Dashboard warning lights are, as the name suggests, a warning system based on information from your car’s computer monitoring system. If you’re diligent about getting your car serviced regularly, you probably don’t see much of your dashboard warning lights except for the few seconds after starting your engine (this is called the bulb check, FYI).
Still, in the dreaded occasions when they do pop up, it’s important to pay attention to them — they’re your car’s way of telling you something is wrong. Here are the 5 most important ones to watch out for:
The battery warning light is most commonly triggered when the battery fails to charge above 13.5 volts. Charging the battery is the job of your alternator, which ideally should charge the battery between 13.6 to 14.6 volts.
A lit battery warning light could indicate a faulty alternator that isn’t producing sufficient charge. It could also be the fault of the battery itself that is failing to accept sufficient charge, due to the cell degrading as it ages. Corroded battery terminals or faulty wiring can also be causes.
Worst case scenario: If the battery warning light comes on while driving, you can continue to drive your car for as long as the battery has power in it. But most likely, after switching off the engine, you won’t be able to restart it, making you late to work/class/your brother’s wedding.
Get this checked out as soon as possible by a technician to diagnose and fix the problem.
So your brake light is on. If your car is stationary and your parking (aka hand) brake is on, the solution is obvious: release your parking brake! You’re not going anywhere with it on.
Running your car while the parking brake is partially or worse, fully on, even for one kilometer, will cause serious damage to your brake system. You risk warping the brake drum and disk; and if it gets really overheated from essentially trying to stop a continually moving car, the brake lining adhesive can fail, the linings may crack or separate from the brake pads. All of this will require extensive and costly repairs.
Worst case scenario: The light may indicate you have lost brake pressure in half of the brake system, especially if it comes on while driving. Essentially, you either have lost or are going to lose the ability to brake. This might be because:
If your brakes are still functional, and it’s safe to do so, you should pull over and stop. If your brakes are no longer functioning, you will have to use the parking brake for braking when pulling over.
Either way, your vehicle will need to be checked by a professional as soon as possible.
The coolant light will turn on if your engine sensors are detecting high levels of heat, or low coolant levels.
The combustion that happens in your engine gives it the power to run, but also generates enormous amounts of heat, which is managed by the coolant system that draws heat from the engine and maintains an optimal operating temperature.
Allowing your engine to overheat risks turning a minor problem into a major one that can cause serious damage to your engine.
Worst case scenario: A low coolant level likely means you have a leak, as coolant doesn’t burn off like engine oil. If you continue to run your engine with low coolant, the engine may overheat, seize, crack, or stop unexpectedly while driving. In these cases, it means massive repair costs or even replacing the engine entirely.
If this light comes on while driving, pull over and turn off the engine, letting it cool down. Have your vehicle inspected by a professional as soon as possible.
There are a few possible reasons why this light has turned on:
Engine oil is needed to lubricate the engine, reducing friction between metal parts as they move at a very high rate. Running an engine without oil risks the pistons grinding together, which will create enormous amount of heat, causing a lot of expensive damage.
If the problem is low oil, a temporary solution is to stop at the nearest petrol station and top up your oil (use engine oil with the right viscosity!) until it is at a sufficient level. Be careful not to overfill — add a little at a time until the oil level reaches the “FULL” mark on the dipstick.
However, if your engine is making noises when it is running even after topping up the oil, it is NOT safe to drive.
Worst case scenario: Your oil level is low because your engine is burning oil due to worn piston rings, valve guides or valve guide seals. This is an expensive problem to fix, as it may require rebuilding or replacing the engine.
Oil problems are important to correctly diagnose, as a lack of oil flow to the engine can cause the engine to stop suddenly while driving — a dangerous situation, as this can cause an accident.
Get your car checked by a qualified mechanic to accurately diagnose the problem.
The check engine light is generally indicative of a problem affecting your vehicle’s ignition, fuel, or emission system. When it turns on, it may either flash or remain steady. A flashing check engine light indicates a more serious problem, as the light is flashing to get your attention more effectively.
If the check engine light comes on and the vehicle is running fine, it could be a sensor problem or a loose gas filler cap. You should still have the vehicle checked soon to make sure it isn’t anything more serious.
If the light comes on and the car is showing signs of problems, it could be indicative of problems with the powertrain, which affects performance. It could also be a vital part such as the fuel pump failing. Get this checked as soon as possible.
Worst case scenario: If the light comes on and is blinking, it might be a sign that your engine is misfiring. A misfiring engine generally comes with other, hard-to-ignore symptoms, such as loud noises, jerking and shuddering. Misfiring can seriously damage your catalytic converter, and expensive part to replace.
In this case, you should stop driving your vehicle immediately, and have it towed to a service center to be professionally checked out.
Book an oil change service with the Maxx ‘N Go app and get a free 15 point car inspection to spot issues that can cause breakdowns and costly damage. If we find any problems that can’t be taken care of by our mobile technicians, we can help you with them at our service center.