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Startin Guide to Car dashboard symbols and meanings

17 March 2023

A helpful Startin Group Guide to Dashboard symbols.

Want a hand interpreting the various dashboard warning lights that can appear on a car? This Startin Group guide has you covered.

Modern cars are complex with built-in monitoring systems to ensure that things keep running smoothly. Those colourful symbols on the dashboard are there to let you know if something isn’t functioning correctly, the severity of which can be gauged by the colour of the symbol.

Green colours tend to indicate that things are working correctly, amber/yellow colours show that something needs to be attended to sooner than later, while red colours denote a problem that needs to be addressed immediately.

Check engine

What does it mean?

This warning could come on for a number of reasons ranging from minor i.e. a sensor malfunction to something rather serious (damaged electrical or mechanical components). In some cases, you may even experience reduced power, referred to as ‘limp mode’. 

What should I do if it comes on?

You can sometimes reset the warning light by turning off the car, waiting 30 seconds and then turning it on again. If this works or not you should still get the car looked at as a matter of urgency. We recommend calling a breakdown service, or popping by a garage if you should see this light! 

Oil Level

What does it mean?

The oil level in your car is below the required level.

This can happen if the oil pump or filter is damaged but most likely it could just be using a bit of oil and requires a top-up.

What should I do if it comes on?

Stop at your earliest convenience and top up the oil. Older cars will have a dipstick which will show where the oil level is at, on newer cars you will be able to check the level on the infotainment system or trip computer. If the oil level keeps dropping regularly you will need to book your car in for a service to diagnose the issue.

Engine Temperature/Coolant Level

What does it mean?

Your car’s engine is running hot, or your coolant level is too low. An overheating engine could be connected to a faulty water pump, a blocked coolant hose or a broken radiator, while low coolant could be connected to a leak somewhere in the system.

What should I do if it comes on?

Pull over to the side of the road as soon as it is safe to do so and turn off the car. Do not attempt to open the radiator or expansion tank cap while the car is hot. Never drive for extended periods while the car is overheating as this will blow the head gasket and potentially damage the internals.

Brake System

What does it mean?

The brake system warning light can come on for reasons such as low brake fluid or damaged brake lines. The brake pedal may feel spongy or hard, depending on the problem.

What should I do if it comes on?

This issue needs immediate attention.

You should avoid braking hard or driving at higher speeds until you can find a safe place to stop. Have the car towed to a garage even if the brakes feel fine.

Tyre Pressure

What does it mean?

Most modern cars come equipped with a tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS), when it detects a drop in air pressure it will illuminate. This could be due to a puncture or a slow leak due to a cracked rim or faulty valve.

What should I do if it comes on?

You should stop and check for signs of a puncture. If the damage is not too severe you may be able to fill the tyre with enough air to get you to a garage. If not, you can replace the offending tyre with a spare if your car is equipped with one.

If you have run-flat tyres the sidewalls will not look deflated, and you will be able to drive slowly for a short distance to a garage.

Traction Control/Stability Control

What does it mean?

This light will flicker when the car loses traction on a slippery surface. It will also be on constantly if it has been deactivated.

What should I do if it comes on?

You may be driving too fast for the prevailing conditions; it is more common to see it activate when the road is slippery. You may feel a tug on the steering wheel or the power cutting out and then returning. Slowing down and avoiding sudden braking or acceleration can reduce this from happening.

See any of the above lights?

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