What Do Your Car Dashboard Lights Mean, and What Should You Do?

Car dashboard lights can indicate that there's a problem with a vehicle. Here's an article on what those dashboard lights mean what to do when a light goes on.
Written by Bonnie Stinson
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
Dashboard lights are your car’s communication signals. The illuminated symbols warn you that something is wrong, or they tell you that a system is or isn’t operating properly.
The best way to respond to these lights depends on what they indicate. A light’s color and the symbol that appears when it comes on indicate where the problem is and its seriousness. You should especially look out for the red symbols or
check engine light
Keep reading to learn what these lights mean and how to respond appropriately in order to keep your car running properly, presented by
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Car dashboard lights meanings

Red dashboard light: Dashboard lights are similar to traffic lights in that red means "stop." It's indicating that there is a serious problem. If you continue to drive, you will likely end up stuck on the road with a broken-down car.
Yellow or orange dashboard light: Yellow or orange dashboard lights mean there is a problem, although you can probably still drive the car.
Blue or green dashboard light: Blue or green lights are simply alerting you to system activity. They are indicating that something is functioning properly and there is no need for concern.

What to do for a yellow or orange dashboard light

Materials needed:
Step 1: Determine which system or part needs attention according to the symbol.
Step 2: Top off fluids, if necessary. Yellow or orange lights can indicate that your windshield wiper fluid level is low or that you are
running low on gasoline
. It may also indicate that you need an oil change.
The yellow anti-lock brake system (ABS) light indicates that there is a problem that needs to be addressed by a mechanic, but you won’t lose your brakes.
Step 3: Take your car to a mechanic. If you weren't able to successfully fix the problem and make the dashboard light go away, that means your car needs to get to a mechanic. Thankfully, yellow means that the car is still drivable–but you probably shouldn't put off getting the issue fixed.

What to do for a red dashboard light

Materials needed:
Step 1: Determine which car part or system is failing.
  • A brake system warning light is red, and it reveals the word "brake" when it lights up or an exclamation point in the middle of a circle.
  • The engine coolant warning light is red and displays a thermometer in coolant.
  • The engine pressure warning light is red and displays an oilcan symbol.
  • The battery warning light is red and displays a car battery.
  • Airbag warning lights are red and display a person in a car seat with a deployed airbag.
  • Seat belt reminder lights are red and display a person in a car seat wearing a seat belt.
  • Door ajar alerts light up red and display the top view of a car with the doors open.
Step 2: Rectify the situation right away. Do not ignore a red light. Door ajar alerts and seat belt reminder lights are easily taken care of by simply closing the door or putting on the seat belt.
If they remain lit, though, there is something wrong with the sensor. This should be taken care of but is not usually urgent.
The following lights require immediate attention:
  • If the brake light is on, make sure the emergency brake is not engaged and check the brake fluid level. Add brake fluid, if necessary.
  • If the engine coolant light comes on, check the antifreeze level in the clear reservoir. If the engine is hot, the coolant should be slightly below the maximum line. When the engine is cool, it should be slightly above or at the minimum line. Add antifreeze to the reservoir until it reaches the appropriate level.
  • If the engine pressure light comes on, check your oil. If it is low, add fresh oil.
  • The battery light comes on when the battery isn’t being re-charged properly. It could indicate a problem in the wiring, a bad battery, or a malfunctioning alternator.
  • The airbag light will come on when there is a problem with the airbag deployment system.
Step 3: Take your car to a mechanic right away. Topping off the fluids is only a quick, temporary fix to keep your car running until you can get it to the mechanic.
Problems with the battery and airbags must be resolved immediately. Don't procrastinate when these lights come on; call a mechanic right away. Maintaining and monitoring your car on a regular basis goes a long way towards staying safe while driving.
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