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  • PMR Team

Interpreting the Dash Lights

It’s happened to you or someone you love - you’re driving down the road when suddenly and out of nowhere, a light comes on on your dash! Oh no! What do you do? Do you pull over? Keep going? Is the car going to blow up? Should you run away as fast as possible and never look back?

Dash lights can be frightening, especially if you don’t know what they mean. Your owner’s manual will have a list of your dash lights and what they mean in it, but often times they can be quite vague, and you never know what needs to be seen immediately and what can wait. Today, we’ll be going over some of the more common lights that may illuminate your dash and hopefully provide you some ease while driving.


The Tire Pressure Monitoring System (or TPMS) light can be a nuisance. This light is meant to warn you when your tire pressure is below where it should be. While this light can be very handy in telling you when your pressure changes due to weather or when you might have a tire going flat, these little lights tend to like to just pop on at random. If your TPMS light (or warning) is on, first check to be sure all tires are still inflated enough to be drivable. If one is going flat, call roadside service immediately. If they are all drivable, take your vehicle to a safe location with an air filling station nearby. Check your pressure and be sure it is within the safe inflation range. If not, fill the tires up. If it is, this light can be ignored until you can get to a mechanic to have your TPMS system checked. Often times, the TPMS sensors go bad over time, causing a false alarm in your system.

Battery/Charging System

This light is rather important to address as soon as possible. The battery light indicates that you battery level is low, which could cause starting or even performance issues. When this light comes on, be sure to have your battery checked, check over fittings, and possibly even have your alternator checked right away.

Coolant Temp Warning

When this light comes on (or when your gauge is dangerously close to, if not in, the red), pull over, turn of your car, and allow it to cool. Find your nearest auto repair shop and make a beeline to them. If the mechanic is rather far away, call for a tow. Overheating can range from a coolant leak to a blown radiator to a blown head gasket. Allowing your car to overheat too much can cause a LOT of damage to the vehicle, so your best bet is to have it checked out straight away.

Oil Pressure Warning

Oil is the lifeblood of your car. When this light comes on, it means something is wrong with the vehicle and needs to be checked right away. The first thing you can check is your oil - is there enough, what is the consistency, when is the last time it was changed, etc. If the level is low, try adding oil and seeing if there are any leaks. If everything is fine, there may be an issue with another part in your car. Taking your car to your mechanic would be the next step to ensure you won’t find yourself stranded.

Brake/ABS Lights

When your brake or antilock brake system (ABS) lights come on, it's easy to have a bit of a panic attack. After all, your brakes are what keep you safe! When these lights come on, your best bet is to pull over into a safe area. Check your parking brake - did it somehow accidentally get activated? Next, check your brake fluid levels. When you do this, be sure to step on the brakes a couple of times to see if there is any brake fluid dripping from underneath your car. Feel and smell around your tires. Do you have a burn smell? Does one or two of them have an exceptional amount of heat coming from them? If everything seems to check out OK, take your vehicle to your local mechanic. The issue might be as simple as an ABS sensor that has gone bad or could be a wheel bearing that needs replaced. Your mechanic will usually be able to tell what your car needs to keep you safe.

Check Engine Light

ALWAYS - no seriously, ALWAYS - have your check engine light checked out. When the light is solidly on, it indicates something was sensed as wrong that should be checked out. Sometimes it is as simple as a bad O2 sensor, other times it can be very serious, such as misfires, computer issues, or sensors that could leave you stranded. If your check engine light is flashing, pull over to the safest spot you can get to and shut your vehicle off. Often times there is a severe misfire issue that could cause costly damage if you continue to drive in the condition the vehicle is in. The best and safest thing to do at this point is to have your vehicle towed to your mechanic’s shop to have the issue investigated further.

If you ever have questions about your dash lights, do not hesitate to give us a call or to stop by one of our locations. We will be more than happy to take a look at your dash lights to let you know what is going on with your vehicle. We want to be sure to give you peace of mind as you travel safely down the road.

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