Confused by the many warning signs on your dashboard and what they mean? Don’t know the difference between your TPMS and ABS? Read our handy guide to make sure you understand when your car’s telling you it has a problem, so you can stay safe on the road.
Brake system: Dodgy brakes are an accident waiting to happen, so don’t delay getting yours looked at if you see this warning light when your handbrake’s off, as it probably means something’s wrong.
Oil warning light: This light is for oil pressure, rather than oil level, which is a common misconception. If it lights up, it means that something’s seriously wrong, like the engine’s blown up. There’s not usually a light for oil level, so you need to check that with the dipstick regularly as well.
Battery charge warning light: Keen to avoid knocking on your neighbour’s door and asking for a set of jump leads? Your car should be able to charge its own battery, but this light means that it isn’t doing that properly. It’s a warning light for the system that charges the battery, rather than for the battery itself.
Rear fog light: If you can see this light, it means that your car’s rear fog light – which should only be used in hazardous weather – is illuminated. It’s illegal to have this switched on in clear weather.
Seatbelt buckles: Your seatbelts are a very important safety feature, and not strapping yourself in can really impact your chance of surviving a major incident. If you see this light, it’s probably because you’ve forgotten to buckle-up.
Glow plug: A glow plug is a nifty device that’s used to warm a diesel engine before starting. If you see this light whilst you’re driving, or it flashes, yours might need changing, so be sure to have it checked out by a professional.
Tyre pressure monitoring: Having the right amount of air in your tyres is really important – not just for safety reasons, but for fuel economy also. If you see this light, it might be worth getting things checked out.
ABS: Your car’s anti-lock braking system (ABS) is great at helping you stop at a much faster rate without skidding. If you see this light, yours could be faulty, which puts you and other road users in danger.
Airbag and seatbelt system: Although your car is packed full of safety features – such as ABS and tyre pressure monitoring system – in the event of a crash they’re about as much use as a chocolate teapot. That’s where your airbag and seatbelt system come into play, so if your warning light is on, get it looked at ASAP.
Electronic stability programme: Just like ABS helps to prevent skidding, your vehicle’s electronic stability programme (ESP) is a computerised technology that helps to improve traction. If this warning light is showing, take it easy when cornering until it’s been looked at. This can also light up if the road is slippery, so be careful.
Engine fault: This light can signify a multitude of potential faults to do with the engine electrics. On modern cars, this is often to do with the emissions control system, which you’re legally obliged to make sure is working as it should. If this light is on, you could be churning out a load of nasty chemicals into the atmosphere, or have other electrical gremlins lurking, so be sure to get it looked at.
Low fuel level: Running out of fuel isn’t big or clever, and there’s nothing more embarrassing than calling someone to explain that your car is running dry. If you see this light, don’t take a risk: stop and get fuel as soon as you possibly can. It can cause problems to run modern cars out of fuel, and diesels will also need a mechanic to bleed the system before you can set off again if you run out.
Press brake pedal: On some automatics, you need to press the brake pedal in order to put the car in gear. That’s what this light means. If you see it light up at another time, it may mean something’s wrong so get it looked at by a professional.
Engine cooling system: With all of the sucking, squeezing, banging and blowing that an engine does, parts tend to get hot. That’s where coolant steps in. While an engine fire is very unlikely, if your coolant system is on the fritz, you could wreck the engine if it overheats, so be sure to get it checked out.
Hazard warning light: If this light is flashing on your dash, it means that your hazard warning lights are on. If they’re meant to be, that’s fine – but if they’re not, you might want to consider switching them off.
We surveyed over 1,000 UK adults about how long they would wait to visit a garage for various problems with their car, such as warning lights, noises and leaks, and found that a worrying number ignore them to start with. See this handy infographic with some of our results.