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Dashboard Warning Lights

by Eddie Carrara

Dashboard warning lights, do you know what it means when they illuminate? Car manufacturers use warning light icons to describe what system is being used or what system has a malfunction. Just because a dashboard warning light is illuminated doesn't mean there is a problem in that system, sometimes it part of a routine check. 

All of the warning light should illuminate when the ignition key is first turned on, this is called a bulb check, if there is a problem with any of the lights, another system will alert you that there is a bulb problem in the instrument panel.

Warning Light Information

The best resource for this information would be in the owners manual, but because your here, you probably don't have one and that's why I created this totally awesome dashboard warning light map, so you could easily identify what all these crazy lights mean.  

I really don't know how the manufactures come up with these icons because some of the icons are blatantly horrible resemblances of the actual system, but I'm not on the board of directors so I don't have much say in the matter, I'm here to just help you decipher which lights do what and why.

So let's take a look at the image above, I graciously numbered each one so I could give an explanation of each one the dashboard warning lights. 

  1. The oil light is pretty easy, if the light is on, your probably low on oil and if you don't put some in soon, your engine will be junk. If it's flashing, it's warning you the oil is getting low, so stop and put some in or have your oil changed.
  2. The check engine light, it really looks like an engine, but only if you know what an engine looks like outside of your vehicles engine compartment. If it's on, it means you have a DTC or diagnostic trouble code. So pull out your code reader and find out what Auto Computer Code is stored, then fix it or have it fixed. 
  3. The light that looks like a battery really has nothing to do with the battery, well, maybe a little. If the battery warning light comes on, there are a few possible causes, the alternator, the voltage regulator, or another component used to regulate voltage in the electrical system. Have it checked quick, your battery could be over charging or under charging, and both could leave you stranded.
  4. The wrench, your car is due for maintenance, you know what to do, right?
  5. Traction control light will flash if the tires lose traction from the road like on snow or sand and then go out. If there is a problem in the system, it will stay lit until it's fixed.
  6. TPMS or tire pressure monitoring system is designed to warn you of low air pressure in your tires. If this warning light is on, there is a problem with the system, not low air pressure in a tire. The light will illuminate if a sensor was damaged due to tire replacement, sensor battery failure or TPMS control unit failure. 
  7. Low tire pressure warning light, is just that, it's warning you that one or more of your tires has low air pressure and should be checked as soon as possible. Driving on tires with low air pressure for a long period of time can cause a tire to blowout. 
  8. Vehicle stable assist, this is to warn you that the system has been turn off by the switch or if there is a problem with the system.
  9. Variable torque management system is used on full time all wheel drive vehicles like the Honda Pilot, CRV, Ridgeline, etc. This system warns you the tires are spinning at different speeds as if you were on ice, the vehicle will use the ABS system to slow down the wheels that are spinning and redirect power to the wheels that have traction. 
  10. AT temp, or automatic transmission temperature, this warning light will illuminate if the transmission is overheating, this usually will happen while towing something heavy without the right kind of transmission cooler. 

More Dashboard Warning Lights

Starting at the top of the picture and moving clock wise, I will explain each one, sorry this picture isn't as cool as the last one, but it is still pretty awesome, don't you think? :)

  • Head light's are on, you guessed it, your head lights are on, pretty simple.
  • ABS or anti-lock brake warning light, this will usually come on when your brake system is low on brake fluid or there is a problem with the ABS system.
  • Seat belt warning light, this will illuminate if there is a problem in the system or as a warning to fasten your seat belts. 
  • Transmission is in third gear, this light will illuminate when the transmission has been shifted into third gear manually, by either moving the shift lever or hitting the button in the shift lever. 
  • Door is open, again, pretty self explanatory  one of the vehicles  doors is not closed completely.
  • SRS or Air bag warning light, this light should never be on unless the system is doing a bulb check or if there is a problem in the system. If your light is on, have it checked asap. 
  • Brake warning light, when this light is illuminated, there are three possible causes, low brake fluid, the float in the brake reservoir is not working or damaged, or the parking brake is on. 
  • Fog lights are on, I guess your fog light are on, you can either turn them off or leave them on :)

This is a instrument panel for a 2006 Honda Pilot

With all these awesome pictures and definitions, I hope I cleared up some of your confusion. Dashboard warning lights can get scary if you're not sure why they're on, so I'm glad you stopped by to find out more information about them. Let me know if you have any questions or if you're still confused about a warning light. Just leave a comment in the box below and I will get back to you soon, thanks.


Click here to download your copy of my eBook, "Simple Car Care Tips and Advice" It's filled with usefull, easy to understand, automotive information you can really use!


Can't find what your looking for on this Dashboard Warning lights page, maybe you'll have better luck on the Simple Car Answers homepage, just click anywhere on this paragraph. 

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Eddie Carrara 

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