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Car Dashboard Lights - what do they mean?

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Take the guesswork out of car maintenance with our complete guide to the lights on your car's dashboard.

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Guide To Dashboard Lights

Ever wondered what those lights on your dashboard mean?

Modern cars are equipped with all sorts of electronics and sensors to help you quickly identify problems with your car. But, with advancements in car technology, there are now more warning lights than ever - working out what they all mean can be tricky.

Some are obvious while others are not. Take the guesswork out of car maintenance with our complete guide to the lights on your car's dashboard.

Note: Not all warning lights are universal. Always check your car's manual if you're not 100% sure.

Brake system

Arguably one of the most serious warning indicators, this light relates to your brake hydraulic system. If the light is intermittent, you may find the problem is as simple as low brake fluid or worn brake pads. Either way, get the problem checked out immediately for safety reasons.

Engine

Another serious warning indicator, the engine light is something you ought to investigate as soon as you're able. If this light appears on your dash, it will likely be accompanied by other symptoms like lack of power - this is your vehicle's 'safety mode', designed to reduce further damage caused by driving at high speed.

In some cars the engine light can be red or amber. If the light is amber, get your car checked as soon as possible. If it is red, stop driving immediately as there is a serious problem. To carry on driving may result in a major failure, which could be dangerous for you, your passengers and other road users.

Battery

A battery warning light indicates low voltage level, possibly because your vehicle's charging system is not working as it should. If you can, check the battery terminals, alternator belt and battery condition.

Oil pressure

If this light stays lit, it could indicate a loss of oil pressure.

Oil does much more for your engine than just lubrication - it keeps the engine both cool and clean. Driving with very little or no oil can cause all sorts of problems, and may even result in your engine seizing up altogether. That's why it's important to check your oil levels regularly.

At Halfords Autocentres, we use fully synthetic oil as standard, which will typically last much longer and be better for your engine in the long run.

Coolant temperature

This light will show if your engine temperature has exceeded normal limits. Check your coolant level and fan operation. If you've not changed your coolant for some time it may stop working, so book in for a coolant change.

An intermittent light may show as a result of a coolant leak, which left untreated, can cause engine failure.

Lamp out

One of your vehicle's exterior lights needs replacing. Check your lights by turning them on and walking around your vehicle, or use a reflective surface (like a garage door) to check that all of your lights are working as they should.

Washer fluid/ screen wash

Your screen wash needs topping up, the reservoir can usually be found under the bonnet. Some vehicles will have separate reservoirs for front and rear windows.

Airbag and seat belt system

There is a fault with your airbag or seatbelt system, which may cause it to fail completely in the event of an accident. Drive carefully to an authorised repairer to have the fault rectified as soon as possible.

Glow plug (diesel only)

Diesel engines need a bit of extra help when starting up at a cold temperature. Glow plugs do just that - a heating element that activates when the temperature of the engine is too low. It's normal for the warning light to appear for a second or two on start, however, if it stays on longer, you may require a replacement.

You should always wait for this warning light to disappear before you start driving.

Power steering

There's a problem with your hydraulic power steering system. The most common cause for this is a lack of power steering fluid. If this light appears, pull over and check your levels. In most cases, topping up the power steering fluid will turn the warning light off straight away.

Recently disconnected the battery? Turn your steering wheel fully left, then fully right, and drive slowly for a short distance. This should reset the system.

Fuel cap

Your fuel cap is either loose or faulty. A loose fuel cap can also cause the engine light to come on as fuel vapours escape, throwing the whole fuel system out of sync. Make sure yours is always on tight.

Tyre pressure

Many modern cars are now fitted with this helpful sensor. If your tyre's pressure dips below a safe level, or you've suffered a puncture, this light may illuminate. Check your tyres before continuing your journey.

The tyre pressure sensor will normally have to be reset after new tyres have been fitted. If it hasn't been reset, this warning light will likely come on one or two days afterwards. If this happens, you can easily reset the tyre sensor yourself, or if you're unsure, return it to the garage that carried out the fitting and they'll be able to do this for you.

On very cold days, some tyre pressure systems register a low pressure warning until the tyre warms up.

ABS

Anti-lock brakes are there to provide your tyres with maximum traction when braking. It stops the wheels locking up, which can cause uncontrollable skids.

The ABS light will appear when there is a fault with this system, and it is not safe to drive when illuminated. The fault may be as simple as your brake fluid running low, however it is essential to get this checked out as soon as possible to avoid future accidents.

Traction control

Driving in wet or slippery conditions? This light will appear when the car's electronic stability system is activated. It normally indicates poor traction on a wet or icy road - reducing the revs should keep this to a minimum.

Transmission temperature

Your transmission fluid is hotter than usual. Check the transmission fluid level, and engine coolant level.

DPF (diesel only)

Your diesel car will be fitted with a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF). This filter captures and stores the exhaust soot to reduce emissions from diesel cars. Over time, the DPF can become clogged up and will need to be emptied.

If you're doing a lot of short journeys or are driving at low speeds, your filter is likely to become clogged more quickly. We recommend using DPF cleaner every six months, to help burn off these deposits and keep your diesel engine running smoothly.

Note: It is illegal to remove the DPF from your vehicle and can result in a fine of up to 2500.

Doors

If your car doors or boot are not shut properly, a warning light will appear. This one's generally nothing to worry about; checking that your doors are shut usually rectifies the problem. If your boot is especially full, you may find the extra pressure is causing the sensor to trigger the warning light.

Remember, your warning lights are trying to tell you something. Don't ignore them.

Unless your car starts smoking or cuts out completely, head to your local Halfords Autocentre as soon as possible. Our highly qualified team of mechanics will be able to diagnose the majority of problems for you.

Get it checked

Remember, your warning lights are trying to tell you something. Don't ignore them.

Unless your car starts smoking or cuts out completely, head to your local Halfords Autocentre as soon as possible. Our highly qualified team of mechanics will be able to diagnose the majority of problems for you.

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