Car Dashboard Symbols What They Mean

We’ve all been there: You’re driving along, enjoying the views, and all of a sudden you hear a beep—you look down, and a symbol has appeared on your dashboard. You start to wonder what could be wrong with your car.
Some symbols on your car’s dashboard are easier to figure out than others. However, it’s important to know exactly what these warning lights mean in case you need to pull over and call for help.
In this blog post, we’ll go over the top 18 most common car symbols and their meanings so that you’ll be better informed the next time a warning light pops up on your dashboard. By being aware of these lights, you can avoid costly repairs down the road.

Types of Car Dashboard Symbols
Not every symbol that appears on your dashboard is a warning light. Some have to do with vehicle features (like lights and cruise control) or safety (like blind-spot monitoring and lane departure warnings) or mechanical issues (like low tire pressure and engine temperature warnings).

When it comes to dashboard lights, colors matter! Green or blue lights simply let you know that a system is on or operating. Orange/yellow warning lights generally signify that your vehicle needs to be serviced or repaired soon. These warnings are less urgent than if you have a red or flashing light.

A red light means that you should take action immediately! Some red dashboard lights are safety warnings (like a seat belt reminder) and others are mechanical (like the engine overheating). If a red mechanical light appears, pull over as soon as possible and figure out what’s going on. Your vehicle will likely stop working or become damaged if you continue to drive.

As you read through this list, here are two things to keep in mind:
1. Every car is different, so the symbols on your dashboard may vary slightly from the ones on our list. If in doubt, consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual!
2. Many of these dashboard lights will illuminate briefly when you turn on your vehicle and performs a system check. As long as the lights turn off within a few seconds, everything is operating normally.
1. Oil Pressure Warning Light

This old-fashioned oil can symbol indicates that there is an issue with your car’s oil pressure system. Either you’re running low on oil or your oil pump isn’t circulating enough fluid to properly lubricate the surfaces inside your engine. (NOTE: Some car dashboards will display the word “OIL” instead of this symbol.)
2. Tire Pressure Warning Light

Also known as the Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) symbol, this image signals an issue with your tire pressure or the TPMS.
If the TPMS symbol is solid, then the pressure in one or more of your tires is too low or too high. If the TPMS symbol flashes for 60-90 seconds when you turn on your vehicle and then stays illuminated, even if your tires are properly inflated, then something is wrong with your TPMS sensors.
3. Engine Temperature Warning Light

If you see this symbol pop up, it means that your engine is overheating. This most likely has to do with your coolant (also called antifreeze), but it can happen for a variety of reasons.
4. Traction Control Light

This car symbol indicates that your vehicle’s traction control system is activated. The traction control system uses your anti-lock brake system (ABS) to determine if one wheel is spinning faster than the others. If it detects that a wheel is slipping, it applies the brakes until the car regains traction. This is most helpful if you’re driving in rain or snow.
5. Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) Warning Light

When you brake hard, like on slick roads, the ABS pulses the brakes to prevent your wheels from locking up. If the ABS warning light is illuminated, it means that something is wrong with the system.
6. Traction Control Malfunction Light

This light indicates that your vehicle’s traction control system might have a broken or damaged sensor or some other malfunction.  In some cars, the same control module operates the ABS and the traction control system, so sometimes this dashboard light comes on when there are problems with your ABS.
7. Engine Warning Light (Check Engine Light)

Your check engine light may appear for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is triggered by an open, loose or cracked gas cap, which causes fuel to evaporate. But sometimes it indicates a serious issue, like low oil pressure or overheating! (NOTE: Some car dashboards will display the words “CHECK ENGINE” instead of this symbol.)
8. Battery Alert Light

This light signifies a problem with the vehicle’s charging system. Possible culprits include a loose or damaged battery cable, a bad alternator, or another electrical fault. You may notice your clock light fading or your headlights dimming. Or, in some cases, your car may not start at all.
9. Low Fuel Indicator Light

You’re likely familiar with this dashboard light (maybe a little too familiar!). It simply means your vehicle is running low on fuel.
10. Automatic Shift Lock or Engine Start Indicator Light

If you see this dashboard symbol, you’re most likely trying to shift gears or start your ignition without engaging the brake. The automatic shift lock will lock your vehicle in park or neutral until you engage the brake.
11. Seat Belt Reminder Light

This car light simply reminds you or your passenger to fasten your seatbelts. It is usually accompanied by a repetitive dinging noise.
12. Airbag Indicator Light

The airbag warning light signals that something is wrong with one of your airbags or the entire airbag system.
13. Security Indicator Light

If your vehicle has an anti-theft system, then this symbol will blink steadily when the security system is armed. If it is solid and the car will not start, then the immobilization system has activated due to a security threat or malfunction. If it is solid and the car is running normally, then the security system is malfunctioning and needs to be fixed.
14. Fog Lamp Indicator Light

This symbol shows that your fog lights are on.
15. Washer Fluid Indicator Light

Imitating the motion of your windshield wipers, this dashboard symbol means that you’re low on windshield washer fluid.
16. Brake Warning Light

If you see this symbol on your dashboard or the word “BRAKE” in red, then either the parking brake is engaged or there’s a problem with your braking system.
17. Lane Departure Warning Light

Most cars produced today come with a lane departure warning safety feature. It activates this light on your dashboard and makes a beeping noise when it detects that your vehicle is drifting out of your lane.
18. Transmission Temperature Warning Light

If this symbol appears on your dashboard, it means that your transmission is overheating. This could be caused by low transmission fluid, worn transmission parts, heavy towing or something else.

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