Tire maintenance & safety

5 Most Important Dashboard Warning Lights

Last updated 3/10/2022 - Originally published 9/28/2020
Written by SimpleTire

You’re probably familiar with most of the symbols and dashboard warning lights in your car. Things like the low fuel light or headlight indicator are pretty straightforward.

But there are a few vehicle warning lights that are sometimes misunderstood but incredibly important. Here are the most critical dashboard warning symbols you should know.

Low Engine Oil Pressure Warning Light

I’m listing this one first because low oil pressure has the potential to cause major mechanical damage.

This symbol doesn’t necessarily mean you’re low on oil. There could be an issue with the oil pump or filter. So don’t think that adding a few quarts means you’re good to go.

- If the low oil pressure warning symbol lights up, immediately find a safe place to pull over, shut off your engine, and call for assistance. You don’t want to take any chances here or your engine could be damaged.

Engine Coolant Temperature Warning Light

You’ll see the engine coolant symbol if the coolant temperature exceeds the recommended maximum, which means your engine is overheating.

- If the engine coolant light is on, this is another situation where you need to shut off your engine as soon as possible and call for assistance. There could be major engine damage if the temperature doesn’t drop back down

- Popping your hood open can help cool the engine down, but only do so if you can release it from inside your car. Otherwise, wait before opening the hood by hand to avoid burning yourself — especially if you see steam coming out of the hood.

Charging System Warning Light

It makes sense that a dashboard symbol shaped like a battery indicates a battery issue, but it could also mean the issue is with your alternator.

- If the charging system light is on, first ensure that you can get to safe place (e.g., if you’re on a freeway, take the next exit). Then, if your car is still running, take it to the nearest dealership. Time is of the essence — a charging issue could leave you stranded.

Check Engine Light

Many of us have seen the dreaded check engine light illuminate and known we’ll have to deal with it sooner or later.

- If the check engine light is solid, there’s an issue with the engine’s emissions. You should visit your dealership soon to get it checked out, but it shouldn’t be cause for alarm

- If the check engine light is flashing, then that is cause for alarm. A flashing check engine light indicates a potentially serious issue that could damage your vehicle or present a safety risk. Take your vehicle to the nearest dealership immediately.

Tire Pressure (TPMS) Warning Light

Low tire pressure can put your safety at risk, which is why all vehicles sold after September 1, 2007, have a TPMS — tire pressure monitoring system.

- If the TPMS light is solid from the start, then one of your tires has low pressure. Find the nearest air pump or dealership to check your tire pressure and inflate your tires.

- If the TPMS flashes before staying lit, then the tire pressure monitoring system itself is malfunctioning. Skip the air pump and go directly to your dealership so they can see what the issue is.

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