If an unfamiliar icon has flashed up on your dashboard recently, it's important to find out what it means - because your vehicle could have a problem. Even if your model has topped countless reliability surveys, it could still develop an issue - perhaps due to mechanical wear and tear or poor maintenance. Here we list 9 of the most common warning lights on your dash. If you see one of them pop up, your vehicle probably needs some attention. It's important to take action so your car is as safe as possible to drive.
Low tyre pressure
If you see a half-circle with an exclamation mark, pull over somewhere safe and check your tyres. If they need a top-up, drive to your nearest petrol station and give them a pump. The light should then disappear. Unless your car is quite old, it should feature this useful warning light.
Check Engine Light
The Check Engine Light is one of the vaguer warning lights: it means there is a problem with your engine, which might relate to low compression, an intake manifold issue, or a spark plug fault - among other things. It's important to put off any trips until you find out what the issue is - and get it fixed by a trusted mechanic.
Engine Oil Warning Light
This icon - which looks like a gravy dish - isn't as mysterious as the Check Engine Warning light: it means there's an issue with your engine's oil pressure. If you see it, take action, because it means your engine may not be able to lubricate itself, which is a worst-case scenario could lead to a seized engine. Needless to say, this would be an expensive problem to fix.
Traction or Stability Control Light
Unless your car is regarded as a classic, chances are it will have traction or stability control. Any issue with this system is denoted by an icon of a car seen from behind, with squiggly lines below it. This means you've either turned it off (not a good idea if you want to stay as safe as possible), or the system has suffered some kind of failure. Visit a trusted mechanic as soon as you can.
Coolant Level Warning Light
Seen a thermometer pop up on your dash? Don’t ignore it - it likely means your vehicle is overheating. First of all, pull up somewhere safe and let your car cool down. If you feel confident doing so, open the bonnet and use a rag to carefully take the lid off the coolant reservoir - then check the level. If you see smoke coming from your coolant reservoir, it could be time to call your breakdown service provider.
Brake System Warning Light
This is a circle with arcs (representing brake pads) and an exclamation mark. It means your brakes have a fault - such as insufficient hydraulic fluid, or a problem with the brake mechanics. Because driving with faulty brakes is potentially very dangerous, you would be well advised to call your breakdown provider straight away and get towed to a garage.
ABS Sensor Warning Light
An icon with "ABS'' in a circle denotes a problem with your anti-lock brake system. If you brake too hard when this is lit up, your entire braking system could lock up, which may mean it's hard to come to a full halt. If you see this light, visit your garage promptly - since it is one of the most effective safety features on your vehicle.
This unmistakable icon means your car's electricity is coming entirely from the battery - i.e. the alternator is not charging the battery as you drive. If you don't get this fixed quickly, your battery will drain and you'll need a jumpstart to get back on the road (cue roadside assistance).
Airbag Warning Light
This icon comprises a seated figure with an airbag in front of them. If you see it light up consistently, get your airbags checked out. The issue could be with the airbag sensor - essential if the airbag is to work properly in the event of a collision.