Dashboard Warning Lights – When to Act

Dashboard Warning Lights – When to Act

We’ve all been driving our vehicles when the dashboard lights start lighting up like an airport runway. Your instinct is probably to rush off to the nearest garage to get it checked out, but how do you know if this is just a warning or something more serious?

We take a look at what all those lights mean to help prevent you from unnecessary callouts to the breakdown service, expensive trips to your local garage, the risk of increased premiums or incurring additional costs on your motor trade insurance and unwanted time away from your business. 

What Do Those Warning Lights Mean?

When you start your car’s ignition, your dashboard lights will momentarily light up and should then disappear. This lets you know that your vehicle is working correctly. If a light remains on when the engine is running, this could be an indication that all is not well.

The warning lights on your dashboard follow the colours of a traffic light system, with green meaning that everything is working correctly, amber suggests that something isn’t working properly and needs attention soon, while red means that there could be a serious problem and you should stop driving as soon as is safe.

Here’s our guide to what the yellow and red warning lights on your dashboard could mean.

1. Check engine or ECU warning light

This warning light is connected to your car’s engine control unit (ECU) and when illuminated is often accompanied by signs the engine isn’t functioning well, such as a loss of power or a stuttering when you press the accelerator. This could suggest the engine overheating or something simple such as a faulty sensor or cracked fuel cap. If this light comes on, always get it checked at your garage as it may cause serious damage to your engine.

2. Oil pressure warning light

Also known as the low engine oil light, this should be taken seriously when illuminated. The light comes on when the oil temperature gets too high or the oil level or pressure is too low. Oil pressure is generated by the oil pump keeping the engine oil circulating and if the engine isn’t being lubricating sufficiently, the engine can be damaged, sometimes irreversibly.

When the oil warning light comes on, stop when safe and check the oil levels as well as for any visible leaks under the car. If the oil is low, top it up as soon as possible. If levels are fine, it could be the pump that’s at fault and further driving would damage your engine.

3. Brake system warning light

Alongside the oil warning light, the brake system warning light also requires urgent attention. Firstly, check that your handbrake is fully released. If the red light remains on, it may be an indication that your brake fluid level is low, which will mean a trip to the garage unless you know how to top it up.

Other causes could be a faulty brake pad wear sensor, or something else to do with the braking.  If the ABS warning light is also illuminated, this is a clearer signal that the braking system has malfunctioned and your brakes are not working correctly. You may also find that the Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD) light is illuminated. It’s important that you stop as soon as it is safe and get help.

4. Battery charge warning light

This warning light indicates that your battery is not charging. It could be as simple as a faulty or old battery that needs replacing or something more serious such as a problem with the car’s electrical system due to a faulty alternator or drive belt, bad electrical connection or damaged cabling. You will be safe driving until your battery is drained, so it’s a good idea to get to a garage as soon as possible to avoid breaking down. 

5. Engine Temperature warning light

If you see this light on at any time after starting the ignition, then the engine is running too hot, which could be due to a number of things including a low level of coolant (or antifreeze) in the system.  Also known as the coolant temperature warning light, this could be due to a leaky or clogged radiator, or it could be a sign of a larger problem, like a head gasket failure.

If this sign shows red, you should stop immediately as it could lead to complete engine failure. When the engine has cooled down, check the gauge on the side of the coolant tank and top up if needed. If the warning light then goes off, you may have solved the problem. 

6. Tyre-pressure sensor warning

Also known as the TPMS symbol, this light signals that the pressure in one or more of your tyres is too low.  Driving on low-pressure tyres is unsafe and can adversely affect braking and cornering, even leading to a blow-out at high speed. You can still drive carefully when this light is on but reduce your speed and get your tyres inflated or checked for punctures at the first opportunity.

7. Airbag warning light

Also known as the supplemental restraint system (SRS) warning light, if this shows red it could mean that the airbag safety system is not working correctly. It isn’t safe to drive your car while this is illuminated as it may deploy unexpectedly and cause a crash.

8. The electric power steering system (EPS) warning light

Whilst this could be something serious, it may just mean rebooting your vehicle. Switch the ignition off, wait 30 seconds, turn back on and see if the light is still illuminated. If it is, you will need to get the power steering checked as soon as possible as it could be dangerous to drive at speed.

9. Diesel particulate filter (DPF) warning light

For those with diesel vehicles, the DPF warning light will illuminate if there is an issue with the exhaust particulate filter, which removes dangerous soot from the exhaust gases to reduce emissions. If the filter is blocked with soot, you will start to see plumes of black smoke from the exhaust while driving. It can be damaging to your vehicle, so have it checked as soon as possible.

At Tradex, we specialise in motor trade insurance. If you would like to know more about how we can help keep your policy secure with personalised breakdown and recovery packages, please call us on 0333 313 1111.

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