Car Dashboard Warning Lights (Meaning and Fixes)

Car Light Meanings

When you’re driving your car, there are a lot of different light symbols and signs. They have advanced control systems and control units, so these units need a way to tell the driver there’s an issue with the system. That’s why we ended up with a lot of different warning symbols to learn about. It can be very nerve-wracking when you see a symbol or light come on that you don’t understand. Here’s more information about all of the car lights you might see in your car as time passes.

Car Light Meanings

Check Engine Light

This is one of the most commonly seen lights on your dashboard. The check engine light means that there’s an issue with your engine. This light appears when the trouble codes stored in your engine control unit goes off. You can usually see this sign in a lot of different shapes, like “check engine” or other informational text that will let you know that this is the light for the check engine code.

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If you want to fix this light, you have to find out what the trouble code in the engine control unit is trying to tell you. You need to read the trouble code memory and you have to use a professional OBD2 scanner (View on Amazon) to read it. This is something you can do at home or you can let a repair workshop check the trouble code memory for you. Common issues in the engine include checking fuses, vacuum leaks around the intake, or loose gas tank cap.

It might be scary, but the check engine light can signify a lot of different issues that your engine might be having. If the issue is not serious, you can keep driving with it but remember that if the engine light is on, your engine might shut off essential functions. Check the trouble codes to always make sure if you can keep driving on it or not because in serious cases, your engine could be even more damaged when ignored.

Service Engine Soon Light

This is very similar to the check engine light, but it’s a little different. This light can have a lot of different meanings depending on your car model. In most car models, there’s just a minor problem with your engine that this light is signifying. It might be just a warning light to let you know that scheduled services like an oil replacement or spark plug replacement are needed.

If you see this light, you can start by checking all the fluids in the engine. Check the oil level transmission fluid level, brake fluid level, washer level and other liquid levels. Make sure that all your lights on the vehicle are working correctly. If you see everything that’s fine then you should check when the latest service was done. If you see all this is right then you might need to read the trouble code memory to figure it out. you can check the code yourself or you can decide to take it to a repair shop so that they can service it for you.

Battery Light

This light indicator lets you know that low voltage is detected in your battery. This light will be on when you are just standing on the ignition, but if this light appears, it means the alternator is not charging your car battery properly. Your vehicle may stop suddenly if this occurred so this is a semi-serious issue.

To fix this issue, you have to measure the voltage of the alternator that is charging the battery. Measure the voltage using a multimeter (View on Amazon), which is a fast and easy method. You can test it if you can reach the alternator and give it a small hit with a hammer to see if the light disappears. If the light fades after this, it means the coals in the alternator are worn out and they need to be replaced. Most of the time, you have to replace the whole alternator, which means that you have to take it to a repair shop to get this fixed.

ABS Light

This means that there’s an issue with the anti-lock brake system, which is what ABS stands for. When this light is on, the ABS function is disabled. The ABS control unit has a wheel sensor to check the speed of each of them. The ABS is not meant to lock your brakes entirely when you panic break your vehicle, but if you see it, during hard braking you won’t be able to steer your vehicle properly. There’s a lot of information and technology that goes into the ABS light system.

If you want to fix this then you need to read the trouble code memory so that you can know what exactly is wrong. Mostly, there’s usually a problem with the ABS ring sensor or the wiring of it. To find the right wheel to troubleshoot, you have to read the trouble codes with an OBD2 scanner if you don’t want to take it to the repair shop. You can also check the fuses of the ABS control unit to figure out what’s wrong. When this light is on, the whole ABS function is shut off and it’s not safe to drive. The light will not likely damage anything else in your car, but it is a traffic security risk.

Airbag Light

If you see the airbag light, this means there’s an issue with the airbag or SRS system. When the light is on, the airbag control system is disabled and you won’t have any airbag saving you if you get into a really bad car accident. This means you should fix this issue as soon as possible because airbags are very important to your safety while you’re in the car.

When this light is on, it means that there’s a trouble code stored in the airbag control module that you need to get fixed. The easiest way to fix this is to read trouble code memory and find out where the trouble code is. You have to use an OBD2 scanner to read the airbag control system. You can also just let a repair shop read it for you if you don’t want to buy this and do it yourself.

If you want to know why this light goes off, you should keep in mind that it’s usually the connector underneath your driver or passenger seat that’s causing it. If you see this airbag light appear when you were moving the seat, it’s likely a bad connection in the connector under the seat that’s the issue. You can take it apart and clean it to erase the trouble code memory. If you don’t want to do this yourself, once again a repair shop can do it for you easily for a fee.

Washer Fluid Level Light

If you see this light, it’s pretty straightforward. It means that there’s a low level of washer fluid in the reservoir. If you want to fix this, you need to fill up the washer fluid reservoir. In some cars you have to wash your reservoirs because one is for the headlight washer. You should check both of them and fill them both up. Look at your service manual to see if there’s more than one reservoir before you buy the fluid that you need. If you’re in a cold country, make sure that you’re using the right mix of washer fluid and water.

If you feel that the reservoir and the light still stays on, there might be an issue with the level sensor, the washer fluid or a wiring issue to the sensor. If you have any of these wiring issues, you should take it to a repair shop so they can either correct the wiring or replace the wiring. The washer fluid light is not very serious to keep driving with, but you might run out of washer fluid and you won’t be able to clean your front or rear windshield. It won’t damage anything else in your car, so you don’t have to panic when you see it.

Traction Control Light

If you see this traction control light, this means there’s an issue with your traction control system. The system uses the ABS wheel sensors to feel the speed of each will. It will reduce engine power of one wheel spinning or slipping on a surface. You can find these warning lights together with the ABS light because the systems are working together and they use the same exact wheel sensors.

If you need to find the problem with this morning light, you should read the trouble code memory of the ABS control unit. This unit will restore any trouble codes and you’ll need a special sensor to look at it. Other reasons for the traction control light is a faulty ABS sensor, ABS ring, or faulty wiring. If you want to find out more about how to diagnose this system, you might need to ask a professional for help.

When the traction control light is on your traction control will be disabled. This will cause an accident if you’re not familiar about driving without it. You should repair this problem as soon as possible because you likely aren’t familiar with driving without it if your car has always had it. It won’t damage any other further parts if you keep driving with the light on, but it is dangerous.

TPMS Light

This is an issue with the tire pressure monitoring system. This means that one of your tires has low tire pressure. If you want to fix this, you have to make sure that you have the correct tire pressure and all of that your tires. You need to find the correct tire pressure in your service manual or on your driver’s car door. After you see the tire pressure light turn off, you have to reset the entire system. In some vehicles, you just have to drive for 15 minutes to reset it, but other times, there’s a reset button. Check your manual for more information on this.

If this sensor comes on and you can’t get the light to turn off, there may be a trouble code stored in the tire pressure monitoring system. You might have a control unit fault that’s causing miscommunication or you might have to reprogram new sensors to the control unit. Otherwise, you will not damage your car if you keep driving with this light on, but you might want to check your tire pressure so that you can ensure that the tires are all right.

Particle Filter Light

This warning light might have two different meanings and you might want to check the car model that you have. It can mean that there’s an issue with the monitoring system for the diesel particle filter or it might tell you that the diesel particle is full and it needs service maintenance.

You should check if there is time for scheduled service for your vehicle because likely you won’t be able to fix this on your own. Some cars have scheduled service for a replacement of the diesel particle filter, but if yours doesn’t, you need to take it to a responsible shop. If you get this warning light with an engine light, then there might be a faulty sensor. You can read the trouble code memory of the control unit or take it to a workshop so that they can read it for you

If you’re wondering if you can keep driving with this particle light on, just know that it isn’t too serious when it just shows up. It will not damage your car if you aren’t driving too far with it on. When this light turns on, the cleaning processes of the particle filter will turn off and it might cause your particle filter to clog up entirely. When this happens, your car will stop, so you want to service it before this happens.

There are a lot of different car lights that you could encounter in your time with your car. Finding out what each of them means might help you understand how serious the issue is and let you know how to diagnose your car. Luckily, you can always take your car to a repair shop to let a professional let you know what’s wrong if you can’t figure it out yourself.

Making Sure You Never Get These Lights

As you’ve seen, there are a few different lights that can come on. If any of these lights come on, it can be a sign that something needs to be fixed and this can be expensive. If you want to make sure that one of these lights don’t come on, you need to be servicing your vehicle often. This involves checking parts to make sure that they’re up to standards and not malfunctioning.

If you want to avoid problems in your vehicle and save $100s of dollars that you’ll spend at the auto repair shop, you’ll need to service your vehicle often – you can use our mechanic-rated Auto Maintenance and Repair Manual to do this. It’s basically what mechanics use to go through your vehicle to check if there are any problems that need fixing. As soon as they notice the most minor problem, they’ll ask you to fork out some money even though it’s a problem you can fix yourself in minutes – the manual will teach you how to maintain your vehicle every few thousand miles and it’ll teach you how to fix minor problems that mechanics will ask you to pay for; saving you money in the long run.

A lot of our readers have the Auto Maintenance and Repair Manual printed on their garage wall and 92% of them haven’t visited the auto repair shop in the last year because they know what to do to avoid problems. All it takes is giving your vehicle a little attention every few thousand miles and you’ll never spend money at the workshop again.

Job Guthiri is a freelance writer with 3 years of experience writing for Motorsrun and other established automobile outlets. His focus and key interests are Tacomas and maintenance. Read our Editorial Guidlines and Fact Checking process.