By Clair Morton
Published: Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Knowing the meaning behind your dashboard warning lights can keep you safe on the road, help you avoid a breakdown and potentially save you from an expensive repair bill. We take a look at some common ones you should know about...
What it might look like: The kids have spilt Lego in the back of the car.
What it actually means: This warning doesn’t mean your battery isn’t working, but that there’s a problem with the vehicle’s charging system or alternator. While the light is on, the battery isn’t being charged and can become flat quickly. Try to have this looked at as soon as possible to assess where the problem may lie.
Coolant temperature warning
What it might look like: The river’s about to flood.
What it actually means: The engine is getting too hot and continuing to drive will make it overheat, causing costly damage. Park, switch off the engine, and call an expert. Don’t attempt to remove cooling system caps or touch any engine components under the bonnet, as temperatures will be extremely hot and under high pressure, which can result in serious burns.
Oil pressure warning
What it might look like: Get your three wishes ready, it’s a genie in a bottle.
What it actually means: Find a safe spot to pull over and turn the engine off as soon as possible. This light will come on if the engine doesn’t have sufficient oil pressure or not enough oil, which can damage the engine. Don’t operate the car again until it’s been looked at by a mechanic or an RAA Patrol.
What it might look like: Don’t drive with a beach ball on your lap.
What it actually means: While RAA does advise you to leave beach balls in the boot, this warning means a fault has been detected in the airbag system. You can still drive the car but this should be investigated urgently, because the airbag may not deploy when it’s meant to.
What it might look like: Stop!
What it actually means: There might be a problem with the level of brake fluid. In this case, the car shouldn’t be driven until the problem’s fixed. On newer cars, this warning may be incorporated with the Anti-lock Brake System (ABS). Get it checked out urgently.
Diesel engine pre glow
What it might look like: You accidently left the heater on.
What it actually means: Don’t worry about this one if it appears briefly – it just means the glow plugs are working to pre-heat the engine for cold starting, and should only come on for a short time. If the light stays illuminated, it may signify a fault within a pre-heat circuit. Get this checked by a mechanic.
What it might look like: Is this the eject button?
What it actually means: There’s something wrong with the engine’s management system, usually related to an electrical, air intake or fuel issue. This one’s not easy to diagnose, because the problem could be as minor as a poor electrical connection, or as serious as the failure of a vital engine part. It may also mean a fault’s occurred and a problem code has been stored in the engine’s computer memory. Get your mechanic to check this one out as soon as possible, as they can ‘read’ the codes with diagnostic equipment, leading them to the cause.
Diesel particulate filter warning
What it might look like: Time to give the inside of your car a good clean.
What it actually means: If you drive a diesel car, there’ll be a filter in the exhaust system that catches dirty particles and stops them from going into the air. If you see this symbol, the filter is becoming blocked with soot and needs a ‘burn off’. You can usually do this simply by driving your car at 80km/h or more for over 20 minutes, but check your owner’s manual or call RAA’s Technical Advisory Service to find out what’s needed for your car. Failure to fix this problem could result in an expensive bill to have the filter replaced.
Tyre pressure warning
What it might look like: You’re not going to make that 2pm appointment.
What it actually means: You might be right. This warning means a tyre could be nearly flat or losing pressure, and should be investigated as soon as possible. After it’s been fixed, the system usually needs to be reset. Your owner’s manual will tell you how.
ESC (electronic stability control) light
What it might look like: I’m out of control!
What it actually means: Your car is actually helping you stay in control. Many vehicles now have lifesaving technology known as ESC, which can detect if a car is heading off the intended course by determining unusual or sudden changes in vehicle positioning or direction. The system can then suppress gear changes and throttle response, or apply or release brake pressure to relevant wheels to help the driver keep the car under control. If you’re buying a used vehicle, make sure it has ESC.