Common dashboard light warnings explained

By Adam White

If your dashboard is lit up like a Christmas tree, it's clearly time to visit the garage. Even if there’s just one blinking warning light, it’s a sign that there’s something wrong. And the longer you leave it, the worse the situation is likely to get.

Car Dashboard

Depending on your car’s make and model, you’ll see any one of a number of symbols on the dashboard. When something goes wrong, a signal passes through your car's electrical network and illuminates the appropriate warning light. Don’t ignore them as they could mean something serious is amiss. Consult your handbook and visit your local Protyre garage for a check up or service.

Get to know your car warning lights

Not all warning lights are universal and older vehicles may not be fitted with a tyre pressure monitoring system or the latest diesel particulate filters. It’s worth spending some time with your car handbook getting to know what the warning lights look like on your particular car and where they’re located on the dashboard.

There are generally two types of warning lights, red and orange:

  • Red lights indicate a serious problem or safety issue and should be checked immediately

  • Orange/amber lights are an advisory warning that you should take action sooner rather than later

Most warning lights go off as soon as your car ignition kicks in. If they don’t, and whatever colour they are, you need to take action. Otherwise, that nuisance light could turn into a huge repair bill.

Car warning lights to look out for

The MOT test now includes a Malfunction Indicator Lamp test. If the ABS, TPMS, electronic stability control or safety restraint system warning lights come on and stay on, your car will fail its MOT.

If you see any of the following warning indicators you’ll need to take action as soon as possible:

Brake system/brake fluid

If you see this light flashing then you need to head for your local garage immediately. Your brakes are critical to safety and any problems need to be addressed as quickly as possible.

Engine warning light

The engine warning light can come on for a number of reasons:- Faulty oxygen sensor

  • Missing or faulty petrol tank cap

  • Faulty spark plugs

  • Problems with the catalytic converter

Your car may lose power and go into 'safe mode' or intermittently stutter when you press the accelerator. In our experience, it’s vital that you get to a mechanic as soon as possible to avoid irreparable damage.

ABS warning light

If this light appears, there’s been a malfunction in your car’s anti-lock brake system and your ABS has been disabled. This could be caused by:

  • A faulty wheel speed sensor

  • Defective power relay

  • Low ABS fluid

  • Sudden loss of voltage

You may not need to visit the garage immediately but if you come to a sudden stop, your car may skid.

Power steering/EPAS warning light

If this light comes on and your steering feels heavy, you may have a problem. This is potentially dangerous if you need to change direction at high speeds.

Problems with your steering?

Book a free steering check at yoru local Protyre garage and let our expert technicians take a look and advise. Click the button below to book your vehicle in.

Temperature warning light

If your coolant is running low and your engine overheats, you could be heading for serious trouble. This warning light alone could indicate a leak in the system. Coupled with high engine temperature, your head gasket could be about to fail. Wait thirty minutes for the engine to cool down before taking the cap off to check coolant levels. If necessary top up with water before heading straight to a garage.

Oil warning light

Oil lubricates your engine and keeps it running smoothly. If the temperature gets too high, or there’s too little oil or the oil pressure drops, you could be heading for expensive engine damage. If you see this light, head straight for the nearest garage.

Battery charge warning light

This light comes on as soon as you start your car and then disappears after a few seconds. If it stays on then you could have a problem with a faulty alternator or battery. There may even be a bad connection or faulty cabling. If left unattended, your battery won’t charge and you could run out of power. This light can also indicate problems with the alternator drive belt which can have serious knock-on effects in your engine.

Airbag/safety restraint system warning light There are two very good reasons to take notice of this warning light. A faulty airbag may not deploy properly and protect you in the event of a crash. In fact, a malfunctioning airbag could deploy at any time, giving you a shock and potentially causing an injury. Ignoring this warning light is putting your life and those of your passengers at risk.

Tyre pressure monitoring system

Many modern cars are fitted with a TPMS system that lets the driver know if the tyres are running on low pressure. This could be as a result of damage or a puncture so it’s wise to pull off the road and check your tyres before reinflating at your local garage or with an air compressor. It’s important to keep your tyres correctly inflated as under-inflated tyres affect tyre wear and fuel economy and are more prone to blowouts.

Did you know?
Protyre offer free TPMS checks at all of our garages. If you are experiencing issues with your Tyre Pressure Monitoring System, why not let our expert technicians take a look? Click the button below to book your vehicle in for a free TPMS check.

Electronic Stability Programme

Your car’s ESP is a potentially life-saving piece of technology that can reduce the chances of being involved in a fatal collision by up to 25%. The warning light will come on and flash if the system needs to activate to prevent a crash, but if it stays on you’ve either switched it off or there’s a fault with the system. If you haven’t deactivated the EPS then you’ll need to have the system checked out.

Get your free Protyre vehicle check

With so many electronic systems involved in the average modern car, plus a plethora of warning systems and different symbols, dashboard warning signs can seem confusing. And while they may not all require immediate attention, it’s always better to get them checked out as soon as possible. Your wallet will thank you for it.

At Protyre we don’t just sell and fit tyres from trusted names, such as; Bridgestone and Pirelli. We can perform a free vehicle check to ensure that your car is roadworthy and in full working order. So if one or more car warning lights are blinking or staying lit when you’re driving, drop into your local Protyre garage and talk to our professional technicians about the problem. Or book a bronze, silver or gold service online for peace of mind motoring.

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About the author

Article Author Photo
By Adam White
Adam looks to create engaging and informative content across the website that provides consumers with expert advice on MOTs, servicing, vehicle maintenance and tyre care. As a motorsport enthusiast, Adam enjoys documenting the Protyre Motorsport team’s involvement in major motorsport events across the UK.
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