car warning lights

Car warning lights – what is your car trying to tell you?

27 June 2022

Contemporary car are equipped with numerous electronic systems – such as the ones which facilitate controlling and maintaining the correct technical condition of the vehicle. They signal any potential irregularities by lighting warnings on your dashboard. What do the particular car warning lights indicate?


How are the car warning lights divided?

The easiest way to divide the warning lights is to divide them by functions, and as a result, by their colours.

  • green warning lights and blue warning lights have informative function – they do not indicate any irregularities in the engine work or ancillaries, but only about the functions active at the present moment, e.g. active dipped headlights or active cruise control.
  • yellow warning lights and orange warning lights are the warning symbols – these also do not definitely indicate a failure, however, they indicate subassemblies or systems of the car which need to be checked.
  • red warning lights indicate an essential problem and the necessity of an urgent check – further drive while a red warning light is on might pose a danger for the road traffic users, as well as, lead to a serious failure (there are also exceptions – e.g. when a red warning light indicates pulled handbrake).



Although the meaning of particular symbols might slightly differ depending on the manufacturer of the age of the car, the colours indicating the type of the information remain universal. Also, not all of the warning lights mentioned in this text are present on every vehicle dashboards.


It’s important to remember that after the ignition, most of the warning lights on the dashboard goes on and after a while goes off. If any of them doesn’t go off – or any of them doesn’t go on, although it should – then it might indicate a problem which requires verification.


What do the blue and the green warning lights indicate?

Green and blue warning lights in the car are the ones, to seeing which the driver is used the most – if such warning light is on, it does not indicate anything bad. The symbols lighted in these colours indicate the active functions of the car at the given moment.

For example, the most obvious green warning light in the shape of an arrow indicate an active turn signal. If both signal turn warning lights flash – it means that the hazard lights are active.


Other blue and green warning lights are i.a.:

  • signaling active parking lights, dipped headlights and fog lights (green colour) or low beam lights (blue colour),
  • information about active cruise control or speed limiter,
  • the air bag warning light,
  • information that the hill-start assist (HSA) is active,
  • information that the park assist system is working.

The list and descriptions of the blue and green warning lights depends on the car model and the functions installed in it. Due to this, they might differ substantially – not only depending on the manufacturer, but also in the equipment of a particular car. Still, one thing is certain – NO warning light that you should be worried about will be lit in green or blue. The yellow and the orange warning lights have the warning functions, and the red warning lights indicate the necessity of stopping the car.

green lights on the dashboard

green lights on the dashboard

What do the yellow and the orange warning lights on the dashboard indicate?

Any yellow or orange warning light should not scare you. Most often, these warning lights indicate that a certain thing should be paid attention to, but it does not necessarily indicate something bad – such as the warning light indicating that the rear window heating is active.

By analogy, the activation of the characteristic fuel warning light indicates the fuel reserve and works somewhat as an invitation to the petrol station to fill it in. After refueling, another warning light might go on – one indicating incorrect closure of the fuel cap. In such case, there’s also no serious problem – only the necessity to “fix the cap”.


Yellow and orange warning lights in the car – no need to panic

Let’s take a look at other examples of the yellow warning lights which can be identified as “relatively non-threatening”:

  • the yellow warning light in the shape of a bulb – indicates a problem with the exterior car lights, e.g a burnt-out bulb of the parking lights or of the license plate lighting,
  • low level of the windscreen washer fluid – owners of older cars not equipped with the low level of the fluid sensor usually get to know about it in hindsight, when the fluid has already run out.
  • low tire pressure – the pressure should be checked, and if needed, the tire should be pumped.


Orange and yellow warning lights – urgent attention needed

Here are some other examples of yellow and orange warning lights:

  • the ABS warning light (anti-lock braking system, the warning light might indicate an ABS system failure),
  • the ESP warning light (Electronic Stability Program),
  • the EPC warning light (another warning light which might be lit in yellow. It indicates potential Electronic Power Control issues).

These are, of course, not all of the yellow and orange warning lights which can be found on the car dashboard. When you see such warning light in your car, first of all, check what does it concern – it might happen that the situation is not serious, and the informative-warning warning lights might be understood as a suggestion to take care of something – e.g. replace a burnt-out bulb.

orange lights on the dashboard

orange lights on the dashboard


Are the red warning lights something bad?

The red warning lights are the ones that should never be ignored. Not all of them automatically indicate that there has been an engine failure, nevertheless all of them require immediate intervention.

Let’s take the “exclamation mark” warning light as an example of these. It might indicate a handbrake failure, as well as… a pulled handbrake. The first case requires a visit in the service. The second one – only a slight hand movement. If it doesn’t help, it’s good to check whether it hasn’t been caused by a too low brake fluid level.


red lights on the dashboard

red lights on the dashboard

The engine warning lights – coolant temperature, oil pressure

Unfortunately, the problem not always “fixes itself”. The coolant temperature warning light informs about the risk of the engine overheating. Too high temperature of the coolant might stem from various causes – i.a. too low fluid level in the system, a leakage, a malfunction of particular elements.



Another on the list is the engine oil warning light – the characteristic “Alladin’s lamp” suggests that the oil level is too low or that the oil pressure is too low.


The battery or the alternator – the warning lights heralding electricity problems

The battery warning light usually informs that the charging level is too low. However, the battery warning light does not necessarily h to indicate issues with the car battery itself.

A malfunctioning battery is very often responsible for a too-low charging voltage (insufficient charging causes then that after several or several dozens of kilometers of ride, the car runs out of the electricity).


Do not ignore – the airbag failure warning light

When the airbag failure warning light is on, it should be immediately checked. The issue might occur to be trivial (like when the airbag connector is unplugged, which in some cars is located under the seat), but it could also a serious one. It is not worth risking,


Red warning lights in the car – the brake system, power steering

The brake system warning light – in the shape of a wheel and three lines on the sides – it informs about the the brake pads wear (or the brake lining thickness sensor damage).

The warning light in the shape of a steering wheel – usually with an exclamation mark next to it – indicates a malfunction in the the power steering. The culprit could be the low hydraulic fluid level, which you can check on your own, checking under the hood. If itis normal, then the problem is located somewhere else – and this probably requires an intervention of a can mechanic.



An interesting example is the one of the so-called master warning light – included in the relatively new cars, symbolised by e.g. a triangle with an exclamation mark. In order to check what it means in a given situation, you usually need to check the on-board computer menu.


What should you do when the “check engine” warning light is on?

Many drivers lose sleep over the “check engine” yellow warning light, although there are also others who have already learnt to live along with it. Although overpanicking is never advised, the same could be said about persistent ignoring the symptoms. The lit engine warning light informs that the so-called self-diagnostic system in the car has detected an error.

While it does not herald a serious failure, whether it could be an incidental or fixed error – it cannot be determined solely on the basis of the warning light itself. Diagnostics could prove to be helpful, that is plugging in a computer (you do not need to visit a car mechanic for that – the basic errors can be found via an appropriate interface and a smartphone application).


Check engine while driving – what to do?

Can you do something yourself, e.g.when following the check engine, the car switches to the emergency mode (which limits the maximum speed or the engine RPM (revolutions per minute)? Yes. There are a few ways which could be ad-hoc solutions.

If the check engine warning light goes on when driving, and the engine work does not change, there’s no reason to be upset. The reason for such situation might be an invalid value registered by the lambda probe. It is good to stop the car in a safe place and turn off the engine.

If after starting the engine again – after some time – the warning light goes off, you might consider that the ad-hoc solution worked. If the warning light is still on, you might want to disconnect the battery for several minutes… but this method is not recommended.


No matter what, you should remember that the car warning lights on the dashboard usually don’t go on without a reason.

In fact, it happens that the situation is trivial – and it has been caused by e.g. slight moistening of one of the sensors or fuel of worse quality. Still, every situation should be verified – you should check the errors in the systems and establish their source(s).

Often, timely reactions might help avoiding deepening of the problem, and as the result, high repair costs. It is widely known that prevention is better than cure. This also applies to cars.



Before buying a car, it is worth checking the VIN of the vehicle. You can check the VIN number at autoDNA. Getting to know the past of the car – vehicle history, can protect you from a missed purchase. The history of the vehicle may include archival photos, odometer readings, collisions or information that the car was used in the past, e.g. as a TAXI.


Car warning lights – what is your car trying to tell you?
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Car warning lights – what is your car trying to tell you?
Contemporary car are equipped with numerous electronic systems. What do the particular car warning lights indicate? Which ones should worry you? Read more
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