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Drawing of car dashboard that says Car Dashboard Symbols What do they mean? The ultimate dashboard light guide"

Your car is talking to you. Are you really listening? 

With so many icons, your car’s dashboard lights might feel like a different language. If you aren’t clear on what car dashboard symbols stand for, you’re certainly not alone. According to a survey of 2,000 drivers, 49% could not correctly identify the meaning of the tire pressure warning light (No. 5 on our list).

To help you make sense of your car’s signals, here are 10 dashboard lights to look out for. If you see any of these lights, you may want to get under your hood or schedule an inspection with your mechanic. They could be pointing to future car trouble!

Download our car dashboard symbols and meanings infographic for quick reference!

The ultimate car dashboard light guide

Car Dashboard Symbols: What Do They Mean?

Your vehicle’s dashboard helps you stay safe by alerting you when there is a problem or notifying you when a specific function has been activated. As a driver, it’s important to understand what your dashboard lights mean so you know what to do if one of them turns on while you’re driving. Let’s break them down!

1. Battery Signal

Dead batteries are inconvenient but rarely cause for serious concern. A dead battery while you’re already stuck in rush hour traffic? Now that’s cause for concern.

An illuminated battery light indicates a problem with your battery or electrical system, like low battery voltage or a broken alternator belt. Check your battery cables and alternator belt, or visit your local mechanic or auto parts store for a closer look.

2. Oil Light

Oil issues can seriously hurt your engine, making the oil light one of your best defenses. A leak, faulty pump, or delayed maintenance could damage your engine over time and cause it to seize up.

The oil light signifies low levels of oil or an oil pump issue. Stop your car and check your oil level. If low, it’s time for an oil change. If your oil is consistently low after adding new oil, or your light stays on, your car needs to be examined by a professional.

And remember: stay on top of your regularly scheduled oil changes

3. Coolant Temperature Light

If your “coolant temp” light comes on, things are getting too hot under the hood! Take it as a sign to pull over and turn off your vehicle as soon as safely possible to check your coolant levels unless the radiator cap is hot. Continuing to run an overheated car could lead to serious engine damage and a pricey repair bill down the road.

Be careful while your engine is still hot. Don’t mess with the coolant reservoir or radiator caps, don’t touch the radiator fan blades, and don’t add cold water or coolant while the engine is hot. Your engine cooling system should be checked for leaks.

4. Transmission Temperature Light

When this light is illuminated, the transmission is functioning at a high temperature due to hot transmission fluid. Check your coolant level and transmission fluid level, and seek help from a technician if needed.

5. Tire Pressure Signal

Low tire pressure can reduce gas mileage, increase stopping time, and even make for a less comfortable ride. It can also lead to something far worse: a blown-out tire. Tire failures are responsible for thousands of accidents each year, including some that are fatal. Fortunately, the number of accidents decreased since new vehicles started incorporating a tire-pressure monitoring system. It doesn’t work if you ignore it, though.

The tire pressure signal indicates low air pressure in at least one of your tires. Check your tires for leaks or low tire pressure, and add air in any low tires to prevent a blowout. This could also signify an issue with a sensor, which a mechanic can reset.

If your tire pressure light flashes on, find free air near you to fill up those tires, or visit an auto store that offers free tire pressure checks, like Goodyear, Big O Tires, or NTB.

6. Check Engine Light

Because it can indicate so many different issues, the check engine light might be the most mysterious dashboard light of them all. The check engine light could signify a minor problem, like a loose gas cap, or other issues, such as emissions system problems or worn-out spark plugs.

If your check engine light flashes, there is an immediate issue that needs to be addressed. Check your owner’s manual, and try fixing any small issues first. If your check engine light stays on, a technician should inspect your vehicle as soon as possible.

7. Brake System Lights

Brakes: without them, driving would be pretty scary! Depending on your car’s make and model, your car may have a few lights to alert you to different brake system issues. A lit brake light indicates a potential problem with your brakes or notifies you that your parking brake is turned on.

Check your brake fluid levels and see if your parking brake is turned on. If the warning light stays on, have your brake system inspected for leaks or other issues. Worn-out brake pads, low brake fluid, or a faulty speed sensor are among the top troubles that can trigger these lights.

8. Master Warning Light

An illuminated master warning light indicates at least one warning system has been activated. Typically, another dashboard light accompanies the master warning light to help identify the problem. Check your fuel level, coolant level, tire pressure, fuel cap, battery voltage, or parking brake for any issues.

9. Washer Fluid Light

When this light comes on, your washer fluid levels are low. Add washer fluid to maintain a clear windshield and prevent accidents caused by visibility.

10. Gas Cap Signal

This dashboard light indicates a loose gas cap. Tighten your gas cap. If it’s broken, order a new one to ensure safe driving. A loose gas cap can also cause your check engine light to activate.

Did you know you can have your car’s codes read for free at many repair shops and auto stores? If your dashboard lights have you stumped, call your local AutoZone, Pep Boys, or Advance Auto Parts and ask about free code retrieval.

Now that you understand what your car’s dashboard symbols stand for, you can drive with more confidence – and, if needed, know when and why to pull over and call for roadside assistance! If you’re curious about adding a roadside assistance plan to your existing policy or want to know how Direct Auto could help you find more affordable car insurance coverage, just give us a call at 1-877-GO-DIRECT (1-877-463-4732) or come into a Direct location near you.

Download the car dashboard symbols infographic!