Understanding Your Dashboard Lights — and What to Do About Them

If you’ve ever been driving along and had one of your dashboard lights start blinking at you, you know first-hand just how nerve-wracking that can be. Is this a serious issue, or just extra information? Should you keep driving? Today’s cars are smarter than ever, so you can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed by all the lights on your dashboard.

But when your car is trying to tell you something, it’s important to listen. Despite significant advances in technology, many of the dashboard lights and symbols remain the same across vehicles to help drivers recognize common issues easily. Here’s your primer for the most important dashboard lights so you know what they mean — and what to do if they start blinking at you.

The 5 Dashboard Lights You Need to Know

There are many lights on your dashboard and they're all important, but here are the big five you should definitely know before hitting the road.

Low Fuel 

This symbol looks like a gas pump, so it’s probably the easiest to recognize. This is your sign to get to a gas station ASAP so you don’t run out of fuel on the road. The average car has 2-3 gallons of fuel left when the light goes on, so if you know your MPG rating, you can estimate how far you can go. Still, weather and traffic can lower your mileage, so don’t push your luck when the fuel light comes on.

Washer Fluid

This symbol looks vaguely like a spray of water over a windshield, though many people also think it looks like two candy canes. When this light comes on, your washer fluid is low and needs to be topped off. This isn’t usually an emergency, though if you live in a snowy area where they salt the road, running out of washer fluid can leave you with dangerously reduced visibility in bad weather. Refill your washer fluid ASAP.

Check Engine

This outline of a standard engine can come on for a variety of reasons, including everything from low oil and engine overheating to a loose gas cap or clogged air filter. You should get your car serviced to find out the nature of the problem as soon as you can. If your check engine light is flashing, stop driving immediately — this is a sign of a serious emergency, and continued driving could severely damage your engine.

Battery Alert

Even though it’s shaped like your car’s battery, this light doesn’t always mean your battery is dead. It actually indicates a problem with the charging system in general, including the alternator. This is important to get checked out as soon as you can, or you could wind up with a dead battery that leaves you stranded and in need of a jump start from a friend.

Oil Light 

Shaped like an old-fashioned oil can, this light comes on when your oil pressure is low. You should top off your oil as soon as you can, because an un-lubricated engine can eventually seize up, leaving you with costly damage. If this light comes on frequently, you could have a leak that needs to be fixed.

Learn More About Your Dashboard Lights in Driver's Ed

New drivers have a lot to think about, from learning the ins and outs of their car’s dashboard to gaining experience in all kinds of driving situations. For behind-the-wheel driver training, check out the courses for new drivers at DriversEd.com today.

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