Lights On: All Systems (Don’t) Go!

This article originally appeared on VehicleMD.

Have you ever found yourself talking to your car? I know I have—mainly when I’m in a bad situation, such as almost running out of gas. I find myself saying things like, “C’mon baby just a few more miles, you can make it!” It may sound ridiculous but I’m sure some of you do this, too. Did you know that your car speaks to you, as well?

Dashboard warning lights are your car’s way of saying things like, “Hey, I need some gas,” or, “There’s something wrong with my brakes,” or even, “Why aren’t you buckled up?” Some of these warning lights are pretty obvious; however, some can be a little more obscure. Well, fear not, becauseVehicleMD will be your car-linguist this year. Throughout the year, we will be covering the various warning lights that can be found on your dashboard, what they mean and what to do if they appear.

Whether you’re a newbie at car-speak or just looking to refresh your memory, read on to decode the enigmas that are your warning lights.

Anti-Lock Braking System Indicator Light
Anti-lock braking systems are designed to aid you in case you need to brake in an emergency situation and allow you to maintain better control of the wheel.

When you start your engine, you will notice that your ABS light will appear, which is entirely normal—it should disappear within a few seconds. If the light does not turn off, then your car is telling you that the ABS is malfunctioning. If this is the case, you don’t need to panic yet—the conventional braking system is still working, but you should probably have your vehicle inspected and possibly repaired. However, if you notice that both the ABS light and the brake warning light both illuminate; turn off the car immediately—your car does not have any brakes, and you will need to have it towed to be diagnosed and possibly repaired.

Traction Control Light
The idea of a traction control system is relatively new, but is swiftly becoming a standard function. When you’re driving on an icy or slippery road and try to accelerate, one of your wheels may spin at a faster rate than the others because of a loss of traction. The system’s sensors will indicate this and automatically apply the brakes of said wheel to slow it down and sync it back with the others.

When this light illuminates, you will know that the system is in effect and that you should probably slow down a bit.

Malfunction Indicator Light
The malfunctioning indicator light (check engine light) is probably the most frightening light that can appear on your dashboard, but it is also one of the most misunderstood lights, as it can represent a number of different things. Just like the ABS light, it will appear when you start your car but should disappear within a few seconds. If it does not turn off; however, it could mean anything from a malfunctioning oxygen sensor to an electrical problem. However, it is most commonly associated with issues regarding your engine’s emission system.

If this light stays on, then you should have your car inspected to discover the culprit. However, if you notice that the light begins flashing or turns red while you’re driving, the situation could be more imminent and you should stop driving immediately. If it disappears after decreasing speed, then it could just be a glitch. On the other hand, if it continues to blink or stay red, then you know the situation is serious and you need to get off the road.

Oil Pressure Light
The oil pressure light, like the malfunctioning indicator light, is also on the list of misunderstood lights. Oftentimes, people associate this warning light with the need for an oil change, which is simply not the case. The oil pressure light indicates that your engine isn’t receiving enough oil—a major problem.
Your engine requires a certain amount of lubrication to function properly. Without the required amount of lubrication (oil), the metallic parts grind up on each other causing a great deal of heat and may cause the parts to melt and weld-together—which can severely damage your engine in a manner that is beyond repair—in a matter of minutes or even seconds.

If you see this light turn on, you should pull over immediately and check the oil level. To be safe, you will want to get to your auto service facility as soon as possible—even if it means calling a tow truck .

Battery and Charging Light
Just like many other warning light, it will appear when the engine is ignited and should disappear within a few seconds.

However, if it does not disappear then it could indicate one of several things including slack battery or starter terminals, a broken or loose alternator drive belt or an alternator failure. A broken drive belt needs to be replaced before restarting the engine, as the coolant system might rely on it. Without a properly functioning belt, the engine could overheat causing engine damage, which is never cheap to fix.

Usually, this light appears when there is a problem with your car’s vehicle charging system. If this system is not properly functioning, your battery may be drained much more rapidly, leaving you stranded on the side of the road.

Coolant Temperature Light
Be wary whenever you see it illuminate, as it usually indicates that your engine is operating at an excessively high temperature, which could cause it to overheat.

If this light turns on, you should pull over as soon as possible and shut off the engine. Whatever you do, do not attempt to remove the radiator cap while it’s hot; you could really injure yourself. Once it has cooled off, it is suggested to add a water/antifreeze mixture if the level is indeed low. We recommend taking your car to your local auto service facility so they can get you back on the road safely.

Transmission Temperature Light
Much like the coolant temperature light, this light will illuminate when your transmission is operating at an extremely high temperature. There are multiple reasons as to why this light will turn on, including low fluid level, transmission pump flow, the condition of the fluid, or hauling or towing a trailer at high temperatures.

Just like many of the other warning lights, it should illuminate when you ignite your engine and then disappear within a few seconds. However, if it ever appears while on the road and does not disappear, it is a good idea to have a technician take a look.

Although there are many causes for each of these lights to illuminate, it is still very important that you check with your owners manual. Different manufacturers may use different symbols to indicate different issues.

Regardless of whether or not you think it’s OK to drive your car while a warning light is on, you should always have it inspected, just in case. These warning lights are your car’s way of speaking to you. By listening to it, you could prevent a potential disaster and a lot of heartache.

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