16 Dash Light Meanings All Drivers Should Know (2023)

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Any licensed driver should know that every vehicle comes with a series of symbols on the dash that help to communicate to the driver various problems or changes in the function of the vehicle. However, if your last driving test was more than a decade ago, you may be a little rusty on the dash light meanings. Learning or relearning car light meanings is necessary to ensure that you can respond to an emergency situation as soon as a dash symbol appears.

Some safety lights in the dash inform the driver of potential problems with the car, like a battery warning or oil pressure warning, but other dashboard lights express changes in how the car is operating so that you as the driver can adjust to the change in function. An example of this active change is traction control, which helps the tires grip slippery pavement while you drive. Refresh your memory of these car light symbols and more important car warning lights below.

1. Battery Warning

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The battery warning light is relatively easy to decipher. It’s usually red and it looks like a standard car battery with a plus and minus symbol on either side. This is an indicator meaning that something is wrong with the vehicle’s charging system. Though the symbol is of a battery, it should be noted that the issue could also be with the alternator, a corroded battery cable, or any other fault in the electrical system.

It’s important to pull over and stop the car as soon as it’s safe to do so if you see this light. Call a tow truck and have your vehicle checked out by an automotive professional. If you don’t pull over, then it’s likely that the engine will stall when the battery drains, leaving you to coast to the side of the road, if it’s safe, or be stuck in the middle of the road.

RELATED: The Best Places to Buy a Car Battery

2. Engine Temperature Warning

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A car’s engine and transmission heat up when running, so vehicles are equipped with several systems to help regulate engine and transmission temperature to prevent overheating. However, if a problem occurs, like a broken water pump, a leak in the radiator, worn internal components, or low transmission fluid levels, then the engine temperature warning or transmission temperature warning lights would illuminate in the dashboard.

The engine temperature warning symbol is depicted as a red thermometer that indicates the engine is overheating when it lights up. Pull over immediately and have the vehicle towed to the nearest mechanic for assessment and repairs.

The transmission temperature warning symbol is typically a yellow or red thermometer that is surrounded by a gear. Similarly, when this light turns on, you need to pull over to prevent serious damage to the transmission of the vehicle.

3. Oil Pressure Warning

The oil pressure warning light can come on if there are low oil levels, a worn oil pump, a leak in the oil pan, or if there are any other worn internal components. When you see an illuminated red oil can, that indicates there is a problem with oil circulation throughout the engine. Therefore, it’s important to check the oil levels and inspect the vehicle for any leaks or obvious problems.

The car symbols in the dash are essential for preventing further damage to the vehicle once a problem has been detected, so if you can find the issue, it’s best to take the vehicle to a professional mechanic to assess and make repairs. Keep in mind that driving a vehicle with poor oil circulation will lead to premature engine wear and could cause the engine to overheat or even seize up entirely.

4. Check Engine Light

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If you aren’t familiar with the check engine light, then you’re likely one of very few drivers who can make that claim. This dash light is so well known because it comes on for any engine-related issue, including serious problems, like a loss of compression. It also can illuminate if the gas cap isn’t tight enough or let the driver know of other issues that have simple fixes.

The symbol is typically the outline of an engine that is either red or yellow. If you see this symbol, don’t ignore it. Check the car for any simple problems that could be causing the warning light to turn on and if you don’t spot anything immediately, book an appointment to have a mechanic diagnose the issue.

5. Brake Warning

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A red circle with an exclamation mark or a capital “P” in the center is the brake warning symbol. This dash light can be illuminated because the parking brake is still engaged, or it may be indicating a problem with the braking system. Engage and release the parking brake to see if this turns the light off. If it doesn’t, then have the vehicle towed for repairs because it might not be safe to drive.

The anti-lock braking system has its own dash light depicted as the letters “ABS” in the center of a red or yellow circle. Issues with the ABS system can cause reduced braking performance, so it’s a good idea to have the vehicle checked out as soon as you can. Possible causes for the brake warning or ABS warning light to come on include a faulty wheel speed sensor, worn brake pads, a problem with the ABS controller, or even low brake fluid levels.

6. Tire Pressure Warning

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Easy to recognize as a red or yellow exclamation point in the center of a vehicle tire, the tire pressure warning dash light usually means that the tires are under- or overinflated. Modern vehicles can be equipped with individual tire pressure monitoring systems so the driver can check the pressure of each tire to ensure that it is balanced. If you don’t have this system in your vehicle, you will need to check the tire pressure manually.

If this light comes on while you are driving, pull over and check for any flat or severely underinflated tires. Use a tire pressure gauge to ensure the tire pressure meets the recommendations for your vehicle. The owner’s manual will usually provide this information, and many gas stations have air pumps to inflate your tire. If the tire is flat, either call for a tow or jack the car up in a safe location and replace the flat with a spare tire.

RELATED: 14 Things You Never Thought to Keep in Your Car

7. Traction Control

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The traction control symbol has a dash light meaning that is not an immediate cause for concern. Depicted by a car and two S-shaped lines, the traction control dash light comes on when the vehicle activates the traction control function. This function automatically applies the brakes to help prevent slipping during acceleration and typically engages when the vehicle is driving on icy, snowy, or wet surfaces, including pavement, sand, and gravel.

8. Low Fuel Warning

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If the gas cap is loose or if the vehicle is almost out of fuel, then the low fuel warning will come on to indicate to the driver that it’s time to pull over and fill up the tank. The symbol for this warning light is a yellow or red gas pump. Some vehicles may also have a navigation system that responds to the low fuel warning by automatically locating the nearest gas station and providing this information on the navigation display.

9. Washer Fluid Indicator

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A yellow windshield icon with a small wiper blade depicted at mid-wipe is the symbol used to indicate that the washer fluid levels are low. This isn’t an urgent matter in most circumstances, though it can be hazardous to drive in the winter without washer fluid due to the amount of dirt and grime that gets sprayed up on the windshield in the snow. When you get the chance, stop at a gas station or any other store that sells washer fluid and fill up the washer fluid reservoir.

10. Seat Belt Reminder

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Seat belts are designed to keep the driver and passengers safe in the case of an accident, and if you aren’t wearing a seat belt you can be pulled over and ticketed. To help keep you safe and avoid tickets, the seat belt reminder light stays illuminated until the driver and any passengers put on their seat belts. The symbol for this dash light is the outline of a person wearing a seat belt.

11. Airbag Indicator

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The airbag or supplemental restraint system (SRS) is responsible for tightening the seatbelts and deploying the vehicle’s airbags in the event of an emergency. If the airbag indicator light comes on, then this means there is a problem with the SRS system that could prevent the airbags from deploying or even the seatbelts from tightening properly, putting the driver and any passengers at risk.

The airbag indicator symbol is usually a red airbag icon, but it can also be seen as the letters “SRS.” Get the vehicle inspected by a professional mechanic to determine the problem before resuming normal use.

12. High Beam Light Indicator

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There are several car lights that are simply used to inform the driver about the current function of the vehicle. The high beam light indicator is a blue headlight symbol that means the high beams are currently active. If you are driving in the city or toward another vehicle on a highway, it’s a good idea to turn the high beams off so you don’t blind others.

A green headlight symbol with slightly angled green lines will be illuminated if the vehicle’s low beam or dipped beam setting is active. The same green headlight symbol with a vertical squiggly line passing through the three angled lines indicates that the fog lights are turned on, making it easier to see in foggy conditions.

13. Security Alert

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The security alert dash light symbol is a car with a key or a padlock. If a vehicle has a security system, then it may have a security light on the dash that will illuminate when the security system disables the ignition system to deter thieves. It also can blink occasionally just to show that the system is active. However, if the security light comes on while driving, then you may have a problem with the ignition system, so it’s important to have the vehicle diagnosed and repaired if necessary.

14. Power Steering Warning

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The symbol for power steering is a red or yellow steering wheel. It may also have an exclamation point on one side of the steering wheel, depending on the make and model of the car. Typically, the power steering warning light comes on when the vehicle detects an issue with the steering system.

With this warning, you will need to take the vehicle to a mechanic to have the problem assessed if the vehicle has electric power steering (EPS). Vehicles with hydraulic power steering may only need the power steering fluid topped off, but it’s still a good idea to schedule a maintenance appointment.

RELATED: Old-School Car Maintenance Tricks All Drivers Should Know

15. Press Brake Indicator

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An automatic transmission system will not allow the driver to shift out of park unless the brake pedal is pressed down. The press brake indicator light is intended to signal to the driver that this system is active, and it’s usually depicted as a green foot inside a circle. Similarly, a manual transmission system may be equipped with a press clutch indicator that is depicted as an orange shoe inside an orange circle. Make sure to press the clutch when changing gears and shifting out of “park.”

16. Powertrain Fault Warning

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Similar to the check engine light, the powertrain fault warning is a symbol that can turn on for various problems with the system, such as low voltage, a faulty oil cooler, or problems with the powertrain or all-wheel drive (AWD) system. It is depicted as a yellow wrench that’s easy to spot on the dash. Speak to a licensed mechanic to diagnose the issue and make any necessary repairs.


What are all the lights on the dashboard mean? ›

Green or blue lights simply let you know that a system is on or operating. Orange/yellow warning lights generally signify that your vehicle needs to be serviced or repaired soon. These warnings are less urgent than if you have a red and/or flashing light. A red light means that you should take action immediately!

What are 5 lights that might light up on your dashboard to tell you something needs attention or repair in your car? ›

These 5 car dashboard warning lights should be considered very serious when they illuminate.
  • Engine Temperature Warning Light. ...
  • Oil Pressure Warning Light. ...
  • Battery Charging Warning Light. ...
  • Brake Warning Light. ...
  • Check Engine Light.
Oct 19, 2018

What are the 3 main warning lights warning gauges in your car? ›

There are three kinds of warning lights:
  • Oil Pressure Warning Light.
  • Temperature Warning Light.
  • Battery Low Warning Light.

What is the most serious warning light in a car? ›

The check engine light is usually the most serious and feared warning because of the kind of damage it can signal. This warning often indicates the potential for serious engine damage. When ignored, your vehicle could suffer from a blown head gasket or a seized engine.

How many dashboard lights are there? ›

There are well over 100 different dashboard warning lights in use by car manufacturers. While there are lights for every conceivable system and situation, the lights can be broken down into five broad categories: engine, brakes, safety, lights and stability & traction control.

Which dashboard lights let you know when the engine needs service? ›

Red, Yellow/Orange, Green, and Blue Lights

A red warning light demands immediate attention (don't drive any further), while yellow/orange warning lights indicate a problem that needs to be serviced soon. If you see a green or blue light, this normally indicates that a certain car function is on or currently in use.

What does a transmission warning light look like? ›

Some cars may warn of a transmission fault by flashing the overdrive light or displaying a string of text in the driver's information center. Others will display a symbol depicting a gear with an exclamation mark or a thermometer (for transmission over temperature) inside.

What color is the dash light that tells you your high beams are on? ›

Various Light Indicators

The blue light indicates the High Beam headlights are on (be sure to dim these for oncoming traffic.) A similar light, but green, indicates the Low Beam headlights are on. A light symbol with the dashes pointed downward, usually with a slash through the dashes, means the fog lights are on.

What is master warning light? ›

The Master Warning light is used to notify you of a potential problem with one or more of your vehicle's advanced systems. It will be accompanied by a message in your car's vehicle information display with a more detailed system message.

What are emergency warning lights? ›

Emergency vehicle lighting is generally used to clear the right of way for emergency vehicles, or to warn approaching motorists of potential hazards, such as a vehicle that is stopped or moving slower than the rate of traffic, or a car that has been pulled over.

What does (!) Mean in a car? ›

In the event that you see an exclamation mark with a circle around it in your dash, that means something is wrong with your brakes. There may be a problem with brake components or the hydraulic fluid may need a top-off. Stop the car and call a tow truck as soon as you safely can.

What dash light looks like a fish? ›

The tire pressure light looks like a fish bowl with an exclamation point in the center. This light commonly comes on during the winter months when the temperature drops and the air pressure decreases.

When should I worry about dashboard lights? ›

Green: the system is working correctly or is currently in use. Yellow: something is not working correctly - take extra care and check it out as soon as possible. Red: there is a serious, and potentially dangerous problem - stop driving as soon as it is safe to do so.

What warning light looks like a teapot? ›

Engine Oil Pressure Warning Light

The engine oil pressure light looks like a teapot with a droplet coming out of it. A common misconception is that this light comes on when the oil level is low. However, it may be a more serious issue than that.

How many different dashboards are there? ›

There are three types of dashboards: operational, strategic, and analytical.

What are the dashboard displays? ›

Dashboard features

Contemporary dashboards may include the speedometer, tachometer, odometer, engine coolant temperature gauge, and fuel gauge, turn indicators, gearshift position indicator, seat belt warning light, parking-brake warning light, and engine-malfunction lights.

What are the different symbols in the car? ›

12 Car Dashboard Symbol Meanings You Didn't Know of
  • Symbol #1 - The Engine Light (or the check engine light) ...
  • Symbol #2 - Battery Alert Light. ...
  • Symbol #3 - Low fuel light. ...
  • Symbol #4 - Engine overheating icon. ...
  • Symbol #5 - Transmission Temperature Warning. ...
  • Symbol #6 - Oil Pressure Warning. ...
  • Symbol #7 - Low Tire Pressure.
Mar 3, 2022

What are the different car lights? ›

The two types of headlights are low beam and high beam, which allow drivers to see the road in the dark and make themselves visible to other motorists. Other car lights include DRLs, sidelights, and fog lights.

How many lights should a car have? ›

On the exterior, the car has at least nine types of lights spread from the front to the back. But on some types of cars, there are also lights on the side of the body.

What is the most common check engine light? ›

Oxygen Sensor Malfunction

One of the most common reasons your check engine light may come on is that your oxygen sensor is failing. Your local auto repair shop in Western Washington can replace it for you quickly, which will restore your vehicle's ability to measure unburned oxygen in its exhaust system.

What symbol means you need an oil change? ›

Engine Oil Level Indicator– This dashboard warning light looks like a lamp with a drop of oil dripping from it. Unlike the first indicator we discussed, this warning light only comes on for two main reasons. One, you have an oil leak and are low on oil because of it. Two, your vehicle is long overdue for an oil change.

What does oil warning light look like? ›

This light looks like a genie lamp with a drop coming out of the end, but in some models it is a red light that says OIL. Any red warning light that your vehicle displays is an indication that your vehicle needs maintenance as soon as possible to avoid serious damage.

What is the symbol for low tire pressure? ›

If you're learning about tire pressure sensors for the first time, finding the TPMS indicator on your dashboard is simple. It's a horseshoe-shaped light with an exclamation point in the center.

What is the light for low transmission fluid? ›

If your transmission fluid gets low enough, the check engine light could pop on. It's important to have this checked out to make sure it doesn't result in any serious damage.

Is there a warning light for transmission fluid? ›

When the level of transmission fluid goes down, you will get a warning light on the dashboard. The warning light indicates hotter temperatures than normal of the fluid, and there is a need to get the fluid checked.

Which symbol represents oil pressure warning? ›

Oil Pressure Warning Light

The oil can symbol means the oil pressure is low. If the symbol has a wavy line below it, that means the oil level is low.

What lights to use at night? ›

As per the Highway Code, you must use dipped headlights “when visibility is seriously reduced”, i.e., when you are able to see less than 100m in front of you. So basically, any time you're driving at night or during bad weather.

Which light is your low beam? ›

To find the low beam on your own car, you can locate it simply using the unmistakeable symbol: the headlamp pictogram, which has several lines going diagonally downwards from the left side.

What does engine management light look like? ›

It's usually an amber light that's located in or around the instruments behind the steering wheel and appears when the car's sensors detect a problem with your engine or another part of the running gear.

What color are cop lights? ›

Red: The most common color used in the United States to denote an emergency vehicle. With the exception of law enforcement vehicles in certain states, police, fire and EMS vehicles commonly all use red lights.

What does it mean when a cop flashes white lights? ›

If you see a white flashing light, the police may be using it as a warning but are more likely to be trying to identify a particular vehicle or to illuminate your vehicle or one in your vicinity, and you do not need to stop or pull over unless they use their tactical blue and red lights.

What color lights do you have to pull over for? ›

Red lights are instinctively associated with emergency situations, and are most often used in police vehicles, fire trucks, and ambulances. Depending on state laws, emergency vehicles can also use forward-facing red lights in combination with blue or white lights.

What is 2 in a car? ›

R – Reverse. N – Neutral. D – Drive. 3 – Third gear 2 – Second gear 1 – First gear. O – Overdrive (if equipped)

What is C and H in car? ›

The car's temperature gauge tells you whether the coolant in your car is working or not. The dial on this gauge must ideally stay halfway between cold and hot (C or H).

What do car thieves look for? ›

Thieves will steal anything valuable, but the most common items stolen from cars tend to be electronics, personal information, and accessories.

What car symbol has two lines? ›

Traction Control Warning Light

The yellow traction control light – a car with two squiggly lines underneath – illuminates momentarily when the system is intervening. If the light stays on however, that means there is a problem with the system and it may not operate properly.

What does the jellyfish light mean? ›

Fog Lamp Indicator Light

It looks like a sideways jellyfish, and it means your fog lights are on.

What does the swerve light mean? ›

This warning is shaped like a vehicle with swerving marks underneath it. Possibly the only warning light you won't need to pull over for, it merely means your vehicle's traction control system has been activated.

Is orange engine light serious? ›

An orange or amber light is the least serious. If this light comes on and persists, it means that you should be able to keep driving as normal, but take your car to be looked at by a garage as soon as you can.

Is check engine light serious? ›

Most of the time, however, the check engine light is an indicator that there is a serious problem with your car that needs to be addressed. Regardless of the issue, the first step is to take your car in to get diagnosed by a professional car care expert.

What are the three main warning lights? ›

There are 3 different categories of warning lights; red, amber and green:
  • Red warning lights mean you should stop the car as soon as it's safe.
  • Yellow warning lights mean that action is required.
  • Green warning lights are for information only.

What does a light with a lightning bolt mean? ›

The lightning bolt warning light alerts you to a fault in the electronic throttle control system in your vehicle. This may be a faulty throttle body, the throttle body sensor or possibly the throttle body control motor which is what controls the opening and closing of the throttle body as the motor requires more fuel.

What is the transmission light symbol? ›

Transmission Warning Light

When this red or yellow transmission warning symbol is illuminated, your car is alerting you that your transmission is overheating. If this warning light turns on, you should immediately stop your vehicle and turn it off when it's safe to do so.

What is the most common reason for check engine light? ›

The emissions/exhaust system is the most likely culprit for many check engine lights being illuminated. There could be an exhaust leak or a problem with the catalytic converter. The mass airflow sensor (MAF) is another sensor that is easily tripped or can fail.

Is it OK to drive with engine light on? ›

Can you drive a car with the engine light on? It's okay to drive for a few miles, but be sure to schedule an inspection of the engine as soon as possible. If the check engine light comes on while you're driving, don't panic! Pay attention and see if the car is driving any differently than normal.

Will engine light come on if something is wrong with transmission? ›

Yes, transmission problems can cause your check engine light to come on. Your automobile's main computer, the engine control module (ECM), talks with system sensors to make sure everything is okay. If the transmission sensors report a problem, the ECM will turn on the check engine light.

What are the car headlight symbols? ›

Most headlight controls will be marked by a standard headlamp indicator symbol. Look for this symbol on the side of the control dial. The standard headlamp indicator symbol looks like a sun or upside-down light bulb.

What is the orange symbol on my dash? ›

You might notice the orange exclamation mark on your dashboard. It's a common symbol often surrounded by a tire icon. If you see this symbol, pay attention. It's an alert that one of your tires has dropped below 75% of its recommended pressure.

What is a gearbox light? ›

The automatic transmission warning light, also known as the gearbox warning light, denotes a transmission issue that could be brought on by a fluid level, temperature, or pressure issue.

What does the oil light look like? ›

This light looks like a genie lamp with a drop coming out of the end, but in some models it is a red light that says OIL. Any red warning light that your vehicle displays is an indication that your vehicle needs maintenance as soon as possible to avoid serious damage.

What does the oil can light mean? ›

What does it mean when the oil light comes on? When the oil light on your dashboard comes on, it might mean your vehicle has low oil pressure. This drop in oil pressure could be a sign of a few things: you are low on oil, your oil is dirty, or you have an oil leak.


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