There are so many car dashboard signs and names that it can be tricky to memorise them all – particularly if you don’t identify as much of a gearhead. However, it’s important to be prepared whenever possible.

When should you pull over and call your breakdown cover? When is it safe to keep driving? This is your car dashboard, explained.

car dashboard symbols and meanings

airbag warning light

The airbag warning light is also known as the ‘supplemental restraint system’ (SRS) warning light. If this light comes on, it means that some part of your airbag system isn’t working properly. It’s important you get this fixed as soon as possible, as it means your airbags might not go off in a crash.

anti-lock brake system warning light

Your ABS is an incredibly important part of your vehicle’s safety. In particular, it comes into play when you’re driving in atypical conditions, or when you need to make an emergency stop.

If this light comes on, your normal braking will still be fully intact, so you’re okay to keep driving. However, you should keep your distance from the car in front, and get it checked as soon as you’re able to.

battery warning light

This light coming on means that your battery is not charging as you drive. Your car will keep running until the battery completely dies, but once it’s flat, nothing in your car will work. Get to a garage as soon as it comes on, or call for recovery if you run out of charge.

The battery warning light could be caused by a number of things, so getting your car to a garage as soon as possible is the best way to find the source of the problem.

brake pad warning light

If your brake pad light comes on, it means that your brake pads are getting thin. They’ll come on before they wear down too much though, so you should have time to get them changed.

When your pads have completely worn down, it can be very dangerous to drive, so get them changed as soon as you can.

brake warning light

The brake system warning light takes the form of a red exclamation mark in a red circle. If it comes on while you’re driving or stays on after you release the parking brake, your brake fluid level could be low.

Some people know how to check their brake fluid level themselves, but if you don’t, it’s best to ask a professional. Don’t risk driving if this light comes on – your brakes are one of the most crucial parts of your car functioning correctly. The best bet is to pull over and call your breakdown cover provider.

coolant levels warning light

When your coolant levels are running low, this yellow light will pop up on your dash. Coolant stops your engine from overheating, so you shouldn’t make any long journeys if you’re running low.

Top up as soon as possible, but make sure to wait for your engine to cool down before doing so.

DPF warning light

DPF stands for ‘Diesel Particulate Filter’, so this one only applies to cars with a diesel engine. If there’s a problem with the filter, this light will come on.

The DPF removes soot from your car’s exhaust to reduce emissions, so this light coming on could mean that the filter has become blocked. This could cause some serious damage to your car, but it also means that you’re releasing toxic smoke into the air whenever you drive.

Filters can be expensive to replace, so get this checked at a garage as soon as you can.

electronic stability problem system light

If this light comes up on your dash, you have a problem with your traction control. If the light is flashing, it means the system has kicked in and is being used (like if you’re driving on an icy road). If it stays on, the system isn’t working properly.

If you’ve turned the system off, the light will come on with the word ‘OFF’ underneath it. If you restart the engine and the light still stays on, get to a garage to have it checked.

engine management light

Also known as the check engine light, your engine management will come on for any number of issues. It’ll usually be accompanied by more obvious faults, like a stutter.

You risk doing more damage to your engine by driving with this light on, so get it checked as soon as you can.

engine oil warning light

When the oil temperature is too high, or the oil level or pressure is too low, this light will come on. Making sure your oil is right is important, as if anything is wrong you could damage your engine.

That’s why you should stop driving and check whether your car has a leak. If the oil is fine, the pump itself could be faulty and you should get it checked. If the light goes off after topping up the oil, your car should be fine to drive.

engine temperature warning light

If your engine is overheating, this light will come on. It could be a result of low engine coolant, so check if that light has come on too. If not, it could be a sign of a bigger problem, and you should stop driving immediately.

Check the coolant gauge once the engine has cooled and  see if there are any leaks. If topping up the coolant doesn’t make a difference, get your car to a garage.

low tyre pressure warning light

You should always keep an eye on your tyre pressure by manually giving it regular checks, particularly if you’re about to go on a long journey. That being said, if there is a drastic loss in pressure (usually at least 10%-15%), your low tyre pressure light will come on anyway.

You can keep driving when this light comes on, but you should top them up at the next available opportunity. It’s a good idea to keep a compression kit in the boot of your car just in case this happens, but you can also top up at most petrol stations and garages in a pinch.

power steering warning light

Taking the form of a red steering wheel and exclamation mark, this light will pop up if there’s a problem with the power steering. The fix for this could be as simple as turning the engine off and on again to reboot the computer.

If the light comes back on again, however, you should take your car to a garage. You can keep driving, but steering will be more difficult, so take particular care at higher speeds in the meantime.

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Now you know what all the most common car dashboard symbols and meanings, you’re ready to get on the road. Get started by finding your perfect used car at from our huge range of UK-wide dealerships.

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