What is the meaning of dashboard lights? Over 50 lights explained

Car dashboard lights play an extremely important role, as they announce problems, wear, errors or malfunctions in certain car parts or its systems. The number of dashboard lights differs from model to model and from manufacturer to manufacturer. Next, we have prepared a list of over 50 dashboard lights, their names, and meaning.

The dashboard of a modern car is increasingly complex, sprinkled with various icons and light bulbs. If in the past, cars came with only a few symbols on the board, today, manufacturers are trying to gather as much information on a relatively small surface.

Next, find out the meaning of each dashboard light, sorting it by color, red, yellow, green or blue.

Red car dashboard lights explained

In general, a red indicator indicates a potentially serious problem or a safety issue, which requires immediate attention from the driver.


1. Open trunk

This dashboard indicator lights on if the trunk is fully open or has not been properly closed. This sensor is prone to excessive wear due to dust, rain and repeated openings and closures, thus it can malfunction even if the trunk is properly closed. If you encounter this situation it’s better to replace the sensor.

2. Low fuel level in the tank

It is obvious what this dashboard light means. Once lit, it is advisable to fuel the tank on the first occasion. Depending on the model of the car, the symbol warns that approximately 5-10 liters of fuel have remained. For small capacity tanks, the remaining ‘reserve’ is even less than five liters.

3. Engine temperature problems

Specifically, this light indicates that the engine has reached a dangerously high temperature.

Normally the car will go to 90-110 degrees Celsius (194 – 230 F). In rare cases, it reaches a maximum of 115 or 120 degrees Celsius (239 – 248 F), especially when driving aggressively. When the temperature exceeds 120 degrees Celsius (248 F), it means that the engine overheats.

Engine overheating is one of the most common problems that you should not ignore.

If this indicator lights up, it is advisable to stop the engine immediately and fix the problem before driving again.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Do not try to restart the engine after a few minutes, believing it has time to cool down. Most of the time, the engines are overheating because of the low coolant level or no coolant at all. Check the level
  • Do not rush to lift the hood immediately. Most of the time, you run the risk of getting some burns if you are not careful. For this reason, it is advisable to lift the hood only after a few minutes have passed.
  • Never remove the radiator cap or the coolant immediately, due to the increased temperatures, you could burn yourself, and the pressure inside is very high. Just wait 20-30 minutes for that.
  • If it is necessary to fill the liquid from the radiator level, do not rush to fill the container with antifreeze. First, make sure there are no leaks in the cooling system, as these may be the cause of the overheating phenomenon.
  • Start the engine only after a few minutes have passed since you complete with coolant. If overheating occurs again, do not try to force it. The fact that you have not been able to diagnose the problem just means that you have to leave this situation to a professional.

4. Engine oil

The dashboard light can indicate several problems. Engine oil temperature may be too high, for example. Also, its level may be too low. Another option is that the oil pressure is too low. And in this case, it is advisable to stop the engine and immediately deal with the situation.

Red oil dashboard light vs yellow oil dashboard light

A red dashboard light announces a problem with the oil pressure and it is advisable to pull over and stop the car immediately. If you fill with oil it has no relevance, red oil lamp light can mean a faulty oil pump, so more oil does not mean it will help the pump to function better.

Yellow oil lamp light is a whole different story. He tells you that the oil level is below the minimum required by the manufacturer. In this case, it would be ideal to have 1 liter of extra oil, to complete the level. Then you can continue your driving.

Other reasons why the oil dashboard light is on:

  • in the engine, you put another oil than the one indicated by the car manufacturer
  • the oil is very old, the car has not been started for a long time, the oil filter is clogged
  • faulty oil pressure sensor
  • faulty oil pump
  • worn or destroyed bearings

5. Check engine light or malfunction indicator light (MIL)

Commonly referring to engine or emission problems, this dashboard light is the one who lights up most often. Very important to mention is that “check engine” can mean many more faults that can be caused by different problems, and a specialized diagnosis is the only solution to detect these problems.

Check engine or (MIL) can mean the following:

  • low battery voltage;
  • oxygen sensor problems (lambda probe), may need to be changed;
  • the fuel cap is broken or not tight;
  • bad MAP sensor;
  • bad MAF sensor;
  • used spark plugs;
  • interrupted spark plugs wires;
  • the EGR valve is clogged;
  • problems with the catalytic converter, it might need to be changed;
  • if it blinks, this means engine faults, respectively one of the cylinders is not working properly.

There are also cases where “check engine” will light up after an engine start for a car that has not been started for a long time. In this case, it will switch off after some time. If it does not, we recommend that you take the car to a diagnosis as soon as possible.

6. Doors are open

The indicator light illuminates if one or more doors are open, while the engine is on or the ignition key is in position 2, or the doors have not been properly closed.

7. Front fog lights on

This dashboard indicator lights up when you turn on the fog lights. The red color of the indicator is because you can be fined if you are driving with the fog lights on when there is no fog on the road. Therefore, the symbol attracts the driver’s attention to ensure that he uses the lights properly, justified.

8. Power steering problems

When this lights up, it is advisable to check the power steering oil level, which is the more common fault. If it is indeed low, it must be completed as soon as possible.

Keep in mind that a low fluid level means that somewhere a leakage might be present and needs to be checked as soon as possible. Adding liquid will only be a temporary solution. If it remains on after completing, the visit to the workshop is compulsory.

If the power steering is hydraulic, the power-assisted will be deactivated as long as the light is on. You will still be able to drive, but the steering wheel will be difficult to handle, so you will have to be very careful when driving. This warning light can also be yellow.

If the power steering system is electric. The warning light will not go on for fluid levels because there is no liquid used. Simply restarting the engine can sometimes turn off the warning light.

9. The windshield fluid level is low

As the name clearly states, this dashboard light is activated when the windshield liquid level is close to zero. For the light to go off, it is necessary to fill with the windshield fluid (the appropriate one for the season). Not all cars have such a dashboard warning light, in which case you will have to figure out yourself that you have run out of windshield fluid. The light can also be yellow. 🙂

10. Worn brake pads

If this dashboard indicator lights up, you will likely need to replace the brake pads, which are too worn. Another possibility is that the dedicated sensor is faulty. Also, you can take into account potential problems with the brake fluid, it’s worn and needs to be changed, meaning there is too much water in it, or it’s below the required level.

11. Problems with the car start-up system

The ignition of this dashboard light means that the electronic immobilizer or another component of the starter system is malfunctioning. It can be from a contact key left without battery for the remote control or from a more complex fault.

12. The key battery is low

When this indicator comes on, you need to replace the key battery. Not all cars have such control, so there will be cases where you will have to figure out the problem yourself.

13. Problems with the towing system

These can be of two types: 1) a malfunction of the trailer lights; 2) Incorrect installation of the towing hook.

14. The hood is open

This dashboard light is on if the car hood is open. This can dramatically reduce visibility and expose the driver and passengers to the risk of serious injury. In this situation, you must urgently pull over and close the hood. It is very important to note that most cars do not have such a dashboard light.

15. Problems with air suspension

This symbol may indicate several problems with the air suspension, such as air leakage or sensor malfunctions. To identify the error accurately, you must go to a workshop.

16. Lane assist. Warning about leaving the lane

This symbol indicator lights up to attract the driver’s attention that the car is no longer properly placed on its lane. So, pay attention to the road! 🙂

17. Failure of the oxygen sensor (lambda probe)

If this symbol is lit, the injection system may limit the maximum power of the engine and the response to acceleration. In other words, the engine will no longer function properly, so a service visit is required as soon as possible. This dashboard light is rather new, bad oxygen sensors usually trigger the check engine light.

Check this article for more complex information about a bad oxygen sensor

18. The seat belt is not attached

This symbol is activated if the driver or front passenger does not have the seat belt attached, while the car is running. The light signal is accompanied by an acoustic signal usually very noisy. Both are automatically deactivated when the belt is on.

19. Warning about the distance from another vehicle

If the distance from another vehicle is below the minimum safety limit, this dashboard light means a risk of a collision. In most cases, the visual warning is accompanied by an audible warning.

20. The parking brake is engaged

If this symbol is active, it means that the parking brake is in the On position and that the vehicle should be immobilized. Accompanied by another dashboard light, such as the brake pad wear (no. 10 on the list), may indicate a malfunction in the braking system so it is better to check the problem in depth.

21. Battery problems or alternator

This dashboard symbol always lights up when the car is started, if it disappears after a few seconds, then it’s nothing to worry about. If it still remains on, this may suggest that there is a problem with the battery, alternator, or a connecting cable.

You will run out of power and the car will not run for many hours after you see this dashboard light. Most of the time, you have a very weak battery at that time, a faulty charging relay or an alternator with a serious malfunction. Stop the car in a safe place and check.

Check this article to see more information about alternator problems

22. Braking system

This symbol is on when the handbrake is engaged, but it can also warn of a brake system problem. For example, it may indicate a malfunction of the brake pedal or a low level of the brake fluid. It may also mean other possible malfunctions of the braking system, but this depends on the car on which it is installed.

23. Problems with airbags

The dashboard indicator lights up if the airbag is either deactivated or not functioning properly. In the second situation, the passive safety system can be triggered without a reason or, on the contrary, it may not open in the event of an accident. It is required to check the problems starting from the easy one.

24. ABS (Anti-lock Braking System) Warning

In this case, it may be a serious problem. If there is indeed a malfunction in the ABS, the driver may lose control of the car each time it suddenly brakes. In the happiest case, the error could only concern the ABS sensors, not the mechanism itself.

Whatever the explanation is, this dashboard light means you have to go to a car service urgently. In winter, some cars may find the ABS light on if they have frozen ABS sensors or if the floor has collected enough snow and ice to affect their functioning.

Keep in mind that the ABS will not work at all if this dashboard light is on.

Yellow car dashboard lights explained

yellow car dashboard lights meaning

These dashboard lights indicate a failure that must be investigated. Some defects go away by themselves or can be repaired by you, for others you will have to go to the service.

25. Stability control system

This symbol refers to traction control. In general, the indicator blinks when the car is moving on a low grip surface, such as an icy road, and remains constantly lit when the system is deactivated or faulty. In the second case, it is recommended to check it using an OBD scanner.

The most common reasons that can trigger the control panel responsible for the traction system

  1. The wheel speed sensors are faulty
  2. A faulty sensor at the steering angle
  3. Poor road conditions, which I’ve talked about earlier
  4. Steering column problems
  5. Software problems

26. Water in the fuel filter

The engine must be stopped as soon as this symbol lights up. The next step is to remove the water from the filter or, if not possible, replace the filter.

27. Wear window defrost

The indicator lights up when the button for defrosting the rear window is activated.

28. Windscreen defrosting

Similarly, this dashboard light is activated when the button for defrosting the windscreen is activated.

29. Rain sensor

If the “Rain sensor” indicator lights up on the board, it means that it does not work in optimal parameters. Ideally, you should use an OBD scanner to find out the problem.

30. Automatic mode for the windscreen wipers activated

If this dashboard light is on, it means that the automatic windscreen wiper mode is activated, which means that they operate based on the data collected by the optical sensor.

31. Spoiler warning

This symbol warns that there is a fault in the aileron, which ensures a higher level of aerodynamic pushing for the vehicle at high speed.

32. Warning about convertible ceiling

In this situation, the automatic convertible system does not work properly or has encountered a problem during the opening or closing process and you cannot exceed a speed set by the manufacturer in these conditions.

Typically, the maximum possible speed for a convertible with the roof being capped is 50 km / h, but many models need to run slower during operation.

33. Adaptive headlights

Problems related to the adaptive headlights system can be of many types. These are listed in the car’s technical book. Most likely, the dedicated sensor is covered by dirt or snow, so check that first.

34. Headlight tilt control

If this symbol lights up, the tilt of the light beam is no longer properly adjusted or is no longer possible. It is necessary to avoid traveling in the dark until the problem is solved. Before continuing at night, check the orientation of the light beam.

35. You must pay a visit to the service

This symbol tells you that the owner of the car must schedule a service check. The reasons are different. Most often this tells you that it’s time for periodical changes of the oil and filter, but an OBD diagnosis is required to explain why this dashboard light is on.

36. Airbag deactivated

The dashboard light confirms that the airbag has been voluntarily deactivated.

37. Diesel particulate filter warning

As a rule, this symbol lights up when the diesel particulate filter regeneration has not performed under optimal conditions. In this situation, it is recommended to travel at a constant speed, usually at about 3000 RPM, over a distance of several miles.

More information about diesel particulate filters.

38. Slope descent assistance system

This indicator lights up when the “Assisted slope descent” function is activated.

39. Warning on brake lights

If this symbol is lit, it means that a rear brake bulb has burned and must be replaced on the first occasion.

40. A burnt bulb on rear

This dashboard light may refer to a burnt bulb on headlights, lamps, signaling or any other bulb. If the indicator is on, you need to identify the compromised bulb and replace it.

41. Press the clutch pedal

By igniting this dashboard light, the driver is asked to operate the clutch pedal to start the engine.

42. The key is not in the car

Available for cars with no key start, this symbol transmits the fact that it does not detect the presence of the key in the cabin. It is not possible to start the engine until the key is detected and stopping it under these conditions will not be followed by a restart until it appears. Very important: If you know where the key is and you really want to stop the engine, press the Start / Stop button for several seconds and the car will stop.

43. Problems with the light sensor

If there is a malfunction in this system, the headlights must be switched on manually.

44. Winter mode

If the driver activates the winter mode from the switch, the symbol assigned to it will turn on automatically. In the case of other cars, this dashboard light may appear on board if the outside temperature is below 4 degrees Celsius (39 F) and signifies an increased risk of slip especially if you’re using summer tires.

45. Low tire pressure

Also known as the “Tire Pressure Monitoring System” (TPMS), this symbol reports that one or more tires have the pressure below the recommended level. There is also the chance that the error will be an electronic one, in the sense that a system sensor is no longer functioning properly.

The pressure must be ‘stored’ by the system each time tire changes or tire pressure changes are made.

Read this article for more information on Tire Pressure Monitoring System

46. ​​Low-temperature warning

The indicator starts when the outside temperature approaches 0 degrees Celsius (32 F) because then there is the risk of pole laying on the road. Similar to dashboard light number 44 on this list.

47. Spark Plugs / Preheat Warning

Valid only for cars with diesel engines, this light can indicate both a spark plug problem and a brake pedal contact failure or problems with the exhaust/pressure and temperature sensor. There is also the possibility of a problem with the spark plug relay.

48. Rear fog lights on

Like its counterpart, this symbol lights up when you turn on the fog lights – in this case, the rear fog lights. As a reminder, the unjustified use of fog lights can be very disturbing for the drivers behind you.

Red and blue car dashboard lights explained


Dashboard lights colored in blue or green only serve as indicators and does not mean any concern. However, there is also the possibility that these dashboard lights will blink, in this case, you should check for the problem.

49. Cruise control activated

This symbol lights up to let you know that Cruise Control is active, which means that a constant speed is maintained automatically. The indicator lights off when any pedal is activated, which disables the Cruise Control mode.

50. Direction of signaling

The indicator shows the direction in which it is signaling, being accompanied by an intermittent acoustic signal. If any signal bulb is burned, the rhythm of the auditory signal will increase.

51. Press the brake pedal

This dashboard light applies to automatic transmissions and requires pressing the brake pedal to start the engine.

52. Locked steering wheel

It tells you that the car’s anti-theft system has locked the steering wheel, the key not being in contact.

53. Short beam lights indicator

It activates with the ignition of the short beam.

54. Daytime running lights

When the daytime running lights are activated, this dashboard light will be on.

55. Long beam indicator

This control panel lights up when the long beam is activated.

56. EPC (Electronic Power Control)

This usually indicates a problem with the car’s acceleration system. If the car is equipped with ESP, it may be deactivated automatically, at which time the ESP control will light up. At the same time, the accelerator pedal may be limited. The EPC also indicates problems related to the lighting system, such as headlights or burnt out lamps.

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