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Car Dashboard Warning Lights & Symbols (Complete Guide)

Updated: Jan 9

Modern vehicles are packed with technology and have many sensors that monitor how your vehicle is operating. The more sensors there are the more likely something will go wrong.

If something goes wrong there are a variety of dashboard warning lights and symbols that can illuminate.


Table of Contents:

warning lights on a car dashboard

What Is a Car Dashboard Warning Light?

Car dashboard warning lights are lights and symbols on a car's dashboard that are designed to alert the driver to potential problems or issues with the vehicle. These lights are typically labelled with a symbol that represents the system or component that is being monitored.

When a warning light comes on, it typically indicates that the car's computer has detected a problem or fault with the system or component.

In some cases, the warning light may come on briefly and then turn off, indicating that the problem was a temporary issue that has been resolved. In other cases, the warning light may remain on, meaning that the problem is more severe and requires immediate attention.

If a warning light comes on, it is crucial to take notice and take appropriate action.

  • Depending on the severity of the problem, this may involve stopping the car as soon as its safe to do so and checking for any visible issues, such as a loose fuel cap or low tyre pressure.

  • If the problem is not immediately apparent and the warning light is yellow or amber, the driver should consult the car's owner's manual and have it investigated. You should stop if you notice any obvious problems or if the car enters limp home mode.

  • If the warning light is red in colour of is flashing or blinking, it usually indicates a serious issue and you should stop and turn the engine off as soon as you can.

Pay attention to car dashboard warning lights and take appropriate action, as ignoring them can lead to further damage to the car and put the driver and passengers at risk.

List of Dashboard Warning Lights

Manufacturers often use their own warning lights but most vehicles will show the warning symbols shown below.

The warning lights on your dashboard adhere to a traffic light colour scheme.

  • Green: A green symbol or light indicates that the system is operational or that it is actively in use (e.g. cruise control or headlights).

  • Yellow: A yellow symbol indicates something isn't operating properly; take significant care and check as as soon as possible.

  • Red: A red symbol signifies a major and possibly dangerous issue exists; stop driving and switch the engine off as soon as it's safe to do so.

Check Engine Light

check engine dashboard warning light

The check engine light (CEL), also known as malfunction indicator lamp (MIL) or ECU warning light, is the most infamous dashboard warning light. It usually signifies an issue with the powertrain (engine, transmission, and related parts).

There are oftentimes a huge variety of causes for a check engine light, sometimes it's something minor and other times it can be something serious.

If you notice the check engine light illuminate on your dashboard you should scan your ECU with an OBD scanner to see what the issue relates to. You should avoid driving or starting the vehicle until the issue is resolved.

Power Steering Warning Light (EPS / EPAS)

power steering dashboard warning light

This dashboard warning light indicates that the power steering is malfunctioning.

The solution may be as easy as restarting. Find a safe spot to stop and try turning off the vehicle and turning it on again after 30 seconds. If the power steering warning light remains on, you should get your vehicle inspected as soon as possible.

It's possible to drive with a power steering malfunction, but you should avoid driving if possible.

If you decide to drive with a power steering failure, note the following things:

  • Avoid driving at high-speed and avoid high-speed roads.

  • Your steering wheel can become very difficult to turn and your vehicle will be difficult to manoeuvre.

  • Avoid long or sharp bends and turns, try to drive mostly straight roads.

  • Take extreme caution when driving with a power steering failure because your ability to quickly react to obstacles in the road will be reduced.

Exhaust Particulate & DPF Warning Light

diesel particulate filter dashboard warning light

If you have a diesel, one of these lights may illuminate if there is an issue with the exhaust particle filter, which filters toxic soot from exhaust fumes in order to reduce emissions. It is possible that the filter has gotten clogged with soot.

Modern petrol cars may also have an exhaust particulate filter.

Driving with a clogged filter may do harm to your vehicle, increase back pressure in the exhaust, reduce fuel efficiency, and increase emissions. Yo