Understanding the Meaning of Dashboard Warning Lights

Search by VIN

Many vehicle owners only catch a short glimpse of the dashboard warning lights when turning the ignition before the symbols disappear. These warning lights are an important way to diagnose and warn of problems with a vehicle before they become more serious, or in some cases irreparable. If left unchecked, a breakdown or costly repair could be around the corner.

Whether you are looking to buy a used car, or simply would like to know more about your current vehicle, the following are seven important dashboard warning lights and their meanings:

Airbag Warning

The airbag warning light in the instrument cluster is different from a more common indicator in which the driver is notified that the passenger airbag has been turned off. This light is much more serious. It usually indicates one of two things. The first is that the airbag could deploy unexpectedly, creating a very dangerous situation while driving. The second is that the airbag may not deploy at all in an accident, which can dramatically reduce inhabitant safety.

Engine Temperature

Another important dashboard warning light is the engine temperature indicator. If this light is activated, it usually means the engine is running too hot and/or the cooling system may not be working. This problem should be looked at right away to avoid costly damages to the engine.

Battery Charge

The battery charge symbol informs the driver that the vehicle is experiencing problems with the electrical system and is running short of power. To avoid the inconvenience – and sometimes costly situation – of not being able to start your car, it’s best to have the vehicle and battery checked out when this light turns on.

Check Engine

The check engine light can indicate a wide number of potential problems with the vehicle. Ultimately, it's important to know that if left unchecked, it could lead to irreparable mechanical damage. This can result in a large hit to your wallet.

Power Steering

The power steering dashboard warning light indicates there could be something wrong with the steering system. Often times, if the problem has already affected the power steering, the driver will also feel a difference while using the steering wheel.

Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS)

Some cars don't have an Anti-Lock Brake System, but for those that do, seeing this indicator light up could mean a huge difference in the way your vehicle with be controlled during an emergency stop. ABS pumps the brakes many times per second while under hard braking – much more than a human could do. This can help prevent sliding or skidding along the road. If ABS is not functioning properly, your brakes could lock up and a slide may begin, drastically increasing the time and distance needed to come to a complete stop.

Scheduled Service

The scheduled service dashboard warning light lets drivers know their vehicle is due for a regular maintenance based on the timeline set by the manufacturer. If you're buying a used car which has this indicator turned on, it could be a sign that the owner has neglected the vehicle in the past.

If you are ever in doubt about the mechanical health of a vehicle, it's advised to have a professional take a look at it. This step could potentially save you from later headaches.

It is also highly recommended for all used car shoppers to check the CARFAX Vehicle History Report. The CARFAX Report has been helping used car buyers uncover historical vehicle details for decades. Important information such as number of car owners, whether the mileage is accurate, if the car has been imported and/or exported, more in depth technical information and much more can be found on the report Checking the CARFAX can help you make better purchase decisions!