Understanding the symbols on your dashboard

Most cars, including the vast majority of new cars sold, are able to relay all sorts of details thanks to a sophisticated array of sensors and other gadgets.

The information on the dashboard doesn’t just include gauges for speed and fuel, but various symbols which can illuminate for warnings and other information.

While this is incredibly useful, it can also prove challenging for drivers to keep on top of what each symbol that could pop up means.

A survey from Britannia Rescue earlier this year, quizzed 2,108 UK drivers about dashboard symbols. From it they reported that as many as 98 per cent of motorists didn’t understand the full range of warning lights which can appear on the dashboard.

Some of the symbols which can appear to drivers on the dashboard include warnings regarding critical component failures. Keeping up with all the symbols can be overwhelming – after all a new Nissan Micra has as many as 21 different warning lights. Other cars can have up to 40 warning lights or more.

If you’re unsure in understanding any of the symbols on your vehicle dashboard, then we can help. Here is our guide covering the majority of all dashboard symbols which could appear in your car, and what they mean.

Engine warning light

This particular light can appear in either red or orange and it will usually be seen when the vehicle’s ignition is turned on. This light should then disappear when the engine is started.

If the light remains illuminated after the engine is switched on, this suggests that there’s a problem with your vehicle’s engine.

If you see this light appear or flashing when the engine is on then you should ease off the accelerator and seek assistance in a safe spot as soon as possible.

Oil pressure warning light

This light will appear when the vehicle’s ignition is first switched on and should disappear when the engine is started.

If this light remains illuminated, this indicates that the car has detected low oil pressure. In this case you should switch your car’s engine off as quickly as possible to prevent major engine damage. Check your vehicle’s oil level is correct in the way you learn through the ‘Show Me Tell Me’ questions.

If this warning light remains on even if the oil level appears correct, then call for professional assistance.

Battery charge warning light

Like the other symbols above, this one will appear when a vehicle’s ignition is switched on and it should disappear when the engine is started.

If this symbol can still be seen after the engine is on, then that likely means the car’s onboard battery is not charging. Such an issue can be caused by a dead battery, a faulty alternator or a corroded connection on the battery terminals.

If the battery isn’t charging then you should call for breakdown cover since a car with such a fault won’t be able to drive for much longer if at all.

Brake system warning light

This warning light should appear whenever a vehicles handbrake or parking brake is applied. It should be absent when the handbrake or parking brake is released. With parking brakes the symbol is more likely to show the letter ‘P’ rather than an exclamation mark.

If you see this symbol illuminated even when the handbrake is released, this could signify a low level of brake fluid or another issue with the vehicle’s brakes. Professional assistance should be sort as soon as possible as the vehicle itself could be dangerous to drive.

ABS warning light

This symbol will briefly light up while starting the engine before disappearing. It will only appear while driving your vehicle to indicate the anti-lock brakes (ABS) have a fault.

While this does not mean you will lose control of your brakes, safety features designed to reduce stopping distances will have stopped working. Contact professional repair assistance to get the ABS fully functional again.

Engine overheat warning light

If this symbol appears then that means your vehicle’s engine is becoming dangerously hot. The engine could become severely damaged so pull over and turn the engine off as quickly as possible.The cause of the engine overheat could be down to a blockage or due to a shortage or leak in the engine coolant system.

Airbag warning light

This symbol will be visible on the car dashboard if one or more of your vehicle’s airbags have been deactivated. The vehicle can still be driven but you may want to check your vehicle manual for any checks which can be performed for the airbag.

If a fault with an airbag has been detected, then special diagnostic equipment will be required to remove this warning light.

Seat belt warning light

Drivers will see this symbol if the vehicle’s ignition is on and it may flash on the dashboard if the vehicle is moving and the driver’s seat belt is unfastened.

An audible alarm reminding the driver that the seat belt is unfastened may also be given on some cars.

Rear fog light

This symbol illuminates on the dashboard to inform the driver that the rear fog light is currently activated.

Open doors indicator

This symbol can appear on the dashboard when the engine is started if one or more doors have not been closed properly.

If you do see this symbol then safely inspect all doors to confirm they’re all shut.

Tyre pressure monitor

This symbol will appear on the dashboard if the car’s tyre pressure monitoring system detects the tyres pressure has reduced by 25 per cent or more.

If this symbol appears then inflate your car’s tyres to their optimum level. Consult your manufacturer’s manual if you are unsure of the correct tyre pressures.

Bulb failure

This symbol informs the driver that one or more of the vehicle’s bulbs are faulty. To address this issue you should contact a motor electrician.

Cruise control

If your car includes the cruise control function, then a symbol like this will appear on your dashboard when the feature is on.

Note that the exact symbol representing cruise control can be different depending on which car you drive.

Traction control light

A symbol like this will be illuminated along with the ABS symbol when the car’s traction control system has a fault.

Low fuel notification

This symbol will be illuminated on the dashboard if the car’s fuel level is getting very low. You’ll know if the car urgently needs more fuel if you can see this symbol on your dashboard while driving.

High Beam light

Drivers will see this symbol illuminated to inform them that the car’s high beams are turned on.