When you start your vehicle, the instrument panel lights up with all those little symbols. As soon as the computer verifies everything is working properly, the lights go off. On occasion, however, a light remains on and it is best that you find your vehicle’s handbook and look up a detailed explanation of what the light means and if the vehicle is safe to drive.

Although some warning lights are specific to a manufacturer or model, there are some that are universal. Let’s take a look at some of the more common warning lights and what you should do in the instance they occur.

The air bag warning light indicates there is a problem with a crash sensor, an air bag module, the air bag wiring or the air bag control module. The vehicle is safe to drive, but the air bag won’t deploy if you are in an accident. You should have the problem checked out and repaired as soon as possible.

The brake warning light indicates that the parking brake is on, the brake fluid is low or there is a serious hydraulic problem. You should check the parking brake first and then the brake fluid level. If it’s low, fill it. If the light remains on, you may have a sensor fault. You should have this checked out as soon as possible.

If you press the brake pedal and the light comes on, one of the hydraulic circuits in the brake system has lost pressure and the vehicle may not be able to stop. Whatever you do, don’t attempt to drive it. Have it towed somewhere to be repaired.

The warning light for the antilock brake system indicates temporary loss of the system. Your brakes will still work, but the antilock braking you need when coming to a sudden stop or sliding on a wet surface won’t be available. You should have your vehicle checked out as soon as possible.


If the ABS and the brake warning lights both come on, your brake system has a serious hydraulic problem, in which case your vehicle is not safe to drive. If you are out driving when this occurs, pull over as soon as possible, being careful you don’t step on the brakes too harshly, and have a tow truck come get the vehicle.

The check engine light or malfunction indicator lamp indicates there is a potential emissions fault. There are a number of reasons why this light might come on, such as dirty fuel injectors, a loose gas cap, fouled spark plugs, the failure of an engine sensor or an emissions control system problem.

To find the exact nature of the problem, a mechanic must attach your vehicle’s diagnostic connector to a scan tool. You may continue to drive your vehicle unless another light comes on. In that case, you should have your vehicle checked out as soon as possible. If the light comes on while you are driving, stop the vehicle, switch the engine off for two minutes and then restart it; this may reset the engine management system.

The charging system warning light or the battery charge warning light indicates your vehicle is running on the battery. The charging system isn’t producing enough current for the vehicle’s electrical needs. Your vehicle will run as long as the battery has a charge, which may not be very long in the daylight and even less at night.

To get more life out your battery, turn off all unnecessary electrical devices (radio, heater and defroster). The problem could be the result of a number of things, such as corroded or loose battery cables, an alternator malfunction or a damaged drive belt. If you don’t see a problem with the battery cables or the belt, start the vehicle and turn on the lights. If they are dim, you have a problem with the alternator or some other electrical part. You should have the vehicle checked out immediately.

The oil pressure warning light indicates the engine is low on oil or there is no oil pressure. Don’t drive your vehicle. If you do, you will run the risk of severely damaging the engine. Start by checking the oil level. If it is low, add some and then turn on the engine to see if the light goes out. If it does not, you could have a bad oil pump or a faulty oil pressure-sending unit that will need to be replaced.


The temperature warning light is not a light to be ignored. If it comes on while you are driving, stop immediately and turn the engine off. If you don’t, you could cause extensive damage to the engine. Once the engine cools off, unscrew the radiator cap and check the coolant level.

Never remove the cap when the engine is hot or you could risk getting burned by coolant or water spraying out. Add coolant and do a quick check for leaks around the radiator and hoses. Start the vehicle and proceed with care. If the light comes on again, you have an internal problem.

There are a number of things that can cause the engine to overheat besides low coolant, such as a failed water pump, something blocking the radiator airflow, a broken cooling fan, an overworked engine in really hot weather, the towing of a heavy trailer or the buildup of sludge inside the cooling system.

Depending on the make, model and year of your vehicle, there are other warning lights to look out for. These include:

?• Lamp out indicator light, which lets you know you have a headlight, taillight, stoplight or turn signal light out.

?• Seat belt warning light or chime, which lets you know someone hasn’t buckled their seatbelt.?


• Low windshield washer fluid warning light, which lets you know the windshield washer reservoir is low.?

• Door ajar warning light, which lets you know one of the doors or tailgate isn’t shut all of the way.?

• Service reminder light, which lets you know your vehicle is due for an oil change.?

• Emissions warning light, which lets you know there is a problem with the emissions sensor or your vehicle has reached a certain mileage.

When a warning light comes on, your vehicle is trying to tell you something. Listen to it and take care of the problem.

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