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Dashboard Warning Lights and Their Meanings

up close view of an automotive speedometer.

Those pesky dashboard warning lights — they always seem to come on at the most inconvenient times, and most of us don’t know what they are really trying to tell us. Here’s a quick primer on the most common dashboard lights and what to do if they illuminate.

Check Engine

This is the dashboard warning light you are probably most familiar with. The check engine light can come on for many different reasons — it could mean something as small as a loose wire, or a massive issue that will permanently damage your engine. If your vehicle is acting erratically or the light is flashing, pull over immediately and have your car towed to an auto shop. If your car seems fine, then there’s no need to panic. Just take it to your mechanic within the next few days to have the issue diagnosed.

Oil Pressure

This light, which looks like an oil can, indicates that something is off with your oil system. Usually you’re just low on oil, but it could also mean that your oil pump isn’t working properly. When your oil pump isn’t circulating enough fluid, your engine doesn’t get lubricated enough. Add oil to see if that fixes the problem and the light goes off. If not, have your oil system checked by a trusted mechanic.


The battery light usually comes on when your car won’t start, but it can illuminate while your car is running, too. If your battery isn’t dead but you see this light, it could mean your cable clamps, which connect the battery to your car, just need to be tightened. It could also indicate corrosion on the battery, which you can clean off yourself (follow proper procedures!). If you don’t see either of these issues, you probably have a bigger problem with your battery that should be addressed by a professional.

Tire Pressure

The tire pressure light is pretty straightforward — it lets you know that the pressure of one or more of your tires is too high or too low. Simply stop by a gas station with a tire pump and inflate or deflate your tires as needed. If you know your tire pressure is correct but the light is still on, that means there’s something wrong with your tire pressure sensor, which can be repaired by a technician.

Brake System

When your brake warning light is on, one of two things is happening: your parking brake is engaged, or there’s a bigger problem with your brakes. While your vehicle is in park, reset your parking brake a few times to see if that fixes the issue. If the light stays on, you need to have your car towed to an auto shop right away. Faulty brake systems should never be ignored!

Traction and Stability

The traction control light is a bit different than all of the others. While most lights come on to tell you there is a problem, the traction light lets you know that your traction control system is working correctly. This system helps you navigate slippery conditions. If one or more of your tires is slipping, like on ice, your traction control system applies the brakes until traction is restored. So your traction control light just indicates that the system has been activated.

Got a dashboard light that’s demanding attention? Make an appointment with Pearson Auto today.

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