A Guide To Car Warning Lights

Usually one of the main signs that you’re due an intensive bout of car maintenance soon is seeing one of the infamous little car warning lights pop up on your dashboard.

Seeing one is the stuff of nightmares for most seasoned car buffs. And, if you don’t know the first thing about cars or car repairs, they can be even more terrifying.

I’ve made this list of the most common types of car warning light that you’ll spot. Grab your notepad, and let’s get started.

What car warning lights do I need to look out for?

Okay, here are some of the most obvious ones that you’ll spot.

Battery warning light

This will come on if there’s a problem with the electrical system or the battery in your car. It’s normally shaped like a battery with the positive and negative terminals visible. When you see this light, it normally indicates that the battery isn’t charging properly, or that something more serious could be wrong with your electrical system.

You could be causing long-term damage to the engine if you continue driving when this light’s on, so pull over and call your breakdown company.   

Engine management light

This light looks like a an outline of an engine (although you wouldn’t really be able to gather that from the strange box that this light is shaped like) It will usually come on when one of the sensors inside the car’s engine detects a fault.

This could be for any number of reasons (far too many to even attempt to work out from the side of the road, with no proper investigative equipment). If there’s no weird noises coming from the engine, you should be safe to drive until you can get home or to the nearest garage.

ABS light (Anti-lock Braking System) light

This indicates that there’s a fault with your anti-lock braking system. It’s a pretty recognizable light: a circle with the letters ABS inside.

If driving the car feels normal, and there’s no squeaking or grinding noises coming from the wheels, it’ll probably be okay to drive to a safe place for fixing.

Braking system light

This one’s shaped like an exclamation mark in a circle, so you can’t really miss it. It shows you that the engine has detected something wrong with your braking system.

It can come on from a simple issue, like accidentally leaving the handbrake on, or it can indicate something a lot more serious– like circuit or component failures. If you see this light, you really can’t afford to ignore it.

If there’s nothing noticeably wrong with your braking, and your brake fluid levels are okay, you’ll probably be safe to drive this to your local garage. If the brakes aren’t working though, when you press the pedal, you need to pull over straight away and call your breakdown company.

The last two lights are specific to diesel cars, letting you know if there’s a specific problem with the fuel supply of the car:

Water in diesel filter light

This light looks like a funnel. It means that you’ve put the wrong fuel in your tank, that there could be water in your fuel supply or that your fuel could be contaminated. If you’ve just put fresh fuel in the car, turn off your engine straight away and call for help. If you haven’t filled up recently, you should be okay to drive to the nearest garage to get them to have a proper look.

Diesel particulate filter

A box with some black dots in it, this warning light indicates that the particulate filter in your car is blocked. Try driving at around 50mph for 10 minutes and see if that manages to clear the filter and make the light go off. If it doesn’t, you’ll have to take the car into the garage to get checked over.

What should I do if I notice a car warning light?

If you notice a car warning light, you shouldn’t ignore it – not unless you want to store up a heap load of trouble. The best thing to do is to take it to the nearest garage or call your breakdown provider, so that they can work out what the problem is. Some problems aren’t that serious and won’t affect the safe driving of the car but some will mean that you’ll have to have a professional look over it.

Even if there’s nothing noticeably wrong with your car, you should still get it checked out.