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.

How Long Should You Wait Between Oil Changes?

Motor oil needs to be changed periodically, as it is a special fluid that loses the properties that make it effective as a lubricant over time. Oil that needs to be replaced will appear thick with all the particulates and debris it has collected.

Oil that needs to be replaced will become darker. Extremely used oil will be pitch black and will have lost much of its ability to keep the engine cool by reducing friction. If you let the oil go unchanged for too long, it may even cause your engine to overheat or break down.

All vehicles have a manufacturer recommended amount of time or number of kilometers before you should change the oil.

When to Change the Oil

Motor oil in a vehicle used to need to be changed every 5,000 kilometers, or at least that was the rule. Thanks to advances in technology from motor oil producers, oil now needs to be changed less frequently. This doesn’t mean you should put off changing your oil forever though.

Mechanics usually agree that a safe number of kilometers between oil changes is somewhere around 12,000. It is important to refer to your vehicle’s manual or to check online because the number of kilometers may be less or more depending on the vehicle, the oil you use, and the type of driving you do. 12,000 is just an average number that most mechanics universally agree upon as a starting point.

Besides the safe number of kilometers, manufacturers often recommend a certain amount of time before you should get an oil change. Toyota, for example, recommends that the oil of a Corolla should be changed every 16,000 kilometers or every twelve months, whichever comes first.

The best rule of thumb is to follow the number of kilometers recommended between oil changes in your vehicle’s manual.

Fewer Oil Changes Required

Advances in engine technology and synthetic oil mean better performance and being able to wait longer between changes. Oils manufactured today are more durable and can do a better job at lubricating the engine even at extreme temperatures.

Types of Motor Oil

There are two main types of motor oil — synthetic and conventional.

The naturally occurring minerals in oil have been used in conventional oils for over a century.

Throughout the years, advancements have made synthetic oil outlast its conventional counterpart and remain cleaner for much longer periods of time. Synthetic oil requires a more in-depth process to chemically engineer.

Which Oil Lasts Longer

Since the advancements that allow for the chemical engineering of synthetic oil have both extended its life and its usefulness there can be little doubt that it will last longer than conventional oil. In fact, synthetic oil can last anywhere between 8,000 and 24,000 kilometers.

Brands such as Street Performance Oils upgrade your vehicle to double the amount of time you can wait between changes. Royal Purple is an example of synthetic engine oil that is rated to last 19,000 to 24,000 kilometers.

It is important to keep in mind that some other factors may come into play such as how hard you are on the vehicle and what kind of conditions you’re driving in. Driving on dirt roads frequently will mean the oil will catch dust and dirt at a faster rate.

Helpful Tools

Most new vehicles come equipped with an oil monitor that will provide you with a notification of the exact time you need to change the oil. An oil monitor can also provide helpful statistics related to your oil use.

If you don’t have an oil monitor, most oil changing locations will put a sticker on your window with the number of kilometers that you should get the oil changed at. Use this as a reminder and keep an eye on your odometer so that you can change the oil at the recommended time. Make sure that you choose a reputable mechanic, though, as some locations have been known to always add 5,000 kilometers per oil change even when the oil will last much longer between changes.

What Your Oil Can Tell You

Most oil change mechanics will also give you some information about your oil when you get it changed. If your oil is showing traces of other fluids, then you know there could be a bigger problem.