Driver in car looking at what dashboard lights mean.

Dashboard Lights and What They Mean

Updated October 1, 2021 . AmFam Team

Our cars are better than ever at warning us when something isn’t quite right. But when that dashboard lights up, do you know what it means? Use our guide to answer your questions.
Our cars are better than ever at warning us when something isn’t quite right. So, how do you know if your car has an issue? Check the dashboard! The dashboard lights warn you about everything from a minor problem, like low washer fluid, to something major, like an overheated engine.

Not sure what those lights are telling you? We’re here to help. Learn more about the 10 most common dashboard warning lights and how they keep you safe.

Check Engine Light

Resembling a tiny engine, the check engine light can be tricky because it comes on for a bunch of reasons. It could be as minor as a loose gas cap, which you can easily check and tighten. But if it’s not that simple, your best move is to ask a professional. Common reasons for this warning light are a faulty oxygen sensor, catalytic converter issues, mass airflow sensor, or worn-out spark plugs. Schedule an appointment as soon as possible to have the problem fixed so it doesn’t damage other engine components.

Frost Warning

The little light that looks like a snowflake is a warning that temperatures have dropped below freezing. This one turns on and stays on as long as it’s cold enough for ice to form on the road. It’s a simple reminder to use caution in cold conditions.

Distance Warning Light

This is one of the newer dashboard warning lights and often looks like two cars about to hit each other. It uses radar sensors to determine if you’re closing the distance to an obstacle in the road too quickly. It could be any object, from another car to debris to a pedestrian. If you see this light, use caution and slow down if necessary to avoid a crash. Once you slow down, the light will turn off.

Automatic Shift Lock or Engine Start Indicator

This foot-shaped light is trying to tell you to step on the brake. Modern cars won’t start unless you brake before you turn on the ignition, so if you try to start the car without doing so, you’ll see this indicator. Press the brake and the engine will turn over. The same goes for shifting your car out of neutral. Simply apply the brake and the gear shift will move.

As cars continue to get more advanced, more warning lights are being added to our dashboards. All those indicators can get confusing, even a little overwhelming. If in doubt, pull over to a safe place, turn off the engine and check the owner’s manual to figure out what your warning light is trying to tell you. Because each one has something different to say.

Did you find this article useful? Because there’s a lot more where that came from! We have all the car maintenance advice and resource you need to protect your car from the unexpected. Find these car maintenance and repair resources here!

This article is for informational purposes only and includes information widely available through different sources.

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