Car Dashboard Symbols: What do they warn about?
Car dashboard lights are nothing new, but as technology advanced, so did the variety of symbols on your car dashboard. Some of these symbols illuminate every time you start your vehicle though no worries unless they stay on after you start the engine.
In a nutshell, the purpose of the car dashboard symbols is to either inform or warn the driver. For instance, the high-beam symbol illuminates when you turn on your high-beam lights. It has only an informative character. On the other hand, if the check engine symbol illuminates, you should start to worry.
There are many car dashboard symbols, and even experienced drivers might need to recall their meaning. That's why we prepared an extensive overview of various car symbols that can appear on your dashboard. Please let us know if you spot a warning light on the dashboard that we did not include in this overview!
Green and Blue Symbols
Green and blue dashboard symbols usually inform the driver about the operation of individual systems. The blue color was previously reserved for high beams, but today some cars use it, for example, as a replacement for the coolant temperature indicator.
Outside temperature warning light
This dashboard symbol informs about a drop in outside temperature below a certain value (4°C or 39°F if not customized).
High beam lights
The blue symbol indicates that the high-beam headlights are on.
Engine coolant light
This blue light indicates a low coolant temperature. It should go out after it reaches the desired temperature but wait to rev the engine to high revs until it does.
Related article - Blue Engine Coolant Light: What does it mean? 🥶
Lane assist indicator
This indicator lights on when you turn on the lane assist system. The Lane assist system, as the name suggests, helps the driver keep the vehicle in the lane. It warns you whenever your car begins to move out of the lane.
Adaptive cruise control
It lights up if the adaptive cruise control is activated. Adaptive cruise control (also known as Dynamic cruise control) keeps a safe distance from vehicles ahead of your car by automatically adjusting the speed.
Cruise control warning light
It lights on when the cruise control system is activated. The cruise control system automatically controls the speed of the vehicle.
Front fog lights
It signals that the front fog lights are on.
Low beam indicator
The green indicator light means the car's dipped beam is turned on.
ECO mode driving indicator
It indicates the activated ECO (saving) mode, which ensures that the vehicle achieves the lowest possible consumption. However, this mode will eventually take its toll on the vehicle in the form of weaker performance, acceleration, slower reactions to the accelerator, or increased recuperation.
Press brake pedal indicator
It lights when the brake pedal needs to be pressed and held while you move the gear lever out of the park position. Remember that this symbol only appears in vehicles fitted with an automatic transmission.
Side light indicator
This green light turns on when the side headlights are in use.
Yellow or Orange Symbols
The dashboard symbols illuminated in yellow/orange usually warn you about a problem that the engine management system detected. It might also be a low level of some fluids, DPF regeneration, etc. Most of the time, you can still drive a car with one of the yellow/orange symbols on, but you should visit the service center for diagnosis asap.
Hill Descent Control (HDC/DAC)
It signals that the hill descent control is activated in case of a steeper slope. In this situation, the system takes control of the vehicle's stabilization and maintains a constant speed.
Adaptive headlights system (AFL)
This symbol signals a failure of the adaptive lighting system. As with the rain sensor, the lighting should still work in standard mode.
Low fuel indicator
When this light is on, the range is approximately 50 to 100km (or 30 to 60 miles), depending on the fuel tank size. You should find a gas station as soon as possible. Before picking the wrong side at the gas station, look closely at the fuel gauge symbol - there might be an arrow that indicates where's the gas cap on your car.
DPF warning light
The DPF (diesel particulate filter) warning light indicates either a problem or regeneration of the particulate filter. You should drive and keep a steady speed in an rpm range of 2000 - 2600rpm for at least 15 minutes or until the regeneration of the filter is complete. When it's done, the symbol disappears. Otherwise, you need to go to the service center asap.
You may encounter the regeneration of the filter when you frequently use your diesel car for short distances.
Convertible roof warning light
The warning light is on while the roof is being opened or closed. It should disappear as soon as the roof is fully opened/closed. In case it stays on, there may be a malfunction.
Towing hitch warning light
If this symbol appears on your dashboard, the towing hitch has not engaged properly. It is necessary to stop, disconnect and reconnect the towing device as soon as possible.
Windscreen washer fluid level
This indicator lights up if there is insufficient fluid for the windscreen washer. If this happens, just refill the washer tank - the cap is usually blue, so you can find it quite easily.
Tire pressure warning light
This light signals incorrect tire pressure in one or more tires. You should check and adjust the pressure in your tires. If you have changed the tires and their dimensions differ from the previous ones, the warning light may also appear. In that case, just set a new value, and the light will go out. The required value depends on the type of car, tires, and other factors - check the manual.
Rain and light sensor
Illuminates in case of malfunction of automatic wiping and lighting of lights. The functionality of the wipers and lights is not impaired, but they won't switch automatically.
Rear fog lights indicator
It illuminates if the rear fog lights are on.
Rear spoiler warning light
The warning light may illuminate in the event of a malfunction in the rear spoiler control system. It is not recommended to drive on the highway with such a malfunctioning spoiler control, and you need to visit a service center as soon as possible.
Glow plug indicator
The indicator lights up after turning the key to the second position, i.e., right before the engine's startup. It signals the preheating, thus the activity of the glow plugs. After it goes out, you should start the engine. If the glow plug indicator also lights up while driving, the most common fault may be in the glow plugs or the glow plug circuit. Replacing your glow plugs would most likely resolve this issue.
Adaptive suspension dampers
It signals a malfunction in the suspension stiffness regulation. In this case, it is recommended to drive carefully, as this malfunction affects stability. In addition, you need to go to the service center for a system functionality test.
Lane assist indicator
It indicates that the lane assist system is turned on, but the road markings cannot be detected. You might have seen this indicator in green, in which case the road markings are properly detected. If it lights up in orange accommodated with a message, there might be a malfunction in the system.
ESP warning light
If the ESP warning light flashes while driving, the ESP system is functional and intervenes in the steering. You might encounter it when driving your car on slippery or problematic surfaces. If your ESP light is constantly on, it either means that you turned it off or there is a malfunction in the system. In these cases, the stability of your car would decrease.
Press brake pedal
This warning light indicates that you must press the brake pedal to start the engine.
Automatic transmission warning light
It usually lights up simultaneously as a message on the display that tells you what to do. For instance, "press the brake pedal," "you can continue driving," "adapt driving style," etc.
Brake pad warning light
This warning light comes on when the brake pads are excessively worn. We recommend replacing them as soon as possible, because the effect of the brakes may be reduced.
Check engine warning light
If this light is on, it may indicate one or more malfunctions, such as malfunction of the fuel injection, ignition, camshaft, or crankshaft. Sometimes it might be a random error, in which case the check engine symbol might disappear after a few starts. You may continue driving the vehicle if the engine doesn't go into emergency mode, i.e., it does not lose power and operates as usual.
However, in any case, we recommend an urgent visit to the service center and engine diagnostics.
Air suspension warning light
The light signals a malfunction of the air suspension system. As with suspension shock absorbers, it is recommended to drive carefully and go to a service center.
Transmission temperature warning light
It lights up if the engine oil temperature exceeds the permitted limit. This can happen when driving in bad conditions or towing a trailer. If this happens, it is necessary to stop and let the engine idle as soon as possible.
Headlight range control
It signals a malfunction of the automatic adjustments of the headlights. The functionality will not be impaired in manual mode but will not operate automatically.
ABS warning light
Illuminates if the ABS sensor or control unit is malfunctioning. A car's wheels without a functioning ABS might lock during braking. In this case, the vehicle brakes in the same way as the vehicle not equipped with this system (older vehicles). Be extremely careful when this indicator lights on, especially when it's rainy, or the surface is wet, and try to keep a safe distance while being soft on brakes.
Bulb failure warning light
It informs about a non-functioning light bulb that needs to be replaced.
EPC warning light
The EPC warning light signals a malfunction in your vehicle's throttle system. This problem might include traction control, accelerator pedal, and other systems. You should get your car checked immediately.
Related article - EPC Warning Light: What does it mean and how to fix it?
4 Wheel Drive Low indicator
This light warns the driver that the vehicle is in "LOW" mode with four-wheel drive. When the mode is active, the front and rear drive shafts are mechanically locked together, causing the front and rear wheels to rotate at the same speed. A low gear ratio provides higher wheel torque and, thus, much higher traction.
However, the 4x4 Low mode is not intended for normal and higher speed but especially for very slow off-road and difficult terrains such as steep climbs, muddy terrain, or deep sand, where higher torque and higher traction come in handy. Before driving on such terrain with the 4x4 Low mode, turning off the traction control is important.
Depending on the manufacturer, the warning light can be displayed in different variants, i.e., as 4x4 Low, 4WD Low, or in abbreviated form as 4LO or 4L. If it flashes permanently (not when switching the mode), it's a problem, and you should go to the service center asap.
4 Wheel Drive High indicator
This indicator warns the driver that the vehicle is in "HIGH" mode with four-wheel drive. In the case of older vehicles equipped with four-wheel drive, this was the default setting under normal driving conditions - in such a case, manufacturers rarely added the warning light to other indicators. Most modern four-wheel drive vehicles operate with the default "AUTO" mode and allow switching to 4x4 High or 4x4 Low.
The 4x4 High mode is useful when higher traction is needed at normal and higher speeds, for example, on a snowy road, during rain, etc. When the mode is active, the front and rear drive shafts are mechanically locked together, causing the front and rear wheels to rotate at the same speed.
This warning light can be displayed as 4x4 High, 4WD High, or in abbreviated versions such as 4HI or 4H. If it flashes permanently (not when switching the mode), it's a problem, and you should go to the service center asap.
4 Wheel Drive Auto indicator
This light warns the driver that the vehicle is in "AUTO" mode with four-wheel drive. This means that the vehicle automatically engages four-wheel drive when it detects a loss of traction. Most modern four-wheel drive vehicles use this mode as the default. The problem occurs if the light is on even when the mode should be off.
4x2, 2HI, 2H indicators
These indicators warn the driver that a four-wheel drive vehicle only supplies energy to two wheels. The 4x2 mode is suitable for dry surfaces or during good driving conditions, providing better fuel economy.
Red symbols in a car, as the color suggests, indicate a severe problem that needs to be resolved immediately. Sometimes, it's a matter of minutes, so it is reasonable to park the car aside, call an expert, or solve the problem yourself on the spot.
Seat belt light
A seat belt light signals an unbelted passenger. In addition, a loud beep should alert you as well.
Doors open warning light
It lights up red if the door, trunk, or hood is not closed correctly.
Distance warning light
The light signals that the vehicle in front of you is too close! In such a case, you must immediately slow down and maintain a safer distance.
Airbag fault warning light
This light signals an error in the electronics of the airbag system. It may happen that the airbags do not fire or fire on their own during an impact. We recommend rather a quick visit to a service center.
Cruise control warning light
This indicator lights up in red if the maximum set speed is exceeded or there is a malfunction in the system.
Battery warning light
You may have noticed this red light upon starting your vehicle. If the light remains on, it might either be an alternator failure or a torn alternator drive belt. With such a malfunction, you can only go to the service center if your engine does not run after the battery is discharged. However, a much better alternative is to call a tow truck immediately.
Power steering wheel warning light
You will encounter this warning light if you have a problem with the power steering. The fault may be in the electrics or the servo pump. Driving such a vehicle is possible, but you have to put up with the reduced or zero effect of the power steering.
Start/Stop warning light
It lights up if the start-stop system has turned off the engine. After pressing the clutch, the engine starts. In the case of an automatic transmission, the brake pedal must be released.
Brake warning light
If the red brake light is on, you probably have the handbrake applied, in which case you should release it immediately. If the light continues to illuminate, stop and check the brake fluid level (top it up if it's below the correct level), as the brakes may stop working.
AdBlue warning light
The light signals a low level of AdBlue additives. In most cases, the warning light also displays information about the stated range, and you cannot start the engine after the additive has been used up.
Oil warning light
This red symbol lights up if the oil level is below the minimum or the oil pressure is insufficient. It means inadequate lubrication, though in any case, it is necessary to stop driving and top up the engine oil.
If the oil level is normal or the light comes on after topping up to the required limit, you should pull over, stop the vehicle and call a tow truck. Otherwise, you risk seizing the engine since the oil pump may be damaged.
Wrench warning light
This indicator has various forms depending on the manufacturer. It lights up when the service check is needed. It could be a planned (set interval) check, an unexpected malfunction, or the need to go to the service center as soon as possible.
Engine coolant light
This red light comes on if the coolant level is below the minimum level or the engine is overheating. If this happens, you should stop and check the coolant level. If the coolant fluid needs to be topped up, you can do so only after the engine has cooled down to 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit). It usually means waiting a quarter of an hour or more, depending on the outside temperature.
Suppose you don't have coolant fluid or distilled water at hand. You can also use ordinary water in an emergency but must visit the service center later.
A damaged water pump, a cracked head, leaks in the cooling system, or a cracked radiator can cause coolant leakage. If the coolant is not leaking, a malfunctioning switch or fan can cause the engine to overheat.
Related article - Red Engine Coolant Light: Stop your car now! 🚨