Car Dashboard Warning Lights

Why is that dashboard warning light on?

Play it safe and check what that red or amber light means

Engine warning light head


The lights on your car's dashboard light up when something's wrong. As a rule of thumb:

  • Red warning lights need immediate action.
  • Amber, orange or other colour lights often mean something needs checking by a garage.

It’s normal to see some of these lights briefly while you start your engine. But if they stay lit up while you’re driving, then you'll need to look into it.

This handy guide lists the most common dashboard lights our mechanics are asked about. Choose from the symbols below to find out what to do next:

Engine managementEngine

BatteryBattery

OilOil

BrakesBrake

ABS

ABS brake

Filter


If you can't see the one you're looking for, check your owner's manual as warning icons vary with each manufacturer. Or use our free app to search all warning lights by car make and light colour.



Engine management

Engine management light

Safe to drive?

Yes – if it’s always lit and there's no loss of power. You should get it checked as soon as possible.

No – if it's flashing while you're driving. Avoid heavy acceleration and high engine speed. Stop the vehicle when it's safe to do so. Restart the engine after 2 minutes to reset the engine management system. If the light's still flashing, turn off the engine and contact us to report your breakdown.

Next steps

Get a garage to check the engine soon to avoid damaging the catalytic converter or diesel particulate filter.

The problem

Cars have lots of sensors to check if everything's running smoothly. If there's a problem, the sensor will tell the engine control unit (ECU) which will turn on the engine management light. There are many reasons why the light will show but a garage can check what the cause is.

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Battery

Battery warning light

Safe to drive?

No – if the battery light's red while you're driving, you need to have the fault looked at immediately as the battery isn't charging.

Next steps

Stop the vehicle in a safe place, turn off the engine and contact us to report your breakdown. Don’t restart the engine as this could make the problem worse.

The problem

There may be a problem with the wiring, the alternator or the alternator drive belt.

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Oil

Oil pressure warning light

Safe to drive?

No – you need to stop and check your oil level. This light shows when there's no oil pressure in the engine.

Next steps

Stop as soon as you can and check the oil level, topping up as needed. Your owner's manual will tell you how. If the light still shows, turn off the engine and contact us to report your breakdown.

The problem

If the warning light's on when the oil level's right, there's a problem with the oil supply. That could be caused by the oil pump or a blocked oil filter. Your car engine needs the right oil pressure to stay lubricated, otherwise it'll get damaged.

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Brakes

Brake warning light

Safe to drive?

No – if you need to press your brake further than usual, your hydraulic brake circuits may have failed. Pull over and get help.

Yes – if the brake fluid level's OK, it might just be a sensor fault. In that case, it's safe to drive to a garage.

Next steps

Check you've released the handbrake fully. If you have, stop, check the brake fluid level and top it up if you need to. Your owner's manual will tell you how.

The problem

Your vehicle may have a brake fluid leak, a sensor failure or need the brake pads replacing. Get it checked out at your local garage.

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ABS brakes

Anti-lock braking system (ABS) warning light

Safe to drive?

Yes – for most vehicles, as long as there aren't any noises coming from the wheels. Check your handbook to be on the safe side. Take extra care when driving, especially during wet or icy weather, as your car's braking distances may increase.

Next steps

Get a garage to check the ABS system as soon as possible.

The problem

It could be as simple as a sensor fault but a garage will let you know what the issue is.

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BrakesABS brakes

Brake system and ABS warning lights

Safe to drive

No – stop the vehicle and contact us to report your breakdown.

Next steps

Slow down gradually and avoid braking suddenly.

The problem

If your brake and ABS warning lights come on at the same time, there could be a major fault with the brakes. This is unsafe for you and other road users, so don’t drive the car until the problem has been looked at and fixed.

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Diesel particle filter

Diesel particulate filter (DPF) warning light

Safe to drive?

Yes – but you should drive for around 10 minutes at over 40mph when safe.

No – if the light doesn't disappear after continual driving. In that case, top the vehicle, turn off the engine and contact us to report your breakdown.

Next steps

Stop-start driving can cause the DPF to get blocked. To clear it, drive around for 10 minutes at over 40mph. Check your owner's manual for more specific advice.

The problem

The DPF traps tiny soot particles which are harmful to health, and converts them to harmless ash when the exhaust system gets hot. But this doesn't happen on short journeys. If the DPF is full, it'll need replacing, which can be expensive.

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Find out what your car's really saying

Just plug our Smart Breakdown device into your car to get updates about your car’s health sent to your phone.

It helps you spot problems before they become a real issue and explains what to do about common warning lights.

Find out more about how breakdown cover can help you if you have car troubles in our breakdown cover guide.

 


Published: 20 September 2016 | Updated: 6 January 2020 | Author: The AA

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