Car Dashboard Symbols and Meanings
Modern cars are often equipped with a dizzying number of features, and keeping track of all of them is not the easiest task in the world. Have you ever paid attention to the number of dashboard symbols that light up when you switch your car on? Although there are quite a few symbols on most dashboards, not all of them are warning lights and knowing which are warnings and which are simply informational is essential to keeping your car working as it should. By understanding the differences between various car dashboard symbols and meanings, you can better avoid unnecessary stress and act appropriately when urgent situations arise.
In general, vehicle manufacturers use various colours to group car dashboard symbols and meanings together to make them easier to understand. In most cases, the colour scheme replicates that of a traffic light and uses red, amber and green or blue symbols to communicate the importance level of a specific symbol. Red symbols are usually reserved for serious warnings that require immediate attention. However, safety-related informational messages are often shown in red as well. Amber- or yellow-coloured symbols are used to communicate important but non-critical warnings, while green or blue symbols are usually reserved for informational purposes.
As is the case with a traffic light, red is used to tell the driver to stop, while amber or yellow warnings are used to tell the driver to proceed with caution. Green is used to tell the driver that everything is in order.
Red dashboard symbols and meanings
Warnings or informational messages shown in red symbols are almost always urgent and should not be ignored because doing so might lead to personal injury or damage to your vehicle. Most of the systems that are critical to your vehicle's safe and sound mechanical operation will have red symbols to warn you when a problem is detected. Oil pressure, engine temperature and braking system errors are a few examples of systems that might use red symbols to alert a driver to potential problems. An example of a safety reminder displayed in red is the safety belt reminder, which usually has a flashing red symbol accompanied by a dinging noise.
Amber or yellow vehicle symbols and their meanings
The next group of symbols that can often be seen on a vehicle dashboard are yellow or amber symbols. These symbols are usually responsible for alerting the driver to serious but non-critical problems. Although not as serious as red lights and symbols, amber or yellow symbols should never be ignored because they are designed to alert you to problems before they become serious. Some of the most common amber coloured symbols include tyre pressure warnings, traction control systems, ABS systems and general engine-related issues. Amber symbols can also appear for informational purposes, such as indicating that your car is running low on fuel.
Green and blue car dashboard symbols and meanings
The last group of lights and symbols found on most vehicles' dashboards are green symbols. These symbols are generally purely informational, and they usually do not indicate a fault. In most cases, green symbols are used to indicate that a specific system is operational. Some of the systems that use green symbols are lights (fog lights and headlights.) and cruise control. When these systems are active, the symbols may light up. You might have noticed a blue symbol that appears on your vehicle’s dashboard from time to time. This symbol is most likely there to indicate that you have activated the vehicle's high beam, and the blue symbol is there to remind you that the high beam is active and might dazzle oncoming drivers if not switched off in time. Green and blue symbols are designed to remind drivers that a specific system is active and that they usually do not require any intervention by the driver.
It is important to remember that every vehicle is unique and has its own specific warning lights and symbols. In many cases, vehicles are equipped with special or optional accessories that might use non-standard warning lights and symbols. For this reason, it is important to read your vehicle's instruction manual and make sure that you are well acquainted with the different symbols that your car uses.
What to do when a dashboard symbol or warning light appears?
Now that you understand the general classification of warning lights and symbols, it is important to know what you should do when they appear on your car’s dashboard. It is important to remember that not every symbol is designed to declare an emergency, so you should calmly evaluate the seriousness of the warning before reacting. The appropriate response depends mainly on the warning symbol; for example, an ABS brakes fault doesn’t always require you to stop the vehicle immediately, but an engine error or oil level warning usually does.
As a rule, red warning symbols represent serious problems, and when they appear, it is usually best to stop your vehicle to avoid causing any mechanical damage. Warnings such as the red oil pressure symbol are particularly important because ignoring them can cause severe damage to the vehicle, costing vast sums of money to repair. On the other hand, red warning symbols that relate to the vehicle’s brakes are just as important because they relate directly to the safety of the driver and the passengers.
Amber warning lights are also important. When one of them appears on your dashboard, it is important to be capable of distinguishing between informational amber symbols and amber warning symbols. Many vehicles use amber symbols to alert the driver to problems such as low fuel or washer fluid levels. While these problems do not require immediate attention, continued use of the vehicle may lead to damage or the vehicle breaking down. In most cases, yellow warning lights can be remedied with a simple visit to the nearest petrol station. Many yellow warning symbols relate to low fluid levels, and petrol stations can help you with various maintenance tasks, such as topping up your fuel, washer fluid or oil levels.
Green and blue symbols are generally informational, but they also remind drivers that a specific system is active and that this system can distract or bother other road users. For example, fog lights can dazzle oncoming drivers if they are used when there is no fog present. Because it is very easy to forget to switch them off once the fog clears, there is a reminder light on the instrument panel to show that they are active.
In general, most modern vehicles are equipped with an onboard computer, and drivers can use this to get more detailed information about specific car dashboard symbols and meanings. For example, an amber low tyre pressure warning symbol is usually accompanied by a text message that explains the location of the problem tyre and shows the air pressure level in the specific tyre. This makes it easier for the driver to take the appropriate action in time to avoid damage or inconvenience. With that being said, it is important to read the instruction manual that came with your vehicle. Different manufacturers use different symbols to relay information to drivers, and while most symbols are more or less universal, some differences might exist.
Conclusion on car dashboard symbols
If a warning symbol appears and you are unsure of its meaning, the best approach is to stop the vehicle when it is safe to do so. Once the vehicle has come to a stop, call your vehicle dealer or authorised workshop and explain the warning symbol to them, they should be able to tell you if the situation is serious or not. Warning and informational symbols are designed to make it easier for drivers to use and interact with their vehicles to avoid situations that can lead to getting stranded on the side of the road. For this reason, it is always wise to pay attention to warning symbols when they appear.
For most of us, vehicles are a big financial outlay, and the last thing we want to see when heading out on a long journey is a dashboard that flashes like a Christmas tree. By maintaining and servicing your vehicle based on the manufacturer's recommendations, you can avoid warning light stress and enjoy problem-free motoring. However, warning lights are part of a vehicle's normal operation, and they will inevitably appear from time to time. The key is not to ignore them when they appear and act as quickly as possible, especially if the warning is red or flashing or relates to a critical component, such as the engine or brakes.