Written By: Richard Amador
Every year that a new car comes into production it seems that the designing engineers have one mission – to make the complex even more complex! That’s what it seems like to me whenever I see the lights on my car’s dashboard light up. Maybe this is why your vehicle’s service manual dedicates 100 pages or more to help diagnose the problem.
There is no denying that these lights can be intimidating and even at times frightening when they suddenly light up while driving. This post was created to briefly explain the meaning behind those pesky dashboard lights and hopefully give you some comfort knowing what to expect.
A good place to start is by following these five simple rules when reacting to your vehicle’s dashboard warning lights:
1. Never panic. A good understanding of these lights can help you know whether a warning light requires immediate attention or whether you can continue your journey and get your preferred mechanic to investigate later.
2. All of your dashboard lights should illuminate when you first turn on your car’s ignition key. Check to see if any lights do not turn on, as it indicates that the bulb may be burned-out. Technicians call this procedure a “light bulb test,” and it’s usually the first step in diagnosing a vehicle.
3. Look at the color of the light. A light that is either red or amber (yellow-orange) in color indicates a failure to the system it monitors. A blue, green or other color is simply a non-critical system that may be engaged as an option, like cruise control, or something similar.
4. Never ignore a constantly lit dashboard light. Doing so can lead to permanent damage and a higher repair bill. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that the repair is something small such as a loose gas cap or a spark plug; however, if ignored, something small can quickly snowball into a more costly repair.
5. Any light that flashes or blinks continuously should be taken very seriously. The one to really watch for is your car’s flashing Check Engine light, as it indicates that damage may be occurring to the internal, mechanical parts of your engine. At this point, you should safely stop the vehicle and seek the immediate help of a roadside assistance provider or professional technician. If your car is running well enough to get home, you can also opt to go into “limp” mode, by slowing down, getting into the right lane and slowly driving home or to a qualified repair shop.
So now that you have the basics, here is a four-page downloadable PDF document that you can print and leave in your glove box for reference.
It provides a quick overview of the most common lights and why they are important. Also realize that many warning lights are specific to the car make or even the model, so not every light is listed here. If you find a light that is not referenced here, please check your vehicle’s user’s manual.
So the next time you see a lit light on your dashboard, simply pull out your printed document and follow the five simple rules above – particularly Rule #1.
Wishing you good health for yourself and your vehicle!