Know how to respond if and when a dashboard warning light comes on.
When I started to drive, there were only three warning signs I needed to be worried about on the dashboard: the battery light, the oil light and the engine temperature gauge.
On today’s vehicles, the dashboard lights up like a holiday tree even when you’re starting the car—let alone when there’s a problem. The oil, battery and engine temperature lights are still there. But you also have warning lights for traction control, light bulbs, tire pressure, air bags, catalytic converters, air suspension and even trailer tow hitches. It’s nearly impossible to memorize the meaning of every last light.
Dashboard Light Basics
But when a dashboard light does come on, you need to know what to do. We recommend:
- Keeping your owner’s manual in the glove compartment so you can first identify the warning light(s).
- Using our guide below to determine whether to pull over ASAP, drive to the nearest repair shop ASAP or continue on your way but schedule an appointment at your earliest convenience.
What to Do
And here’s how to respond when you see a red, orange or blue light light up your dash:
- Pull over safely ASAP if you see one of these lights: high engine temperature, low coolant or oil pressure. These can be warning you the engine is operating at a critical temperature or without enough oil to properly lubricate it, which can lead to catastrophic engine damage. Find a safe place to pull off the road as soon as you can.
- Drive to the nearest repair shop if you see one of these lights: flashing Check Engine or Service Engine Soon light, battery or alternator, or a combination of warning lights that all come on at once. The flashing light is generally a warning of a serious malfunction with one of the engine’s many computer sensors, while a battery or alternator light generally signals an issue with the vehicle’s ability to start or to power your car’s electrical devices (headlights, stereo, wiper blades, etc.). If one of these lights comes on and you turn the vehicle off, you may not be able to restart it.
- Schedule an appointment at your earliest convenience when you see a brake light, tire pressure monitor (unless it indicates a flat!), parking brake, airbag, traction control, bulb failure or maintenance due.
Special Alert for Hybrid Owners
If you own a hybrid vehicle: When your Check Engine, Service Engine Soon or another light comes on, check the information center for additional information. In many vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius, you’ll see a message on the screen in the center console that says something like, “The system has detected a hybrid-related problem. Drive to your nearest hybrid service center. Once you turn this vehicle off, you will not be able to restart it.” In this case, drive to your nearest CARS of America location in Evanston or Glenview!
Even if you don’t drive a hybrid and want to talk to the experts at CARS, please don’t hesitate to call us: 847-724-6724 in Glenview or 224-307-5000 in Evanston.
Have a warning light on now? Schedule an appointment now.