Dashboard warning lights causing you problems? Well, you’re not alone.
At least from what I’ve seen, lots of drivers especially the ones lacking driving experience have the same problem.
This article will hopefully give you some insight into dashboard warning lights, about their purpose, meaning, and a brief explanation of what you should do if they light up.
Besides that, we’ve divided them into three categories for a better overview:
1) Ones that warn of an immediate problem or danger
2) Ones that show the need for caution (in most cases you can continue driving with caution)
3) Other dashboard warning lights (high beam, low beam, turn signals, and else).
This way you’ll know how to react to what warning light and perhaps save your car from severe damage.
The lower mentioned dashboard lights are from the Skoda Fabia but apply to other cars thanks to the fact that most warning icons are standardized.
WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO KNOW THE MEANING?
From the beginning of the car age, manufacturers had to give drivers some sort of overview of the car condition.
Many drivers lacked the knowledge to check oil, coolant, brake fluid, or other important parameters and did not do so till the bitter end (causing huge damages like an engine overhaul or a car accident).
To prevent this, car manufactures had to come up with a simple but effective warning system.
What better way to do this than to make glowing lamps in the direct eye-sight of the driver? This system remained the same to this day and grew from a few lamps to today’s LCD monitors.
The main point of dashboard warning lights is: NOTICING ON TIME!
Awareness on the driver’s part has a key role besides understanding the meaning of every warning light.
Once you know what light has what meaning, you’ll know how to react and how it impacts your car.
For instance, if the windshield wiper fluid warning light turns on, you can continue driving without problems; if the check engine light goes on it’s time for an inspection.
On the other hand, if the oil or coolant light goes on, it will probably be time to pull over immediately or as soon as possible.
To simplify, knowing the meaning of dashboard warning lights can mean the difference between a safe drive and a minor intervention or a driving mishap and making significant damage to your car.
DASHBOARD WARNING LIGHTS THAT WARN OF AN IMMEDIATE PROBLEM OR DANGER.
When these dashboard warning lights come up, stop the car and tend to the problem as soon as possible. Neglecting them can cause huge damage to your car or endanger your safety.
OIL PRESSURE WARNING LIGHT
Besides the low coolant warning light, this one is the most important for your car.
It comes up if the oil level is low or is completely absent (like in the case of a cracked oil sump).
On the Skoda, it will first light up a yellow for a low level and red when it’s an emergency. The yellow color will also light up if there is a faulty oil sensor.
In the case of Skoda, it’s followed by a sharp ‘peep” sound.
This warning system is, more or less, the same on all cars (lights, sharp sound, and text warnings).
When the oil pressure light comes up, stop the car immediately or as soon as possible. Knowing dashboard lights meaning on this part can mean the difference between a simple topping up of oil or a complete engine overhaul.
To avoid this problem, you should check the engine oil regularly; if you want to learn how to that, click here for a separate article on that topic.
LOW COOLANT LEVEL WARNING LIGHT
This dashboard warning light means that the coolant is low. On the Skoda, the warning is accompanied by a sound signal also.
If you add engine coolant and the warning light doesn’t go off, then you may have a problem in the coolant system. This case is usually accompanied by the temperature gauge needle going over the middle.
Like in case of the oil warning light, pull over as soon as possible. Further driving can cause serious damage both to the coolant system and the engine.
To find out what are the common reasons for an overheating car, click here.
BATTERY WARNING LIGHT
In my opinion, this dashboard warning light is improperly called the battery warning light.
Why? Well, this light tells you if the alternator is functioning properly (if the voltage output is OK) not the battery.
More precisely, it should be called the alternator warning light; but this is the common name so we’ll use it too.
One more of the dashboard warning lights that are very important; if you ignore it, the car will be left without electrical power, rendering it useless.
If it lights up you can drive the car until you drain the battery. This is usually a short period, so check it out as soon as possible.
More about alternator problems and symptoms in an article which you can read by clicking here.
LOW FUEL WARNING LIGHT
One of the dashboard warning lights that doesn’t need any special explanation.
A low level of gas in the tank means the warning light comes up.
On almost every car, once the warning light comes up, you have a few liters and about a couple of dozen kilometers left before the car dies on you.
If you perhaps didn’t know, the hose on the warning icon represents on what side the gas tank door is in your car.
This dashboard warning light is also very important as it warns of a problem with the steering system.
It lights up if the steering oil level is low or if there is a problem with the steering electronic system (at least that’s the case with the Skoda).
Check this problem as soon as possible as the steering is in question. Most cars, like Skoda Fabia, have redundant systems if the steering wheel electronics or hydraulics fail.
This means you’ll be able to drive the car but the steering wheel will be very hard to turn.
You should check the problem as soon as possible. It would be best to make a diagnostic with an OBD scan tool.
WARNING LIGHTS THAT SHOW THE NEED FOR CAUTION (YOU CAN CONTINUE DRIVING BUT WITH CAUTION)
If these dashboard warning lights come up, in most cases you can continue driving (if there are no immediate problems). Nevertheless, check out these problems as soon as you can, especially the check engine light, EPC fault, and the thickness of brake pads warning light.
CHECK ENGINE LIGHT
This is one of the dashboard lights that have caused many headaches for drivers.
This light is known to come up for various reasons; mainly for things like faulty air intake, vacuum leaks, ECU problems, or else.
When the check engine light comes up, it would be preferable to make an inspection and diagnostics as soon as possible.
You can drive the car if there is no stuttering, weird sounds from the engine, or other immediate problems that can endanger the car and your safety.
If there is, stop the car and visit a mechanic or make an inspection as soon as possible.
You can read about the most common reasons for a check engine light by clicking here.
I had a check engine problem on the Skoda Fabia; if you’re interested in how I solved it, click here for a separate article.
Both situations are also explained in video tutorials on our YouTube channel.
EPC FAULT (FOR PETROL ENGINES)
When the EPC light comes up there is a problem with the electrics or electronic systems in the car.
This warning light is for Skoda (and other VW group cars of the same generation) with petrol engines. Other manufacturers have a similar warning light just name it differently.
Just as with the check engine light, continue driving if there are no obvious problems and dangers. If there are (like stuttering or other irregular engine performance) best pull aside and seek help to avoid causing damage.
GLOW PLUG SYSTEM
This dashboard warning light is only for diesel engines.
Shows if there is a burnt-out glow plug or something is wrong with the glow plug system.
On most cars (like on the Skoda) this warning light will not come up if the engine is warm or if the outside temperature is above 5 degrees Celsius.
If something’s wrong and the warning light doesn’t light up and it happens to be cold outside, then you’ll surely have problems starting the engine.
If it’s on constantly, you can continue to drive but inspect the problems as soon as possible.
THICKNESS OF THE BRAKE PADS
On almost all modern cars there are sensors built-in to the brake pads. Once the brake disc reaches the sensor this dashboard warning light will come up.
Once the warning light comes up you probably have a couple of hundred kilometers to drive before the brake pad replacement (this is a rough estimate, don’t take it for granted).
So you can continue driving, in most cases but replace the brake pads as soon as possible. Faulty sensors can also be a cause of problems.
ANTI-LOCK BRAKE SYSTEM (ABS)
ABS dashboard warning lights come up when there’s something wrong with the ABS.
This is the system that prevents the brakes from locking up and blocking the wheel. If there was no ABS you could easily lose control over the car on slippery surfaces (like wet roads, ice, snow, or else).
Luckily, every car has a redundant system so the car will continue to brake and be able to stop.
In this case, you can continue driving, just be more careful about using the brakes and visit a mechanic or make an inspection as soon as possible.
Modern car keys are partly or completely electronic (like key cards or else).
They have to match the car (namely the lock mechanism) for the car to start.
Any problems of this kind and the dashboard warning lights will come up. This is the case with Skoda anyway.
If this warning light comes up, check as soon as possible so you don’t get stranded because the car won’t start.
Related to this topic: if you happen to have key fob problems like a bad battery, click here and learn how to change one.
TRACTION CONTROL SYSTEM (TCS) OR ELECTRONIC STABILITY PROGRAM (ESP)
This is one of the dashboard warning lights that are very important for safe driving.
TCS is in charge of preventing the wheels (front or rear) from slipping on surfaces like wet roads, ice, or else. This way, it helps you keep control over the car. Sort of a poor man’s ESP, so to say.
ESP (Electronic Stability Program) is a combination of various car systems and is much better in overseeing driving safety. It combines TCS, EDL, and ABS (this is in the case of the Skoda Fabia).
The sam systems (only different abbreviations) are used in other cars.
On the Skoda, it lights up if the system is currently performing its task (aka control cycle) or if the system is turned off (in the Skoda Fabia, there is a separate switch for turning it off).
The warning light will come up also if there is something wrong with the system.
As with the ABS, you should be able to continue driving and be able to brake but see the problem is solved as soon as possible.
This dashboard warning light goes on if something is wrong with the airbag system.
It will also come up if the airbag is willingly turned off. Most cars will have this switch somewhere around the glove compartment or inside it. The switch is turned on and off with the car key.
Needless to say that you have to make an inspection or repair as soon as possible as this is a big safety issue.
In most cases, you can continue driving without any problems.
One more thing: if you buy a car and this warning light is constantly on, this may be a sign that the car had a previous car crash or accident.
WINDSHIELD WASHER FLUID WARNING LIGHT
This warning light comes on when the level of washer fluid is low.
Add some as soon as possible as driving with a smudged or dirty windshield is dangerous.
Remember to add the proper windshield washer fluid, mainly in terms of freezing resistance. Otherwise, the whole system might freeze up and get clogged.
Many people put tap water into the system. Know that prolonged usage of tap water will cause scale build-up in the system.
If you don’t have washer fluid, add distilled water.
FAULTY BULB WARNING LIGHT
If you get this dashboard warning light, check out for a burnt-out car bulb.
OTHER WARNING LIGHTS ON THE DASHBOARD
Listed below are other dashboard warning lights. They are more informative than a warning character.
Usually in green or yellow color, lights up when you turn on the low beam headlights.
On most cars, it’s represented with a blue color. Goes on when you flip the high beam lights.
Left arrow for left and right arrow for right turn signal.
FRONT FOG LIGHT
Fog lights are very useful. When thick fog hits the road, it can mean the difference between getting home safely or landing in a ditch.
On the Skoda Fabia, fog lights are turned on by pulling out the main headlight switch. It’s sort of curiosity as many cars have separate switches for fog lights.
REAR FOG LIGHT
Rear fog lights are turned on separately from the front ones. This is the case with Skoda Fabia but also with many other cars.
Good solution, as you avoid blinding the car behind you while driving in line on the road which is a common occurrence in fog.
Just like with the front ones, the fog lights on the Skoda Fabia are activated by pulling out the light switch one step more. So, first pull-front fog lights, second pull-rear fog lights.
SEAT BELT WARNING LIGHT
Most famous for being one of the most annoying dashboard warning lights for many drivers.
On most cars, it’s accompanied with a sharp sound to additionally warn that you don’t have the seat belt on.
On the Skoda Fabia, depending on the trim, there might be just a warning light without any sound.
In my case there isn’t even a warning light, you just have to be responsible (like in the good old days when the driver had to think more and less rely on electronic helpers).
With almost all modern cars, it won’t go off if the co-driver doesn’t put on the seat belt too.
If there are any doors left open, this warning light will flash up.
Although this is one of the dashboard warning lights that doesn’t need much explaining, it’s good to have.
Many times I’ve seen people riding for dozens of kilometers not knowing that they left the door opened or not fully closed.
As with the open doors, it will light up if you leave the tailgate open.
This warning light is much more needed, in my opinion, then the open door warning.
The tailgate is much more likely to be left open or not closed properly.
INTERLOCKING OF BACK RESTS
This is one of rarest dashboard warning light on cars; seen it only on Skoda Fabia’s to tell you the truth.
It lights up when you’ve folded the back seats, like when you need to transport something.
Seems that this light is pretty unnecessary; all you need to do is look back and see if the seats are folded.
But just think how many people leave the backseat rests loosely fitted when returning them into place (they don’t lock properly).
Skoda wanted to be extra careful so you don’t, for instance, attach a child seat on loose backrests. Just imagine the consequences.
On this part, I can only say, thank you Skoda for the extra care.
The backrest warning light is on for a few seconds after starting the car and will go off.