Dashboard Warning Lights Explained

Aviva Car Insurance

Every one of us has a soft spot for our own car, and we do our best to keep them in good shape and running well. Just as a doctor would tell us if we were sick, our cars use their dashboard lights to signal to us when something is wrong. At Aviva, we strive to help our customers become and remain the safest drivers they can be. Take a look as we cover what the most important dashboard lights mean and what you need to do if they light up.

Aviva Car Insurance Article

When you turn on your car’s ignition, all of your dashboard warning lights will switch on momentarily and this is normal. If you notice any of them don’t light up when you start your car, you’ll need to get the bulb checked as soon as possible by your mechanic, so you’ll know when something is wrong.

Battery warning

What it looks like: a battery icon with plus and minus symbols visible on the icon.

After starting your engine, if your battery light doesn’t go out after a few seconds, this could indicate a problem with your car’s electrical system. This could be to do with a faulty alternator or battery, a bad connection or damaged cabling somewhere in the engine area of your car.

If your car isn’t charging its battery when moving (the job of an alternator), then you could eventually run out of electrical power and grind to a halt. At worst, the light could be on due to your alternator drive belt braking. Other systems also use this belt – like the engine coolant pump or power steering – so the effects of a failure here could be compounded.

Want to learn more about your car’s battery? Have a look at our battery health article.

Tyre pressure warning

What it looks like: the outline of a wheel with an exclamation mark in the centre. 

This system can identify a deviation in the normal pressure of your tyres or signify a potential puncture. Although the system can often be temperamental or sensitive for some vehicles, this car warning light shouldn’t be ignored. Low tyre pressure can affect driving and braking. It can also pose the risk of a blowout. 

Tyre pressure is measured in PSI, BAR or kPa and can vary between vehicles. Check your car’s handbook or owner manual to view the correct pressure for your specific tyres.

For a full guide on tyre safety, take a look here.

Windscreen washer fluid level

What it looks like: a windscreen with a dotted vertical line going through the centre that represents water spouting up.

It is safe to drive when this car dashboard symbol is lighting but be sure to fill the reservoir as soon as you can. If you do this and the light is still on, have the sensor tested and replaced.

Oil pressure loss

What it looks like: a magic genie lamp or watering can with water dripping.

So just like your car’s water or coolant warning light, you might see an oil warning light flash up on your dash.

Oil is what keeps your engine lubricated, with the oil pump spraying the fluid to all corners of your engine. If temperatures get too high, or even worse, too low or oil pressure drops, the effectiveness of the lubrication can be reduced or lost all together.

If left unattended these issues could result in you needing a new engine… a very costly experience. Engine damage is very expensive, so if you see this warning sign, stop and phone your garage right away.

Temperature warning

What it looks like: a thermometer or key submerged in water.

If your engine’s coolant levels are low, you could see this warning light. If your car’s engine gets too hot, it has the ability to weld itself together. If you see this light pop up, check under the hood and on the side of your coolant tank there will be a measurement gauge – make sure this is topped up.

It’s important to stop the vehicle immediately if this light is on display. There could be the risk of total engine failure if you continue driving. Taking out a comprehensive car insurance policy can help you in this case if you need to make costly repairs.

ABS warning light

What it looks like: a circle with ABS displayed in the centre. 

An anti-lock braking system helps prevent wheels from locking when brakes are applied. The system allows the driver control over sterling and stops the vehicle from skidding. If your ABS is malfunctioning, you will need to take extra care because your braking distance may be increased. Get your ABS checked as soon as you can by a mechanic, and if you hear noises coming from your wheels you should pull over as soon as it is safe to do so and call for assistance.

Brakes warning

What it looks like: a circle with an exclamation mark displayed in the centre.

Your car's brakes are the most important feature in keeping you safe on the road. So, if there’s a brake light flashing on your dash you are highly advised not to drive it and call for breakdown assistance right away.

However, this light may also just mean that the car’s handbrake is still on so check to see if it’s fully released before you start panicking.

Engine warning light

What it looks like: the outline of an engine.

When this lights up, it could be something small like a faulty electrical sensor, but it could also be a bigger mechanical problem. Don’t take the chance; be sure to get to a reputable mechanic as soon as you can to avoid causing any serious damage to your engine.

If your engine warning light comes on, it will often be accompanied by some other issues with your car – these could be linked to your car’s power, it may have gone into ‘safe’ mode to protect itself; stuttering when you use the accelerator or some other fault.

It’s important to know that car warning lights are shown in different colours with the most severe warnings displayed in red. Red lights include brake or engine lights. When these lights appear, you should take your car to get serviced as soon as possible as they may pose a hazard when driving. On the other hand, yellow warnings are less urgent and remind you that you need a service soon. They include window washer warning lights or the oil light. 

If you do find yourself having an unexpected breakdown, it can be nerve-wracking trying to think on the spot what the best course of action is. Take a look at our tips to survive an expected breakdown for help.

One thing your car can’t warn you about is looking after your insurance, that bit is up to you! Get 15% off your car insurance when you buy online. Get your car insurance quote today.1

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