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9 Common Dashboard Warnings Explained

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Dashboard warnings aren’t always easy to understand. Nowadays, there’s much more than just the check engine light to worry about. Dashboard warnings are important to know, as they can anticipate breakdowns, and save you from potentially expensive maintenance bills. Never be unsure of what your car is telling you again. Scroll through this list of symbols and warnings to find the dashboard warnings that are troubling you. Read their descriptions, and find out if you should carry on driving, or pull over and call AMA for assistance.

It should be noted that not all dashboard warning lights are universal. They vary across car-makes and model years. So, if you’re still uncertain after going through this guide, you should refer to your owner’s manual for further clarification.


#1 Brake Warning Light



The first dashboard warning on this list is arguably the most important one: the brake warning. If this one is on, you should bring your car in to the repair shop right away to get inspected. Unless, of course, your emergency brake is engaged. In which case, your brake light would be on to remind you of that fact.

If you disengage your emergency brake, and the light stays on, then that is an indicator of a larger problem. It could mean that your vehicle is short on hydraulic pressure, or low on brake fluid, or both. In either case, immediate attention should be given to the problem. Indeed, the last thing you want is to have a brake fluid leak go untreated for a long while. Those fluids wreak havoc on other brake system components, and can even lead to an outright total brake failure.


#2 ABS Light



Next up we have the ABS light, otherwise known as the Anti-Lock Brake System light. If this light appears, it means there’s a malfunction with your car’s anti-lock brake system, and that the anti-lock brake system has thus been disabled.

There are several reasons why the ABS light might turn on, but the most common are:

  • A defective wheel speed sensor
  • A defective power relay for the ABS module
  • Loss of voltage
  • Low amount of fluid in the ABS reservoir or master cylinder

There’s no significant risk to driving with the ABS light on, so a trip to the mechanic’s is perfectly safe. However, you should know that if you come to a sudden stop, your vehicle will be more prone to skidding and sliding.


#3 Coolant Temperature Warning Light



Third on our list of common dashboard warnings is the coolant temperature warning light. Before we explain what this warning light means, you should know a couple things. First, combustion engines are propelled by a series of controlled explosions. These explosions produce massive amounts of heat, which is why engines have passageways through which engine coolant circulates. Without engine coolant passing through the engine, things will overheat very quickly.

When the coolant temperature warning light appears on your dashboard, it’s likely indicating one of two things. For one, it could be indicating that the coolant temperature is too hot. Also, it could be indicating that the coolant levels are too low.

Should this light appear, pull over to the side of the road and turn your car off. Before turning it back on, give it some time to cool down. Otherwise, you risk running into larger issues, such as a full-on breakdown, and the costly repairs that would follow.

Another thing to remember is that you do not want to remove the radiator cap right away. It’s super hot, and you’re going to hurt yourself if you try. Wait 30 minutes to an hour before taking the cap off, then you can check the coolant levels. If the coolant levels are too low, you can simply add water to the mix. That way, you’ll be safe to drive to the repair shop to get it checked out. Most times, low coolant levels mean there’s a leak somewhere that needs to fixed.

Always remember, driving your vehicle with this warning light on isn’t worth the repair costs associated to any potential damage that could occur. When you see it on the dashboard, pull over to let your car have a breather. Your engine, and your wallet, will be thankful for it.


#4 Oil Warning Light



This could come as a surprise to you, but this warning light is, in fact, not a gravy ladle. In reality, it’s the oil warning light. It appears when the oil temperature ranges too high, or when there’s been a decrease in oil pressure. Oil is the lifeblood of your engine; it lubricates engine parts, ensuring things run smoothly. Driving without proper oil levels, or with extreme oil temperatures, can cause costly damage to your engine. So, when you see this one light up on your dashboard, things are definitely not “all gravy”. Take immediate action to remedy the problem, or be prepared to take a hit where it hurts most: your wallet.


#5 Battery Charge Warning Light



There are many reasons the battery charge warning light might turn on. You could have a faulty alternator, a defective battery, damaged cabling, or dozens of other issues with your car’s electrical system. This warning light shouldn’t be taken lightly. When it goes on, it means that your car is running solely on battery power. Eventually, if you continue to drive, your car will run out of electrical power and die.

If this warning light appears, keep your car running until you make it home or to the repair shop. Otherwise, if you turn your car off, it may not restart afterwards. If it does come on while you’re driving, it’s best to turn off all unnecessary electrical devices. That means you can forget about the A/C, the radio, and heated seats, for example.

When you first start your car, the battery charge warning (and all other warning lights) should appear for a second or two. So, you have nothing to freak out about when you’re bombarded by warning lights. There might be an issue, however, if the warning lights don’t come on when you start your vehicle. When that happens, it’s usually a tell-tale sign that you have a faulty charging system. If that’s the case, bring your car in to the repair shop to get looked at.


#6 Check Engine Light



Next on our list of common dashboard warnings, we have the notorious check engine light. It’s the most vexing warning light there is, but it’s also one of the most important. It appears when your vehicle’s engine computer detects something wrong, but that something could be so many different things. It could be an issue as innocent as a loose gas cap, or a faulty electrical sensor, for instance. Or, it could be a more serious issue, like a misfiring engine.

When the check engine light comes on, you don’t need to pull over right away and call a tow truck. However, you should book a service appointment as soon as possible, just to be safe. Ignoring the problem could lead to more serious (and more expensive to fix) damages down the road.

There are several reasons why your check engine light might turn on. Aside from a loose gas cap, some of the most common are:

  • Faulty oxygen sensors
  • Spark plug malfunction
  • Wet engine
  • Blown gasket head
  • Bad catalytic converter

Many believe that a piece of black tape over the check engine light is the best solution to the problem. These people are wrong. Don’t be like these people.


#7 Airbag Warning Light



The airbag warning light is one of the common dashboard warnings that shouldn’t be ignored under any circumstance. In an accident, an airbag is the first line of defense between your face and the steering wheel. So, unless you want to risk a mouthful of steering wheel, get your car inspected when the airbag light appears.

The airbag warning light could mean a few different things. For instance, it could mean your airbags won’t deploy in the event of a collision. Alternatively, it could mean that your airbags might deploy unexpectedly, which could put you on the receiving end of an airbag sucker punch during your morning commute. Other potential issues the airbag light might be pointing to are a defective seat belt system, or faulty sensors. As well, on older vehicles, it’s not uncommon for the clock spring in the steering wheel to wear out. This would prevent the computer from telling the airbag to deploy in the event of a collision.

In any case, we strongly suggest you don’t ignore the airbag warning light. If you do, you’re unnecessarily putting your life, and the lives of your passengers, at risk.


#8 Tire Pressure Monitor Warning Light



Another one of the common dashboard warnings to know is the tire pressure monitor warning light. This light appears when the air pressure in one or more of your tires is too low. To remedy the problem, simply inflate your tires to their correct PSI, which you can find in the owner’s manual. Most gas stations have an air compressor that cost a loonie to operate. As well, most have built-in air pressure gauges that indicate the PSI of your tire.

When this light comes on, pull over to check your tire pressure. As well, look for any punctures or signs of air leakage. Driving on underinflated tires can affect everything from fuel economy to tire wear. The risk of a blowout happening is much higher, too.


#9 Power Steering/EPAS Warning Light



The power steering warning light is an indication that – you guessed it – there’s an issue with your power steering system. If this light is on, it likely means the power steering system will be disabled until it’s fixed. With the power steering disabled, it will take significantly more effort to make your car change direction. At low speeds, this isn’t very cumbersome. But it could be quite dangerous on the highway, especially if you must make a sudden lane change.

If you have a hydraulic power steering system and this light appears, it probably means you’re low on power steering fluid. If that’s the case, pull over and top it off with the right kind of fluid. The light should then turn off. If the system is low on fluid, it’s usually because there’s a leak somewhere. Your next step, then, will be to bring your car to the repair shop to have the leak fixed.

Alternatively, if your vehicle has an electric power steering system, fluid levels aren’t to blame. Sometimes, the computer system is acting wonky. In which case, you can just restart the car and the light will turn off. But if the light persists, bring your car to the repair shop to be looked at.


Your Next Step


Hopefully this article has helped shed some light on the often-confusing dashboard warnings that we encounter. If you’ve learned anything, we hope it’s this: ignoring the dashboard warnings on your vehicle is negligent behaviour. Doing so could result in costly repair bills, or worse, it could result in a dangerous accident.

Pay attention to the signs your car is giving you – your wallet and your health will be thankful for it.

If you have any of these symbols lighting up your dashboard right now, book a service appointment with Go Auto. Our service experts will be happy to help fix the problem.

Booking a service appointment is easier than ever, just text or call 1-780-777-7777, or click here to do it online.

For more on all things cars and car maintenance, check out our blog!


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