Car dashboard symbols and meanings (2023)

Want a hand interpreting the various dashboard warning lights that can appear on a car? Our guide has you covered

Modern cars are complex machines with myriad built-in monitoring systems to ensure that things keep running smoothly. Those colourful hieroglyphics on your dashboard are there to let you know if something isn’t functioning correctly, the severity of which can be gauged by the colour of the symbol.

Green colours tend to indicate that things are working correctly, amber/yellow colours show that something needs to be attended to sooner than later, while red colours denote a problem that needs to be addressed immediately.

In this article we will look into what the various car dashboard warning signs mean and what to do if one of them lights up in your car.

Check engine

Car dashboard symbols and meanings (1)

What does it mean?

This warning could come on for a number of reasons ranging from minor (sensor malfunction) to rather serious (damaged electrical or mechanical components). In some cases, you may experience reduced power, often referred to as ‘limp mode’. Our guide to the engine management light has full details, as does our detailed lowdown on limp mode.

What should I do if it comes on?

You can sometimes reset the warning light by turning off the car, waiting 30 seconds and then turning it on again, but you should still get the car looked at as a matter of urgency.

(Video) Every Dashboard Warning Lights in Your Car Explained | Part - 1

Engine Temperature/coolant level

Car dashboard symbols and meanings (2)

What does it mean?

Your car’s engine is running hot, or your coolant level is too low. An overheating engine could be connected to a faulty water pump, a blocked coolant hose or broken radiator, while low coolant could be connected to a leak.

What should I do if it comes on?

Pull over to the side of the road as soon as it is safe to do so and turn off the car. Do not attempt to open the radiator or expansion tank cap while the car is hot. Never driver for extended periods while the car is overheating as this will blow the head gasket and potentially damage the internals.

Oil Level

Car dashboard symbols and meanings (3)

What does it mean?

The oil level in your car is below the required level. This can happen if the oil pump is damaged but most likely it could just be using a bit of oil and requires a top up.

What should I do if it comes on?

Stop at your earliest convenience and top up the oil. Older cars will have a dipstick which will show where the oil level is at, on newer cars you will be able to check the level on the infotainment system or trip computer.
If the oil level keeps dropping regularly you will need to book your car in for a service to diagnose the issue.

Brake System

Car dashboard symbols and meanings (4)

What does it mean?

The brake system warning light can come on for reasons such as low brake fluid or damaged brake lines. The brake pedal may feel spongy or hard, depending on the problem.

What should I do if it comes on?

This issue needs immediate attention. You should avoid braking hard or driving at higher speeds until you can find a safe place to stop. Have the car towed to a service centre even if the brakes feel fine.

(Video) Warning Lights On Your Car’s Dashboard, What Do They Mean (Explanation) | Quick Tips | Bright Source

Battery Charge

Car dashboard symbols and meanings (5)

What does it mean?

Your car’s battery or charging system may be faulty. You may simply need a fresh battery, but it could also be a problem with the alternator (this charges the battery while driving), or your wiring.

What should I do if it comes on?

You can continue to drive until you reach a service station, if the car struggled to turn over the last time you started it you should avoid switching it off until you can stop in a secure location.
Avoid using auxiliary systems like the radio and electric windows if you suspect that your battery is flat or not charging.

Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF)

Car dashboard symbols and meanings (6)

What does it mean?

Diesel cars have a filter installed in the exhaust system to reduce harmful emissions, this can get clogged up and cause the DPF warning light to illuminate.

What should I do if it comes on?

Driving at motorway speeds for at least 30 minutes will give the system time to burn off the excess soot in the filter, if this doesn’t fix the issue then you should book your car in for a service.

Tyre Pressure

Car dashboard symbols and meanings (7)

What does it mean?

Most modern cars come equipped with a tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS), when it detects a drop in air pressure it will illuminate. This could be due to a puncture or a slow leak due to a cracked rim or faulty valve.

What should I do if it comes on?

You should stop and check for signs of a puncture. If the damage is not too sever you may be able to fill the tyre with enough air to get you to a repair centre. If not, you can replace the offending tyre with a spare if your car is equipped with one.

(Video) Car dashboard symbols and meanings

If you have run-flat tyres the sidewalls will not look deflated, and you will be able to drive slowly for a short distance to a tyre repair centre.

Traction Control/Stability Control

Car dashboard symbols and meanings (8)

What does it mean?

This light will flicker when the car loses traction on a slippery surface. It will also be on constantly if it has been deactivated.

What should I do if it comes on?

You may be driving too fast for the prevailing conditions; it is more common to see it activate when the road is slippery. You may feel a tug on the steering wheel or the power cutting out and then returning. Slowing down and avoiding sudden braking or acceleration can reduce this from happening.

Airbag Warning

Car dashboard symbols and meanings (9)

What does it mean?

The airbag system or the seatbelt pretensioner system may have a malfunction. This may prevent the airbag from deploying in the event of an accident. The light may either display as a symbol of an airbag (represented by a round circle close to an icon of a person wearing a seatbelt), or you may simply see the letters ‘SRS’, short for supplemental restraint system – another term for airbags.

What should I do if it comes on?

Book your car in to have it checked out, you can drive with this warning light illuminated but it’s best to resolve the issue.

Door Open

What does it mean?

A door, bootlid or bonnet has not been closed properly. On modern cars, a top-down picture of the vehicle will show you the offending aperture.

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What should I do if it comes on?

Stop and close the relevant door.

What if a warning light has come on that’s not in this list?

Many modern cars will have dozens of warning lights for advanced driver aids and unique features that you may not see in this list. So, if you see something strange light up then your best bet is to check the owner’s manual for a comprehensive list of your particular vehicle’s dashboard symbols.

You can also call your local dealership or a helpline, these numbers should be in the handbook or can be found by visiting the manufacturer’s website.

Remember that many dashboard lights will illuminate when you start the car and should go out once you drive off.

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(Video) Dashboard & Symbols

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