Dashboard Warning Lights: What do They Mean and Shall I Ignore Them?
Warning lights on a dashboard mean different things to different people, but they shouldn't. While you're not expected as a vehicle owner to immediately know what every warning light that might be displayed off the top of your head, you should know enough to take notice. If a warning light appears it's not necessarily the end of the world, but the first thing you should do is pull over as soon as it's safe and convenient to do so and look up what the light means. Your vehicle handbook will contain details of what every possible warning light means and what you should do. If you don't have your handbook with you, it's important to find out from a reliable source such as your local dealer or a recovery service you may be a member of, what's going on with your vehicle and what you should do.
Most important warning lights to watch for
If a car is getting on in age, it's not unusual for warning lights to come on without the problem they are designed to warn about being present, but you can't know that at the time. Always take notice of them, always act accordingly, and here are some of the most common and serious to look out for.
Oil warning light - Stop, switch engine off, check oil level, top-up if low or go to a garage.
Battery light - Not coming on at all or coming on when driving could indicate one of a number of problems. Get it checked out as soon as possible.
Brake system warning light - Could indicate low brake fluid level. Check level or get it checked asap.
Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) partially blocked light - Not a terminal problem. A long journey should see your vehicle empty it automatically, but if light doesn't go out after around 10 minutes driving over 40 mph, stop and seek help.
Engine warning light - Often not as serious as you may think. If flashing, slow down until it stops, but stop and call help if it persists. If it's on but not flashing, consult the user manual for engine management resetting procedure. If that doesn't clear the light it should still be ok to drive to somewhere to get it checked out if no other issues are apparent.
ABS warning light - This light may briefly go on and off when the braking system is working hard, but if it stays on you must get it checked out. Driving and braking should be ok with no ABS with most vehicles, but check your handbook to find out.
As a basic rule of thumb, red warning lights are the most serious and deserve the most immediate of attention, while amber warning lights mean everything will probably be ok for you to continue to your destination before looking into it. Either way, ignoring them for a sustained period can easily be a recipe for disaster, and like any problem with a vehicle, the longer you leave it before getting it checked out the bigger and more expensive the problems can become.