfamiliar light on your dashboard.
You’re on your way to dinner but you remember your dad saying something about ignoring dashboard warning lights. What should you do?
When in doubt about the safety of operating your vehicle, you should safely pull over.
Knowing what common dashboard warnings are trying to tell you can save you from panicking if one does come on. Keep reading to learn more about what your car is trying to tell you and the dashboard warning lights you shouldn’t ignore.
Dashboard Warning Lights: Colors
Did you know that dashboard warning lights are color-coded?
While there are dozens of different warning lights and you may never be able to identify them all off the top of your head, they’re color-coded to give you a better idea of the severity of the problem.
They are usually divided into three simple color groups:
As you might have guessed, a red light on your dashboard is a warning of a serious issue that should be serviced as soon as possible by a mechanic.
If you see a red light appear on your dashboard, don’t ignore it.
Red can also be a reminder to drivers that they’ll be needing important scheduled maintenance soon. For example, a red light with an oil symbol might turn on after you reach a certain mileage.
Finally, red lights can also indicate that one of the car’s systems, like the airbag or the parking brake, is engaged.
Yellow or Orange
After red, yellow and orange lights should catch your attention.
If you see a yellow or orange light, this means that a part of your car needs to be serviced or replaced unexpectedly. For example, the check engine light is usually orange or yellow.
While these colors don’t seem as severe as red, you shouldn’t ignore them. If the light is flashing rather than steady, that means you need to visit the mechanic immediately.
Blue or Green
These colors usually appear to let you know that a system like the headlights or air conditioning is active.
Warnings You Can’t Afford to Ignore
Now that you know what the colors of warning lights are meant to convey, let’s take a look at some of the specific warning light images that may pop up and what they mean.
All of these are serious and should not be ignored.
The Check Engine Light
Most drivers are taught the importance of this light when they first get behind the wheel.
The check engine light is definitely serious, but it can actually indicate the widest variety of problems of all the warning lights. While you could just have a faulty sensor, you could also have a critical problem with your engine.
The bottom line is that if this light turns on, you can’t afford to assume the issue is benign. This light appears yellow or orange and is triggered when a mechanical or electrical issue is identified by a sensor in either your engine, transmission or safety systems.
If this light comes on, you should contact your mechanic as soon as possible and ask them to schedule a check engine light inspection. Your mechanic can get to the bottom of the reason for the light’s activation and determine what repairs are needed.
If this light comes on, you shouldn’t drive your car until you see the mechanic.
The Engine Temperature Warning Light
This one is another serious one you were probably warned about as a teenager.
When this light comes on, your engine temperature has passed the recommended safe temperature for operation. This light may indicate that your vehicle is overheating, though that’s not always the case.
It’s possible that the engine temperature sensor is damaged or the temperature of your coolant is too hot. But it’s also possible that your engine is overheating.
If your engine does overheat, your car could become seriously damaged. You should pull over as soon as you safely can and turn off the engine. You should have your car towed to your home and have a mobile mechanic perform an inspection as well as recommend necessary repairs.
The Oil Pressure Warning Light
While less commonly discussed, this warning light should be taken very seriously.
Your car has a complicated oiling system that keeps all of the moving metal parts lubricated properly. It needs to maintain a certain oil pressure to pull this off.
If your oil becomes too dirty or contaminated, the oil pump or filter becomes damaged, or there is sludge in the engine, you can experience problems with your oil pressure. This will trigger the warning light.
If this light comes on, you should pull over to a safe place and call a tow truck to take your car to your home. Then have a mechanic come to conduct an inspection.
Better Safe Than Sorry
Chances are, your car is one of the most expensive purchases you will make in your life.
You also probably need it to function on a daily basis. Keeping your car in top shape should be your priority.
Never ignore dashboard warning lights as they are trying to tell you that something is wrong. Unless you’re a professional mechanic, you won’t know exactly what that is.
When it comes to cars, prevention is worth more than a cure. Check out this article to learn more about basic car maintenance to keep your dashboard lights at bay.