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Clueless about car dashboard symbols and what to do when they light up? Here are the 10 car dashboard symbols every driver must know and how to rectify them.

Category: Miscellaneous Advice

For safety reasons, car dashboards are equipped with indicator lights. When they light up, this could indicate a myriad of reasons ranging from small issues like a loose petrol cap or signal a more severe problem which needs to be dealt with immediately.

Here are 10 common car dashboard symbols and what you should do when they light up
1. Engine temperature indicator light

Your engine is overheating - pull over and let your engine cool down before driving off
What it means: Your engine is overheating

Cause: Overheating can be caused by several issues such as low coolant levels, leaks in the cooling system or a faulty radiator fan or thermostat

What you should do:
  • Pull over immediately when it is safe to do so
  • Let the engine cool down
  • Top up the engine's coolant if necessary. If you don't have a bottle of coolant on hand, water will work as a temporary fix
  • If you need to continue driving, turn up the heater and blower to transfer the heat from the engine into the cabin
2. Oil pressure indicator light

Do not continue to drive with low oil pressure
What it means: Your engine's oil pressure has fallen below normal levels

Cause: Low oil levels or something more serious such as a damaged oil pump or a clogged oil filter

What you should do:
  • Pull over safely and turn off the engine
  • Check that your car's oil levels are at the optimum level, top it up if necessary
  • If your oil levels are fine, contact your mechanic for assistance. DO NOT continue to run the engine with very low oil
3. Battery charge indicator light

Time to change your batteries
What it means: Your car's battery is running on its own charge and is not being charged by the alternator

Cause: This might be an indication to replace your car battery - an average car a battery should have a lifespan of 3 to 5 years. On a more serious note, it might signal a faulty alternator, damaged battery or cables or a broken alternator belt

What you should do:
  • Switch off as many things that draw power from the battery as possible - this includes the aircon, radio and lights
  • Keep the car moving until you can reach a safe location to rectify the problem, in case your car is unable to restart again
4. Brake indicator light

Did you forget to disengage your handbrake?
What it means: Your handbrake is engaged or there is a problem with the brake system

Cause: This might be due to loss in brake fluid due to worn brake pads, a leak in the brake hydraulic system or a faulty ABS speed sensor

What you should do:
  • Check if your handbrake is completely disengaged
  • If the light stays on, blinking intermittently, or you feel a loss in brake pedal resistance, pull over immediately and call for a tow truck
5. Airbag indicator light

Airbags can save lives, so do not take safety for granted
What it means: There is an issue with your airbags

Cause: Small accidents might trigger your car's crash sensors to activate without deploying your airbags. Corroded sensors, damaged airbag clock springs and wet airbag modules are also other causes for your airbag indicator to light up

What you should do:
  • Bring your car to a workshop to have it checked out and reset
6. Check engine indicator light

If you see this, it's best to bring it to a car workshop to get it sorted out
What it means: There is an issue with your engine

Cause: The check engine indicator could be caused by a whole range of problems from a minor one like loose petrol filler caps to something serious like a damaged catalytic converter

What you should do:
  • Try tightening your gas cap
  • If you notice a serious loss in your car's performance, reduce speed
  • Plug in an OBD code reader to find out what's wrong or seek professional help
  • If it persists or starts blinking, bring your car to a workshop immediately for a diagnostic check
7. ABS indicator light

Your brakes will still work but sometimes, it isn't enough to prevent an accident
What it means: There is an issue with your car's Anti-Lock Braking System. Your brakes will still work, but the ABS might not engage if you need to make an emergency stop

Cause: The ABS indicator could be triggered by several issues such as a faulty emergency brake, loss in brake hydraulic pressure or a damaged speed sensor

What you should do:
  • Avoid braking too quickly or aggressively
  • Brake slowly when necessary
  • If the light stays on, bring your car to a workshop to look at it as soon as possible
8. Tyre pressure indicator light

The best way to monitor your tyre pressure is to invest in a TPMS (Tyre Pressure Monitoring System)
What it means: One or more of your tyres are running low on pressure

Cause: There could be an air leak caused by a puncture on your tyres. It could also be a cause of improper fitment of tyres or an incorrect installation of the tyre pressure gauge

What you should do:
  • Check for any nails and punctures as soon as possible
  • Determine and identify the cause of pressure loss
  • Head to your nearest petrol station to fill your tyres with air
  • If the indicator light flashes, it is an indication that your tyre pressure indicator has a sensor fault. Bring it to a workshop to get it corrected
9. Traction control indicator light

When the system is helping you to gain traction, this indicator light will pop up
What it means: When it is flashing, your car's traction control system is engaged and working to help you gain traction

Cause: This dashboard indicator is most triggered by bad and slippery road conditions. However, if the light persists, it could indicate issues with the wheel speed sensors or steering angle sensors

What you should do:
  • Drive slowly and carefully
  • If the light persists, bring it to a workshop to have it checked out
10. Smart key low battery light

This indicator will show on your instrument panel when your smart key needs a battery replacement
What it means: Your smart key needs a battery replacement

Cause: Your smart key is running low on battery

What you should do:
  • Head to a key and remote merchant to change your batteries
  • Or replace it yourself if you know how to (refer to car manual for correct information on what type of battery to use)
If you have any car trouble and don't know what to do, always seek professional advice from car workshops that specialise in repair and servicing.
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