Understanding the Lights on Your Dashboard

We’ve all been there. You get in your car, turn on the ignition, and as usual, you are greeted with a symphony of different colored lights on your dashboard display. But this time, one of the lights stays on. You try to understand what it means, but can’t quite figure it out. Whether it is time to worry depends on what light it is.

This guide will help you understand what each light means, and ways you can figure out the meaning even when you aren’t quite sure what the symbol represents.

Most warning lights are common to all makes and models on cars. This is done to avoid too much confusion. Their positions on the dashboard display can be different however, so it is always important to check with the car’s owner’s manual to be totally sure what each symbol means.

There are general rules to follow. Red lights typically signal an emergency. When a red light pops up, it is time to pull the car over immediately. Yellow, Orange, and Blue lights are typically far less serious, but should still be looked at and taken care of as soon as possible. Here is a list of the typical warning lights that can be found on a dashboard.

Check Engine Light

The engine is one of the most crucial and most expensive parts on any vehicle. If this light comes on, it is imperative to get the problem checked and fixed right away in order to avoid any serious long-term damage. A flashing Check Engine light signals a more serious issue than a constant light.

Low-Fuel Warning Light

When a car begins to get very low on gas, this light will come on to remind the driver that it is time to refuel. There is typically a sensor to turn this light on when the car still has around 80 to 100 kilometers of travel left, in order to prevent drivers from getting stranded. If this light is coming on faster than anticipated, it is important to get the car checked for any fuel leaks.

Tire Pressure Sensor Warning

All vehicles have a certain level of tire pressure that must be maintained in order to function properly. Low tire pressure can lead to the tires blowing out on the road. They are also necessary in order for braking and suspension to function the way they are designed to. When this light comes on, it means that the pressure in one or several of the tires needs to be checked, and air needs to be added.

Traction-Control Warning Light

When your car begins to lose traction to the road, this light will come on to warn the driver of the danger they are in. This typically will occur during rain or snow conditions, but can also happen if the traction control is switched off manually. If this light comes on, it’s a good idea to ensure traction control is turned on.

Glow Plug Warning Light (Diesels Only)

Diesel Cars rely on glow plugs to get the ignition started on their vehicles. When the glow plugs become faulty or need to be replaced, this light will come on to signal the driver of the issue. This could also just signify a faulty computer system.

Seat Belt Warning Light

This light usually comes along with a loud beeping sound or some other kind of warning to let the driver know that the car is moving but the seat belt is not fastened. This occurs via pressure sensors in the seat that detect if there is enough weight to assume a human is in the seat.

Door/Trunk/Hood Warning Lights

These lights come on to let the driver know that there is a something ajar or not fastened properly inside the car. Sensors can tell if all the parts in the car are not properly closed, and this light will come on to ensure that people in the car are aware.

Oil Pressure Light

Oil is important to ensure that the engine is properly lubricated and running as expected. When there is a problem with the oil, it is only a matter of time before there is a problem with the engine. If this light comes on, check the engine oil levels and make sure the car has enough oil inside of it.

Brake System Warning Light

Brakes are obviously vital to the safety and well-being of the driver and all passengers, and therefore should always be taken very seriously. If the brake system light comes on, the issue may be small. The brake fluid may need to be replaced or topped up, or the sensor may have become damaged. However, the risks of it being something more serious are too great and should be checked out by a professional immediately to ensure the brakes are functioning as they should be.

Battery Charge Warning Light

The car’s battery is responsible for a multitude of necessary actions in the car, such as headlights, power steering, and the engine itself. Without electricity running through the car, operating the vehicle safely becomes impossible. The issue may be resolved by simply changing out the battery, but the possibility of wiring issues also exist. A good way to test and see if the battery inside the car is at fault is to take it to a car garage or a service store where they can hook the battery up to a machine and test to see if it needs to be replaced.

Temperature Warning Light

This light is very important. If this light comes on, it is important to stop the car immediately and figure out what the issue is. When the temperature warning light comes on, the car is running at too high of a temperature and is at risk of burning out the engine. If you keep driving under these conditions, it won’t be long until you see smoke coming up from under the hood. The car may have run out of antifreeze coolant, it could be an issue with the radiator being clogged, the water pump may be malfunctioning, or it could be something devastating to the engine such as a blown gasket. Make sure to get this checked out immediately if you notice this light coming on again and again.


Signs That You May Need a Brake Change

Although many drivers neglect their brakes and put changing brake pads off until the last possible moment, it’s important to remember that your braking system is one of the most vital to your car’s (and your own) continued health.

Don’t wait until something is obviously wrong or broken, because then it might be too late. Get your brakes serviced regularly when you change your oil because certain parts need to be replaced after so much wear and tear.

Staying safe should be your number one concern while operating your vehicle, and maintaining the integrity of your braking system is a vital component of that safety.

How Do Brakes Work?

When you press down on the brake pedal, that causes the calipers (clamp-like parts behind each wheel), to begin closing. They squeeze the rotors (metal discs under each set of calipers,) which produces friction. The effect of this friction on the wheels is to cause them to spin more slowly and finally stop.

As one might imagine, this whole process produces a great deal of power and energy, which is directed onto the brake pads (the removable plates that provide contact between the calipers and rotors.)

Obviously, these forces, over time, will degrade the brake pads to the point that the brakes no longer operate effectively. As a general rule, brake pads should be replaced every season climate dependent, but it’s not unusual for them to wear out more quickly.

Every car and driver is different. That’s why it’s important to keep a watch out for five warning signs that your brake pads need to be replaced.

1 — Your Car Makes a Squealing Noise

This sound can actually be closer to a scrape or a buzz, but it only occurs when the brake is not depressed. This noise is caused by wear indicators, which are built into modern brake pads. They are bits of metal located at the top of the pad, which will scrape against the rotor when the pad has worn thin enough. 

2 — Your Car Makes a Clicking Noise

All vehicles have some method of keeping the brake pads steady, whether it is bolts, pins, clips, or a special holster. They all serve the same purpose: to keep the pad from shaking. If the pads become loose, they will begin to rattle, which produces the clicking that you hear whenever the brake pedal is depressed or released.

3 — It’s Harder to Stop Your Vehicle Than It Used to Be

Often referred to as “brake fade,” this issue is caused by repeatedly applying the brakes over a long distance without ever actually stopping the car. Some drivers might find this sort of driving a necessity when traveling down a mountain or over a winding road.

Be warned, if this is a part of daily driving, it will undoubtedly impact the integrity of your braking system. You’re essentially forcing the brake pads to grind against the rotors for long periods, which generates heat and causes the parts to lose their ability to generate friction. 

4 — Your Car Pulls to One Side When You Brake

This phenomenon occurs when your brake pads have worn at different rates. It is possible for one side to erode more quickly than the other, which causes a pull to one side when the brakes are depressed. Leaving this issue unaddressed can be detrimental to a variety of other parts including ball joints, steering rack, wheel bearings, and steering knuckles.

This problem can also be caused by malfunctioning brake calipers, a bad wheel bearing, or even uneven tire pressure.

5 — When Pressed, the Brake Pedal Shakes

Brake pads are generally manufactured with some type of binding resin. As they wear down, this resin heats up and runs onto the rotor. Ideally, this creates an even layer over the rotor’s surface, but if the pad gets too hot, the adhesive may clump in places on the rotor.

This is called “glazing,” and if your brake pedal is vibrating, it is likely the culprit. While this might not sound important, a shaking brake pedal is an unsafe brake pedal, and it could affect your ability to stop your car in a timely fashion. 

6 — The Brake Light Is On

Modern vehicles will often tell you that it’s time for a service through lighting the brake light indicator in the dashboard. More advanced vehicles have sensors that detect issues with the brakes and the smart electronics will light the brake light to notify you of a potential problem. Check your vehicle’s manual for a full rundown on what each of the warning lights mean.

Now that you know a little about how your brakes work and why they are so important, you have all the tools you need to be able to get your car serviced when it needs attention. All of these things are warning signs that your brake pads are worn and need your attention.

Under no condition should you allow your brakes to lapse into a state of disrepair or neglect. For your protection as well as that of those on the road with you, get your brakes checked often and get your pads replaced regularly. It could save your life, or the life of someone you love.


Different Types of Brake Pads

Types of Brake Pads

Whether it’s about basic safety or pure performance, the braking system is by far the most essential system of your car. Stopping power is what saves lives in everyday driving, but also sheds seconds on the track, and engineers have come a long way over the decades in improving automotive brakes. The fact that you’re here reading this article means that you truly care about your safety and getting to know how your car work, so today, we’re here to further expand your automotive knowledge.

The topic of the day are brake pads. First of all, what is a brake pad? It’s a component of disc brakes that ensures stopping power via friction, and is situated in brake calipers, facing the braking disc. By applying pressure on the pedal, the caliper grips the disc rotor, where the braking pads do the rest of the work, converting kinetic into thermal energy and eventually stopping the car. Depending on your needs and budget, there are more than a few types of braking pads to choose from, all with their own upsides and flaws. So, let’s see what they are all about, and let’s get straight to it!

1. Semi Metallic Brake Pads

First of all, there are semi metallic brake pads. These type of pads are considered to be the most durable, at least when it comes to budget-friendly brake pads, and they also have great heat transfer capability. Semi metallic pads are made out of 30% to 65% metal. Usually, they consist of copper, steel wool or wire, graphite and other metallic components, and they are the most common type of brake pads. However, they wear disc rotors down faster than other types of pads when used harshly, and use of metallic materials makes them noisy. Also, the other downside of semi metallic brake pads is that they tend to under-perform in colder weather. No matter the flaws, semi metallic brake pads will probably be your No. 1 choice if you actively drive a performance car, a heavy truck, or if you live in an area where you need to brake often and hard, like in the mountains. Due to their capabilities, they really have a wide range of potential use, and they present a common choice for track racing. The reason for that is that metallic components are a great heat conductor, so they help cool down the rest of the braking system more easily.

2. Non-Asbestos Organic

If you choose to go for less noisy brake pads, chances are you’ll choose non-asbestos organic brakes, the most common type of brake pads around, with two thirds of new cars having them as standard. In the earlier years of the automotive industry, asbestos was commonly used when manufacturing brake pads, but as the technology progressed and asbestos proved to be hazardous, this compound now consists of high temperature resins, fibers and filler materials. This type of brake pads is considerably softer compared to semi metallic brake pads, but it comes at a price of more brake powder emission and faster deterioration. As an upside, they are cheaper than semi metallic brake pads. When you’re shopping for this type of brakes, they’ll usually be listed as NAO or organic brake pads. If you own a compact car, or you don’t cover many miles during the year, nor drive your car in spirited manner, organic brakes are the best choice for you since they are the least costly, and you won’t be braking often or hard enough to wear them quickly.

3. Low-Metallic NAO

The next type of brake pads are made with 10% to 30% metal mixed with the same organic compounds of non-asbestos organic brakes. They provide a fine balance between semi metallic brake pads and non-asbestos organic brake pads, as they offer outstanding heat transfer and braking capabilities. However, they emit more noise than organic pads, and more brake dust than semi metallic brake pads. So, when it comes to actual performance, low-metallic organic brakes gravitate toward organic brakes, so they proved to be the best for a slightly spirited driving style and higher annual mileage.

4. Ceramic Brake Pads

Finally, the cleanest, yet the most expensive brake pads are ceramic brake pads. They are made out of ceramic fibers mixed with bonding agents, nonferrous filler materials and a small amount of copper fibers. Ceramic brake pads offer you little-to-none noise, they wear down very slowly and create small amounts of dust, and they are efficient in a wide arrange of temperatures. But, they also have a set of their own downsides. First of all, as ceramic brake pads are the newest technology in the industry, their manufacturing process is still quite expensive, which reflects on their high retail cost compared to other brake pads. Besides that, ceramic brake pads tend to wear brake disc rotors more than other types of brakes, primarily due to the heat they transfer rather than absorbing it. In conclusion, ceramic brake pads are the best for urban driving and higher annual mileage, where you’ll brake often, but under lower speeds and not as hard, which means that your brake pads will last long, as well as the rest of the braking system.

Now that we’ve got everything covered, there’s something more to talk about. No matter what brake pads you choose for your car, it’s of vital importance that you regularly maintain your car. Also, we’d always recommend that you don’t go for the cheapest option around, because making that compromise can mean that you’ll get an under-performing part, or the one you’ll have to replace sooner. If you can’t decide on the best option yourself, it’s best that you talk to your mechanic and find a set of brake pads that suits your actual needs and driving style the best. That way, you will certainly know that you can drive your car safely for many carefree miles, until the next brake pad maintenance cycle comes.