Decode Your Dashboard


A guide to common dashboard indicator lights

Decode Your Dashboard

There are a lot of lights on your dashboard that might flash from time to time, but do you know what they mean? Most indicate some sort of problem with your vehicle’s operating system, although it generally takes a bit more investigation to find out the extent of the issue.

However, it’s always useful to have a basic understanding of what these lights mean incase it’s something that needs to be dealt with immediately. Not all of these lights are universal, so the only way to know for sure is to consult your owner’s manual. However, this guide will give you a general synopsis of the lights most commonly used by manufacturers.

engine light

Check Engine

This means the engine computer has detected some abnormality and logged a Diagnostic Trouble Code that your dealer can scan to identify the issue. If your check engine light begins flashing, the issue is series and you should not attempt to drive your vehicle.



Signals that your car’s voltage has dropped below acceptable levels and is not correctly being charged by your vehicle. Your alternator belt, battery terminals, and battery will all need inspection.

Coolant Temperature

Your engine is too hot! You’ll need to look at fans, your radiator cap, and to check coolant levels and for leaks.

Transmission Overheating

Your transmission is running hot. Make sure you have adequate transmission fluid and engine coolants.

Oil Pressure Alert

If this remains on, your vehicle is losing oil pressure. Check both oil level and pressure that instant.

Oil Change Reminder

This means that your oil life has reached 0% and needs changing. This is determined by your vehicle’s computer based on miles driven and other data.

Service Soon

This is an indicator of several possible electrical problems including malfunctioning exterior lights, traction control, or internal communication. It is recommended that you service your vehicle as soon as possible.

Tire Pressure Monitoring System

There is a tire with low air pressure or a sensor has misfired. Check tire pressure accordingly, and visit your dealership if the light cannot be manually reset.


This indicates the parking brake is engaged or that something is wrong with your brakes or ABS. Make sure brake fluid levels are correct and the parking brake is completely off. A more complicated issue may require the help of a technician.

Reduced Power Warning

A broken component has caused your engine’s computer to limit engine output to safe levels to compensate for the issue. Your car’s CPU will likely need scanning.

Anti-lock Brakes

An issue with the ABS has triggered the computer and requires a technician’s diagnostic.

Gas Cap

Your vehicle’s gas cap is not attached properly. This may also trigger your check engine light.

Cruise Control

Indicates your vehicle’s cruise control is engaged.

ESP Fault

There are issues with your electronic stability system or traction control. Contact a trusted technician.


Your ignition switch is locked and your alarm code will need to be entered to reengage it. If this indicator displays while your vehicle is running, there is a problem with your security system.

Headlight/Taillight Out

An exterior light on your vehicle is not fully working or has gone out.

Traction Control/ESP

Indicates that traction control is enabled, often lights up on slick roads.

Door Ajar

A door or the vehicle’s trunk or hood is not fully shut.


Your vehicle’s performance mode is engaged.

Airbag Warning

If indicator remains on, a possible airbag malfunction has been detected and logged by your vehicle’s computer. Seek the help of a professional.

Wiper Fluid

Your wiper fluid is low. Check all storage tanks as per your owner’s manual and refill as needed. Doing this proactively keeps you safer on the road.

Glow Plug (Diesel)

Your engine’s glow plugs are engaged and heating. Do not start the engine until this indicator is off.

Exhaust Particulate Filter (Diesel)

There is an issue with your exhaust filter that requires service.

Exhaust Fluid (Diesel)

Your diesel exhaust fluid levels are low. Locate and refill your reservoir as per your owner’s manual