Deciphering and Decoding the Most Common Dashboard Warning Lights
We have all experienced that vexing moment when we are casually driving to our destination, and suddenly - out of nowhere - a flashing warning light appears on our dashboard. We’re all too familiar with the feelings of sheer panic and confusion that often ensue.
The fact is, for some of us who aren’t exactly mechanically-inclined, decrypting those blinking warning lights on our dashboard can be tricky - which, let’s face it, is a real issue considering that some of these symbols are designed to flag an urgent and sometimes dangerous underlying problem.
Seeing that these warning signs could be indicating anything from needing a minor top up of fluid to a catastrophic engine meltdown, understanding whether you need to be concerned or act quickly is essential, to say the least.
With this in mind - and to help you better assess if you are driving under the best possible conditions - we have rounded up the most common warning lights that typically pop up on our dashboards to explain what message they are trying to convey.
Here they are:
• Exclamation in a Jar (or Low Tire Pressure Warning Light): This symbol looks like an exclamation point in parenthesis. What it alerts to is a significant loss in pressure of one of the vehicle’s tires. In other words, at least one of your tires might be getting flat. If the warning light comes on, stop as soon as safely possible and inflate the tires to the recommended pressure shown in the driver’s manual.
• The Aladdin Lamp (or Low Oil Pressure Warning Light): if this sign which bears an uncanny resemblance to Aladdin’s magic Genie Lamp - comes on, it means that the engine oil pressure might be low. This may simply mean that the oil levels need to be topped up, or could indicate a more complex issue. According to ACDelco, which sells car parts and fluids for many car makers, low engine oil pressure can cause extensive and costly damage to your engine. If this warning light displays, safely bring your vehicle to a stop and do not restart your engine. Check the engine oil level. If it’s not low, or if you’re not sure how to check it, note that many vehicles, such as Chevrolets, GMCs and Cadillacs come with region wide roadside assistance (the phone number should be on a sticker on the car window), so call the experts to take a look and advise you on your next steps. Note that most auto insurance policies come with roadside assistance too. Remember, it is important not to operate the engine with the oil pressure warning light on.
• The Keyed Thermometer (or Temperature Gauge/Light): this symbol is fairly easy to remember - it looks like a thermometer in water. It basically indicates the temperature of your vehicle’s coolant. A reading in the “H” zone of any light means “HOT” and is an indication of trouble. If you receive this notice, simply pull over to a safe location, shift into neutral (N) and allow the engine to idle. Do not continue to drive if the temperature does not return to normal or the “HOT” light stays on!
• The Boxing Glove (or Malfunction Indicator Light): this is known as a ‘check engine light’, but what exactly are you supposed to check? Well, it could indicate a number of potential issues, which is why, if it remains on while driving then be sure to seek service promptly! But, there’s no need to panic if you see this light briefly when you turn the ignition on. As long as it doesn’t stay on, it’s ok.
• Winking Robot (or Voltage Gauge/Battery Light): this light is just a tiny battery and indicates the electrical system’s voltage when the engine is running. You need to service your vehicle if the battery light comes on or if the pointer moves to either “HIGH” or “LOW,” indicating too much or not enough voltage.
Remember, knowledge is power. Now that you have armed yourself with this pertinent information, you will hopefully no longer find yourself struggling to decipher your dashboard warning lights - instead, you will be able to swiftly take action!