Understanding The Lights On Your Dash

One of the most common reasons for most people to take a trip to the mechanic is the sudden illumination of a dash light. Modern cars have a huge number of possible warning lights, and depending on the equipment on your particular vehicle, you may have some or all of the ones described in this article. While every light on your dash is trying to tell you something important, some only illuminate for more urgent problems than others. This guide will help you to understand what your next steps should be when your dash lights up like a Christmas tree.

Remember that the appearance of these lights will vary between makes and models, so consult your owner's manual to determine what they will look like in your car.

Low Oil Level and Low Oil Pressure Lights

All modern vehicles are equipped with a light to warn you that your oil pressure has fallen dangerously low, while most vehicles will also have an oil level sensor indicator as well. Usually, these lights use similar icons, with the primary distinguishing feature being color. In most cases, the oil pressure light will be red while the oil level light will be yellow. Low oil level is not an urgent problem. You can continue to safely drive your car as long as you top up the oil as soon as possible.

The low oil pressure light indicates a critical issue, however. If this light appears, shut your car off as soon as it is safe to do so and pull over. You can potentially cause serious damage to your engine by even driving a few hundred feet with insufficient oil pressure, and it is possible that your engine may have already suffered damage before the light ever comes on. The best course of action is to get to the side of the road and arrange for a tow.

Low Coolant Level Light

Your engine needs coolant to maintain its proper operating temperature, but a low coolant level does not necessarily spell immediate doom. If you see this light, begin to carefully monitor your car's temperature gauge. If it seems steady, then it is likely safe to drive your car for long enough to buy some additional coolant and top it up. If the temperature needle begins to rise, pull over immediately. Modern engines can be damaged by overheating very quickly, so getting off the road as soon as possible is your best bet.

Remember that coolant systems are closed loop and that you generally should not lose much (if any) coolant over time. If you are routinely topping up your coolant, your car most likely has a leak.

Alternator Light

Although it may look like a battery, this light actually indicates a problem with your car's charging system. If you see this light come on, your alternator will likely fail fairly soon. A failed alternator is enough to cause your car to stall and prevent you from restarting it, so attempt to get to a safe parking area as quickly as possible. You should also turn off powered accessories such as your radio and avoid using your headlights or windshield wipers if it is safe to do so.

The Check Engine Light

Unlike the other lights on your dash, the check engine light can mean a wide variety of things. This light is controlled directly by your car's computer, and its presence means that your car has one or more trouble codes stored. In the absence of other symptoms or warning lights, the check engine light is not indicative of a critical problem and your car is likely safe to drive. If you don't have a way to read the code yourself, most auto parts stores can pull the codes for free. Once you have the codes in hand, you can decide whether the problem warrants an immediate trip to the mechanic.

Reach out to an auto service to learn more.