Lights on your car's dashboard indicate something's wrong. As a rule of thumb, red warning lights need immediate action – amber and other colour lights often mean something needs checking by a garage.
This handy guide lists the most common dashboard lights we get calls about.
- Engine – shows when a sensor triggers an alert
- Battery – can mean the battery isn't charging properly
- Oil pressure – normally caused by low oil pressure
- Brake – could be due to the hydraulic brake system failing
- Anti-lock braking system (ABS) – may be caused by a sensor failure
- Brake and ABS – means there's a major fault with the brakes
- Diesel particulate filter (DPF) – caused by the DPF filling with harmful soot particles
- Water in diesel filter – can be a sign of contaminated fuel
If you can't see the one you're looking for, check your owner's manual as warnings and icons vary with each manufacturer. Or use our free app to search all warning lights by car make and light colour.
Engine warning light
Safe to drive: Yes, provided there's no loss of power but you should get it checked.
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.
Battery warning light
Safe to drive: No, if the battery light shows red while driving, you need to have the fault looked at immediately as the battery isn't being charged.
Next steps: Get in touch with us about your vehicle's breakdown. Carrying on driving without knowing what the problem is could cause engine damage.
The problem: It's normal to see this warning light briefly as you start the engine. If it doesn't light up, or does so while you're driving, it may mean there's a problem with the wiring, the alternator or the alternator drive belt.
Oil pressure warning light
Safe to drive: No, you need to stop and check your oil level as 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 to do this. If the light still shows, keep the engine switched off and let us know your car’s broken down.
The problem: If the warning light is on when the oil level is right, there's a problem with the oil supply which 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.
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 in touch with us.
Yes, if the brake fluid level is ok, it might just be a sensor fault. In which case, it's safe to drive to a garage.
Next steps: Check you've released the handbrake fully. If you have then stop, check the brake fluid level and top it up if you need to – your owner's manual will tell you how to do this.
The problem: Your vehicle may have a brake fluid leak, need the brake pads replacing, or have a sensor failure – get it checked out at your local garage.
Anti-lock braking system (ABS) warning light
Safe to drive: Yes, as long as there aren't any noises coming from the wheels, but this isn't true for every vehicle - check your handbook to be on the safe side. Take extra care when driving as your car's braking distances may increase.
Next steps: Get your ABS checked as soon as possible if the light comes on while you're driving.
The problem: It could be as simple as a sensor fault but a garage will let you know what the issue is.
Brake system and ABS warning lights
Safe to drive: No, stop and contact us immediately.
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.
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, stop and turn off the engine – get in touch about your car's breakdown.
Next steps: Stop-start driving can cause the DPF to get blocked so you should clear it by driving around for 10 minutes at over 40mph – check your owner's manual for more specific advice.
The problem: DPFs trap tiny soot particles which are harmful to health, and convert 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.
Water in diesel filter warning light
Safe to drive: Not if you've recently refuelled, the contaminated diesel can damage your fuel system, so you'll need to report its breakdown.
Yes, if you haven't refuelled, it's safe to drive to a garage to have the filter drained or changed – get this done as soon as you can to stop damage to the injection system.
Next steps: If you've just refuelled, switch off your engine, as the diesel may have been contaminated.
The problem: If the light comes on while you're driving, there could be water in your fuel filter, or you may have filled up with contaminated fuel.