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Car Alert Indicators: What Do They Mean

Confused with all the alert indicators on your dashboard? We have compiled a list of all the warning indicators, safety indicators, even special-assist indicators to help you navigate the road with ease and less worry.

There's a number of light warning signs and indicators in a car's dashboard. Although these are all discussed and explained in the car owner's manual that comes with the vehicle upon purchase, it is hard to memorize everything.

With the Land Transportation Office (LTO) beginning its strict campaign for better and responsible drivers, it is not enough that you know how to drive well and are able to follow traffic signs. Striving to be a really good and skilled driver is also encouraged so that there will be less issues on the road going forward. Being skilled includes knowing the vehicle you are driving inside and out. This includes understanding how your vehicle communicates to you via its light indicators. Knowing these alert indicators are crucial in identifying a possible system issue, safety problem or failure point in your car.

Common Warning Lights Active on the Car Dashboard

There is an overwhelming number of warning light symbols, common and special, on a vehicle's instrument panel and dashboard. The icon may vary depending on a car's make, brand and model, but they still closely resemble each other so it's hard to misinterpret them.

Let's face it, not many drivers read everything in the car owner's manual, and the light indicators are discussed separately – spread out in the manual, such that one can get easily confused telling them all apart from each other. In this article, we've listed all the warning lights or indicators to help you understand what they stand for and refer to them in just one place (this site). You will also learn whether the indicator is sending you a critical message that needs immediate attention or if there's time for you to visit the nearest service center or a certified mechanic.

Warning Indicators

These alert signs are critical. If they lit up on your car's dashboard, you need to give them 100% attention as they might cause damage to your car's systems.

Engine Temperature or Engine Coolant Temperature Warning Light

Found on the dashboard gauge cluster, this warning light looks like a thermometer. When this blinks, Whenever these words flash or the sign lights up, your car is in danger of overheating. It means the engine temperature is beyond normal limits. If you have a certain level of knowhow, check your coolant level, fan operation, radiator cap, or look for possible coolant leaks. The best action however is to go directly to the nearest car service center and have it checked and fixed by certified professionals.

Car Battery Charge Warning Light

When this indicator lights up, which looks like a battery icon, it means that your car's charging system is short of power or the battery is not charging properly. Either there's a problem with the battery itself or the alternator.

Car Oil Pressure Warning Light

This warning sign looks like an oil lamp or oil can icon. When it lights up, it means your car is losing oil pressure. Either lubrication is low or lost completely. You need to stop driving at once and turn your engine off. Your engine can be severely damaged if oil pressure is low or at zero levels. Then immediately check the oil level and pressure. If you have oil with you, you can re-gas it; if not, you need to seek help from a certified professional.

Car Break Warning Light

This indicator light looks like a steering wheel icon with an exclamation point at the center. This lights up when the handbrake is on. However, if it lit up continuously, it could be an indication that the hydraulic pressure has been lost in one side of the brake system. That, or there's a critical low level of fluid in the master cylinder, which could be due to a leak somewhere in the brake system.

Safety Symbols

The safety warning indicators are also found on the dashboard. Give them immediate attention so as not to compromise your safety and the safety of your passengers.

Car Transmission Temperature Safety Symbol Light

When these alert blinks, the icon of which also shows a thermometer but inside a gear, the fluid temperature has already reached at least 250 degrees. Transmission fluid is vital to your car's transmission to work properly. With this high temperature, transmission failure and eventually breakdown may result. Go to the nearest, if there is, service center; but it is more advisable to just stop driving and have your car towed to the auto shop, to avoid possible breakdown and damage to your car.

Car Tire Pressure Warning Light

This alert light means the pressure is low in one of your tires. You need to check your tires and have them inflated accordingly to avoid the risk of getting a flat tire while traveling on the road.

Car Traction Control Off

This indicator light means that the vehicles' traction control system or TCS has been deactivated.

Car Traction Control Light

Inversely, when this indicator light keeps blinking, it means the TCS is activated.

Car Steering Wheel Lock

When this alert sign lights up, it is an indication that your steering wheel is locked and cannot be moved. To undo this, insert your key into the ignition and turn it lightly while at the same time turning the steering wheel in either direction.

Car Trailer Tow Hitch Warning

When this indicator appears on your dashboard, it means that the tow hitch is unlocked. It could also mean that there's an issue with the lighting system.

Car Service Vehicle Soon

When there is a faulty condition in any part of the vehicle chassis systems such as the anti-lock brake system (ABS), the TCS system, the electronic suspension system, or the brake hydraulic system, this indicator will light up.

Car Security Alert

This warning light will turn on for a few seconds if the ignition switch is locked, and if it will need the proper key to restart. However, if the light still blinks when the vehicle is already on, then it suggests a malfunction in the security system.

Car Side Airbag

If this indicator turns on, there's a fault with the side airbag.

Car Reduced Power Warning

When this warning light is blinking, the engine's computer's engine power output is limited.

Car Seat Belt Indicator

This is one of the most common indicators, which simply means you or the passengers are not wearing a seatbelt.

Car Press Clutch Pedal

This simply indicates that you need to push the clutch.

Car Powertrain Fault

The car powertrain indicator turns on when a powertrain or an all-wheel drive (AWD) fault has been detected. Go to the nearest service center or contact an authorized mechanic immediately.

Car Power Steering Warning Light

An issue with the power steering system will trigger this warning light. Power steering will be automatically disabled until the issue is fixed.

Car Press Brake Pedal

When this light's up, it simply indicates that you need to push the brake pedal.

Car Parking Brake Light

This simply means that the park brake is on.

Car Overdrive Light

This indicator light will turn on if the overdrive system of the car was manually turned off.

Car Oil Change Reminder

If the car's oil life has expired, this indicator will lit up to alert you that oil needs to be changed.

Car Master Warning Light

Another warning indicator usually lights up along with the master warning light. It means that one or more system issues have been detected.

Car Information Warning Light

When a new message is stored in the car's information display, this indicator will light up, and depending on the alert level of the message, will light up in amber or red color. It will remain blinking until the alert message is addressed.

Car Icy Road Warning Light

When the air outside of the car begins to reach freezing temperatures, usually around 3 degrees Celsius, this indicator will light up.

Car Gas/Fuel Cap

This indicator light will blink if the gas or fuel cap is loose.

Car ESP Fault/Traction Control Malfunction

There's a problem with the vehicle's traction control if this indicator sign is on.

Car Electric Park Brake

Any malfunction in the electric parking brake will turn this light on.

Car Distance Warning

This safety indicator means that a vehicle in front of the car is too close or that you are approaching it too fast. It could also mean that there's an unmoving obstacle in the car's travel direction.

Car Clogged Air Filter

When there's reduced airflow to the engine, this indicator light turns on. Replace the air filter, or have a mechanic change inspect and/or change it.

Car Child Safety Lock

This alert sign simply means the child safety lock is active.

Car Check Engine or Malfunction Indicator Light (MIL)

This indicator light blinks whenever the engine is turned on to check the bulb. If the light does not disappear, you need to take your car to the nearest service center as a malfunction has been detected by the car's diagnostic systems.

Car Catalytic Converter Warning

The alert sign blinks when the catalytic converter is overheating or when it is not operating accordingly.

Car Brake Fluid

This indicator light alerts you that the brake fluid level is low and needs to be changed or refilled.

Car Brake Pad Warning

This indicator light warns you that your car's brake pads are already worn and need to be replaced.

Car Brake Lights Warning

If an exterior brake light bulb is defective, this indicator lights up. Check all the exterior brake light bulbs to see which one is not working and have it replaced.

Car Automatic Gearbox Warning

There's a gearbox or transmission malfunction that needs to be fixed if this light indicator turns on.

Car Anti-lock Braking System

If this indicator lights up, there could be an issue or malfunction in your car's ABS system.

Car All Wheel Drive (AWD/4WD)

This indicator light turns on when there is a malfunction with the four-wheel drive (4WD) or AWD system.

Car Airbag Indicator

This alert light turns on when the front airbag is switched off, but if it flashes or blinks, there is a fault in the airbag or seatbelt system.

Car Airbag Deactivated

This indicator light turns on when a fault is detected in the rear spoiler system.

Car Adaptive Suspension Dampers

When this light's up, you need to contact a certified mechanic or go to a service center as it indicates an active suspension issue that needs to be checked. The Active Damper System (ADS) is the shock absorber in the suspension system.

Car 4 Wheel Drive (4WD) LOCK Indicator Light

This indicator means the car's 4WD Lock mode is activated.

Car Air Suspension

When this lights up, there is a possible problem with the air suspension bags, perhaps due to an inflation or a leak issue.

Lighting Symbols

The vehicle lighting alert signs have something to do with your car's lighting system. These icons would usually light up in blue, green, or yellow color.

Low Beam Indicator Light

When this blink's, it means that the vehicles dipped beam is on.

Car Lamp Out

When this alert turns on, it means that there is a malfunctioning exterior light.

Car High Beam Light Indicator

This simply means your car's high beam headlights are on, or you are using the high beam flash function.

Car Headlight Range Control

This alert will flash if there's an issue with the headlight range control system.

Car Front Fog Lights

This alert turns on when the front fog lights are turned on.

Car Exterior Light Fault

If one of the exterior lights of your car is malfunctioning, this indicator light will turn on.

Car Auto High Beam

This alert light turns on if the Auto High Beam system switches on the high beam headlights.

Car Adaptive Light System

This indicator lights up when the adaptive headlights are turned on.

Car Side Light Indicator

When normal headlights are in use, this indicator turns on.

Car Rear Fog Lights Switched On

This simply means the rear fog lights have been turned on.

Car Rain and Light Sensor

An issue with the sensor system has been detected if this light suddenly turns on. This also means that the auto function of the wipers and lights will not work.

Other Vehicle Lights in Your Car

While it is crucial to know by heart the alert and warning indicators, it is also important to familiarize yourself with the common vehicle lights. Here's a quick look at the common ones.

Low Fuel Level

This indicator light means that the car is running low on fuel and will soon need a refill.

Hood/Bonnet Open

This means your car hood is not closed properly. The light will not disappear until you shut it accordingly.

Hazard Lights On

This light simply means you hazard lights are turned on.

Fan

This indicator means you are utilizing internal ventilation or that the fan is being used.

Door Ajar

This light blink's when one or more of the vehicle's doors are not properly shut. It will continue to blink until the all the doors have been shut tightly.

Direction/Signal Indicators

This blink's when one of the turn signals has been activated.

Car on Ramp

The light simply means that the car is placed on a ramp/jack system.

Special Indicators

Depending on car make, brand and model, there are advanced feature icons that are associated with a special or advanced feature of the car. As with the indicator lights and warning prompts, these will flash or light up whenever there are potential issues associated with the feature. Here are some of these advanced alert signs.

Recirculated Cabin Air

This indicator will light up if vehicle's ventilation system is recirculating air from within the vehicle. This usually happens when it is cold outside the car.

Parking with Park Assist Pilot

When the car's Park Assist Pilot (PAP) is activated, this indicator lights up.

Lane Departure Warning

This indicator flashes when the car is moving out of its current lane without signaling.

Lane Assist

This modern feature's indicator light turns on as soon as the lane assist system is switched on. Road markings can be detected when this feature is active.

Key Fob Battery Low

When your car's key fob battery power has run out, this light indicator will prompt you to replace it so you can continue using the remote.

Ignition Switch Warning

If there's an issue with the ignition system or the car key most likely due to a system glitch or a worn-out key, the ignition switch warning light blinks.

Hill Descent Control

The hill descent indicator light will turn on when you are driving downhill and this feature is activated.

Forward Collision Warning

This indicator light will turn on in the face of a potential collision.

Eco Driving Indicator

Activate the Eco function feature and the eco-driving indicator light will flash.

Cruise Control

When this feature is activated, then the cruise control icon will light up.

Brake Hold Indicator Light

When you use this feature and the indicator light turns on, it means the brake hold system is functioning properly and has no issues.

Blind Spot Indicator Light

When there's a vehicle or obstruction in the blind spot, this alert sign will flash.

Adaptive Cruise Control

When the Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) is in operation, then the indicator light turns on.

Start/Stop Warning Light

Most modern cars come with the Intelligent Stop/Start feature and the warning light associated with it will turn on to inform the driver that the system is active, and that the engine has been shut down.

Conclusion

Trying to figure out what the icon blinking on your instrument panel means is stressful and time consuming. We advise therefore that you memorize the important warning signs and make sure you know the action that you need to perform in relation with the indicator lights. On top of this, make it a habit to do regular check-ups and bring your car regularly to authorized service centers for maintenance and professional check-up. This will ensure that your warning lights will stay unlit. The indicators are there to caution, assist, and at the same time remind drivers and car owners that the modern cars are built and equipped with intelligent features designed to keep people safe and comfortable.

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