Can You Name These 12 Car Dashboard Lights?

Updated: May 20, 2024

Do you know what all the different lights on your car's dashboard mean? Or do you just ignore them and hope your car doesn't break down?

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Car dashboard modern automobile control illuminated panel speed display vector illustration

Car Dashboard Lights

When a light on your dashboard illuminates, it usually means something is wrong with your car and you should take it a mechanic. It doesn’t mean waiting a few weeks to see if it turns off on its own.

Some lights indicate much bigger problems than others. The brake warning light, for instance, is a much more urgent fix than the washer fluid reminder light. The more you know about the dashboard lights, the easier it will be for you to identify the problem and know how quickly it should be addressed.

Test your knowledge below. If a light appears on your dash that you’re not familiar with, check your owner’s manual right away.

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brake warning light

Symbol #1

Answer: Brake warning light

The brake warning light means your emergency brake is on or there’s an issue with the brake system — the pads, the brake fluid or the brake lights on the back of your vehicle. All are vital to your safety. So if you see this light come on and the emergency brake is off, take it to the shop ASAP.

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automatic shift indicator

Symbol #2

Answer: Automatic shift lock or engine start indicator

The ASL or engine start indicator light means your car is locked in neutral or park. You need to step on the brake to release the lock and shift the vehicle into reverse or drive.

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airbag symbol

Symbol #3

Answer: Airbag indicator

Never put off getting your car looked at if your airbag light is on. In some cars, it will be a light with the letters SRS. It means something’s faulty in the system and your airbags may not deploy during an accident. It could indicate an issue with your seat belts, the airbag, the computer or the wiring that controls the airbags.

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engine warning symbol

Symbol #4

Answer: Check engine or malfunction indicator light (MIL)

The check engine light gets ignored a lot. It can mean that your car just needs a quick fix, or something is seriously wrong with your engine. It illuminates when your car’s diagnosis system detects a problem.

You don’t need to pull over and turn off your car the second the light comes on. But if you ignore it, you could end up making the damage much worse. So take your car in to get looked at as soon as possible. The simplest way to turn off a CEL is to find and fix the problem.

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tire pressure symbol

Symbol #5

Answer: Tire pressure warning light

The tire pressure warning light indicates one of your tires needs air. Low pressure can lead to uneven wear or tire failure. Filling the tires with air usually solves the problem. Be sure to check for nails, screws or anything that might cause a leak.

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washer fluid symbol

Symbol #6

Answer: Washer fluid reminder

Luckily, when this light comes on, you can fix the problem yourself. It just means the washer fluid reservoir in your car needs to be refilled. Keeping a bottle of all seasons washer fluid in your garage is always a good idea.

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engine temperature symbol

Symbol #7

Answer: Engine temperature warning light

In many cars, the engine temperature warning light turns blue when you start your car, meaning the engine hasn’t fully heated up. Then when it’s been running for a few minutes, it turns off.

If it ever illuminates red, it means that your engine is overheating. If you see that, pull over, shut off your engine and wait for it to cool down.

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automatic gearbox warning symbol

Symbol #8

Answer: Automatic gearbox warning

Also called the automatic transmission light, this means there’s a possible problem with your automatic transmission. Most commonly, it comes on when the transmission fluid temperature is higher than normal.

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oil pressure symbol

Symbol #9

Answer: Oil pressure warning light

The oil pressure warning light means the oil pressure in your car is low and you need an oil change, pronto. If it comes on, stop driving immediately. Driving with little or no oil will damage your engine.

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anti lock braking system symbol

Symbol #10

Answer: Anti-lock brake warning

Your car’s anti-lock braking system allows your tires to maintain contact with the road in bad driving conditions, such as rain or snow, or when you stop quickly. It keeps your tires from locking up and causing your car to skid. If the ABS light illuminates while you’re driving, it means the system isn’t working properly and might not work when you brake.

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charge battery symbol

Symbol #11

Answer: Battery charge warning light

A car battery runs everything electrical — the engine’s control computer, the radio, the headlights, the ignition system, etc. To keep it running, all cars have a built-in recharging system. If the battery charge warning light comes on, it means the system isn’t working and your battery will die soon.

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traction control symbol

Symbol #12

Answer: Traction control light

If your traction control light comes on, it means the system is active. It should come on when driving in slick conditions.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest