What Does That Dashboard Warning Light Mean?

That “check engine light” could be over something as innocent as a loose-fitting gas cap. Or it could be an early warning of a crisis to come.

Either way, a trip to the technician should be imminent whenever a warning icon lights up your dashboard.

“The longer you ignore the light, the more likely it is to negatively impact your vehicle and snowball into additional, more costly repairs,” said Kristin Brocoff, a spokesperson for CarMD, a vehicle diagnostic software manufacturer.

Here are some common vehicle dashboard lights, according to the National Institute for Automotive Excellence (ASE).

Check battery: The light being on any other time means your battery’s voltage level is lower than normal or there’s a foul up in charging system. Most likely there’s something wrong with the battery terminals, cables, the alternator belt or the battery itself.

Check engine light: This one could relate to any number of issues. Perhaps your catalytic converter is failing or you didn’t tighten the gas cap enough the last time you filled up. You can still drive and do your daily routine, but set an appointment or stop by a repair shop sooner rather than later.

IMPORTANT: A flashing check engine light is serious. Get to a service center ASAP.

Brake light: This is a critical warning. Check to see if your parking brake is still engaged. Disengaging the emergency brake should eliminate the warning. Visit a service center immediately if it’s still on. Causes for the warning light could be an issue with our anti-lock brake system or problem with brake lines.

  • Tire pressure monitoring system: Newer cars have gauge inside the wheel that monitor tire air pressure. One of your tires might have a slow leak or be under inflated. There may be a problem with the sensor.
  • Maintenance/Service required: This is a general warning that requires further investigation from a service technician. It could be as simple as the need to reset the light after a standard maintenance cycle, or it could mean your vehicle needs a checkup or fluid exchange. Not all vehicles have a Maintenance/Service Required light. They may use a “Check Engine” light to notify drivers.