Warning symbols on my car’s dashboard – what do they mean?
Usually the car dashboard symbols show a particular icon and colour. The colour gives you an idea of the severity of the problem. For example:
- Red symbol: There's a serious problem - stop driving and investigate
- Amber symbol: Alarm bells should ring, something’s not working or about to stop
- Green symbol: A green symbol is a good sign, it means something is on and working
It’s important you understand what different symbols on your car’s dashboard mean, to prevent a breakdown or a total engine failure. These symbols alert you to potential problems.
What do red car warning symbols mean?
If you see a red symbol on a car this is a sign to say there’s a problem. Don’t ignore it, you should stop driving where it’s safe to do so.
What does the engine oil symbol mean?
If you see this symbol pop up, it means your car might have run out of oil, or there’s a problem with lubricant reaching key parts of your engine. This could lead to serious damage if it isn’t addressed quickly.
Can I drive with my engine oil symbol on?
You shouldn’t drive the car if the engine oil symbol is on. When it’s safe to do so, stop your car and switch off the engine.
Next, check your vehicle’s oil level by opening up the bonnet and using the dipstick in the oil inlet.
If the level is low, this is probably what’s causing the problem. So, top up the oil level before going any further - or as soon as you can.
If the oil level doesn’t seem to be low, restart your car. If the oil warning symbol doesn’t go out when you restart, stop the engine again and make a call to your breakdown provider.
What does the engine temperature warning symbol mean?
Most dashboards have an analogue temperature gauge to help you see how warm or cold your engine is at any time.
So always be on the lookout for the gauge creeping into the red zone. If your engine is overheating, the dashboard temperature warning symbol might also come on.
Can I drive with my engine temperature warning symbol on?
You shouldn’t drive a car that’s overheating. If this symbol appears on your dashboard, stop your car when and where it’s safe to do so and turn off the engine. You should do the same if you see the temperature of your car rising. Open up the bonnet and allow the engine to cool.
Then, check the coolant level. If this is low, you might have a leak. A serious leak means you need to call a mechanic.
Don’t add cold water to an overheating engine as this could cause serious damage.
What does the battery warning symbol mean?
This symbol indicates that your car’s battery isn’t receiving a charge from the alternator.
This could be as a result of a problem with the alternator drive belt, for example. On some models of car, this drive belt is also responsible for the vehicle’s water pump.
If water can no longer be provided where it’s needed, you could experience an overheating engine.
Can I drive with my battery warning symbol on?
If your car has overheated, you should call for roadside assistance.
However, the battery warning symbol could just mean there’s a fault in your battery and that it needs replacing. Visit your local garage for a proper diagnosis
What does the brake warning symbol mean?
One of the most common reasons you might see the brake warning symbol is because you haven’t fully taken the handbrake off.
But if this dashboard symbol comes on when the handbrake is completely off, it could be a sign that your vehicle’s brake fluid level is low.
If that’s not the case, you could be facing a more serious mechanical problem.
Can I drive with my brake warning symbol on?
Stop your car as soon as you safely can if the brake warning symbol is on. But be aware that your vehicle’s ability to brake could be impaired – so be extra cautious.
This could be a sign of a major problem for your car so it’s vital you seek expert assistance before driving on.
What does the airbag warning symbol mean?
If this dashboard symbol comes on, there’s a fault with at least one of your car’s airbags.
As well as a driver’s airbag, there may be one on the passenger side and one for the rear seats.
It’s possible that the airbag warning symbol has illuminated because your airbags have been switched off manually, perhaps by accident.
Can I drive with my airbag warning symbol on?
You can still drive with the airbag warning symbol on, but for your safety it should be checked out by a mechanic. In the meantime, you should be conscious that the airbag or airbags may not work if you’re involved in an accident.
What does the power steering warning symbol mean?
If this symbol stays on after you’ve started your engine, it could be that there’s a fault in your car’s power steering system.
Can I drive with my power steering warning symbol on?
The first thing you should do is check the symbol hasn’t been illuminated in error. Switch off the engine and take your key out of the ignition for a few seconds.
Switch the engine on again. If the symbol remains on, you should seek assistance from a garage as your car may not be safe to drive.
What do amber car dashboard symbols mean?
It’s important to always be on the lookout for car dashboard symbols that show you there’s a problem. While a flashing amber symbol is less serious than a red symbol, yellow warning signs can’t be ignored and need to be checked as soon as possible.
What does the check engine symbol mean?
Of all your car warning symbols, the check engine symbol is probably the one that is the most difficult to decipher.
This symbol can come on for a few reasons, all related to your car’s engine management system. It could signify that there’s a fault with anything from your starter motor to the fuel injection process.
You may or may not notice other symptoms if your check engine symbol comes on. For example, your car may suffer from reduced performance or the engine might sound unusual.
Can I drive with an amber engine symbol on?
If your check engine symbol is flashing, this indicates a serious problem that needs urgent attention.
In some cases, you simply won’t be able to start your car if the engine symbol is on.
Or your vehicle may appear to be running normally, but don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. You should have it looked at by an expert as soon as possible.
What does the ABS warning symbol mean?
This symbol signifies that your anti-lock braking system (ABS) is having problems.
The good news is that your normal brake operations should be unaffected. But you could get into difficulties if you have to brake heavily, especially when driving in the rain.
This is the kind of situation that ABS technology has been developed to deal with.
Can I drive with an ABS warning symbol on?
Your ABS warning symbol may come on for no clear reason. If it does illuminate, stop the car when possible, switch off the engine and remove the key from the ignition.
Wait a few moments then start the engine again, the symbol may turn off. If it doesn’t, you need to get your ABS system checked by a professional.
What does the tyre pressure symbol mean?
Your car has sensors in each tyre to monitor the pressure of the air in each of them.
If the tyre pressure symbol comes on, it means that pressure in at least one of your tyres has fallen below the correct level.
Some car dashboards display the pressures for each tyre at the touch of a button, that can help you identify which tyre is running below pressure.
This should also give you an indication of how urgently you need to address the problem.
Can I drive with my tyre pressure symbol on?
In some cases, it may be safe to drive for a short while if the tyre pressure symbol is on. But if the pressure is significantly lower, you need to have the tyre re-inflated or replaced straight away.
If the problem isn’t as drastic as this, check the required pressure and then inflate the tyres to the correct pressure at the earliest opportunity.
What does the traction control symbol mean?
If your traction control symbol flashes, it indicates that your car is using the system in response to road conditions.
For example, if you’re driving in snow, rain or low temperatures.
However, if this symbol is permanently on when you’re driving, this could mean your car’s traction control system has been switched off.
Can I drive with my traction control symbol on?
If your car’s traction control system is on constantly, this could mean there is a problem with it. This needs to be checked as soon as possible.
What does the brake pad wear warning symbol mean?
If one or more of your car’s brake pads are starting to wear out, this is the warning sign you see.
Worn down brake pads could severely impair your vehicle’s ability to stop. So this is something you need to address as soon as you can.
Can I drive with my brake pad wear warning symbol on?
When brake pads are completely worn away, you’ll probably hear an unpleasant metal-on-metal grinding noise when you brake.
But hopefully the situation doesn’t reach this point as the brake-pad warning symbol should come on much earlier than that. As soon as you see the symbol make sure you get it checked out as driving with a worn brake pad could be dangerous.
Model specific warning symbols
Most of the car dashboard symbols listed above are universal and can be found on most makes and models of car. But they can sometimes vary from one manufacturer to another.
We’ve included some links to popular makes of car so you can check the warning symbols for your particular model.
For Mini drivers, check out Mini dashboard warning symbol and then enter your vehicle identification number (VIN).
To find this look at the dashboard from the front of the car and the VIN can be found on the driver’s side.
It might also be situated at the bottom of the driver’s door. Once you've typed this number in, you can download the relevant manual.
This sets out all the dashboard warning symbols you can expect to see.
Full details of Skoda and Peugeot dashboard warning symbols can be found in the manuals provided by these manufacturers too.