If you drive often, it’s likely you don’t pay much attention to your dashboard aside from the speedometer or fuel gauge, but when you see a new icon lit up do you know what it’s trying to tell you? We gathered all the information on what they mean and what to do to save you time and prepare you for any situation!
1. Engine Overheating
Man, your engine is on fire! Well, not really, but your engine is overheating and that’s the biggest killer of engines than any other cause. In many cases, once this light is on, it’s too late to avoid mechanical damage, but how do you avoid it?
The best way to prevent your engine from overheating is to pay attention to your heat gauge. If after you start your car, the gauge is higher than 2/3 of the way up or lower than 1/3, there is a problem and you should have the vehicle’s coolant system inspected by a qualified repair shop.
If the light turns on while driving:
Turn off all non-essential systems (radio, A/C, etc.) to alleviate strain on the motor. Next, turn the cabin heater on high to release as much heat as possible until you can safely pull over. DO NOT open the hood for at least 30 minutes. An overheating engine can spray coolant steam out of the radiator or rupture a radiator hose, causing severe burns or blindness. Call a tow truck and have your vehicle towed to a qualified repair shop for inspection.
2. Tire Pressure
This warning is telling you that the pressure in one of your tires is low. The good news is, this can be easily taken care of at most gas stations which offer free air pumps. It is best to keep a PSI (pounds per square inch) tester in your vehicle’s glove compartment so you can easily find which tire is low and avoid overfilling. The recommended PSI for your tires can be found on your driver side door where you can see a handy little table listing the PSI for front and back tires.
3. Battery Alert
Chances are if you don’t have automatic lights, you’ve left them on in your frantic morning rush. I’ve know how it feels, you finally get to leave work for the day, you put your key in and turn it, and you see this guy. If this is the case, you’re going to need a jump-start from another vehicle. It is always good to keep a pair of jumper cables in your car, not only to help you should you find yourself with a dead battery, but in case someone else needs a jump, you’ll be ready to help. Before you worry, it’s not as hard as you’d think. Positive, or the red handle, to positive (the +), negative, the black, to ground (metal). After the cables are hooked up, have the other driver start their car, wait a moment for your car to get a strong jolt then try your ignition again and you’ll be on your way.
(TIP: After you get a jump, avoid using non-essential systems like the A/C or radio and let your car run for at least 20 minutes or more to get a good recharge).
If the light turns on while driving:
Turn off all non-essential systems (radio, A/C, etc.) to alleviate strain on the battery. Do not turn off your car, as it may not restart. Your best option is to take it to a repair shop, but if you are mechanically inclined, you should check the connections on your battery, ensuring they are clean and tight, and check the alternator belt, ensuring it is not cracked or loose.
4. Anti-Lock Brake Alert
This light can come on if there is a problem with your braking system (anti-locking or normal) or if the brake fluid level is low. In most cases, if there are no other brake warnings on, this only affects your anti-lock or anti-skid brakes and the vehicle can be driven to a repair shop, but it is important to remember that your vehicle could skid out of control in the case of a quick stop (especially if the road is wet).
If other brake warnings are on as well:
It could be unsafe to drive your vehicle, as the basic brake system could have a serious hydraulic or pressure loss issue and should be towed to a repair shop to be inspected.
5. Brake System
This warning (when red) means there is a problem with the hydraulic system, although it can also mean your brake fluid is low. If it stays illuminated, it is likely the hydraulic system and should not be driven, if it turns on and off as you drive, it is likely the brake fluid level is low. Regardless of the cause, the vehicle’s braking system should be thoroughly inspected to determine a cause for loss of fluid and repair the hydraulic problem.
6. Traction Control
If you have a car that is newer than 2012 or an older car with an ABS system, you likely have traction control. When this light is on, it is warning you that the system is not on. This type of problem typically requires a scanning tool to pinpoint the issue.
7. Oil Pressure Warning
This light comes on to inform you that your engine is running low on oil or that there is a problem with your oil pressure system.
The oil in your engine serves two main purposes:
1. To lubricate the parts of your engine and keep them from grinding.
2. To disperse heat created by the engine and keep parts from melting.
When you are low on oil, your engine cannot perform efficiently and can be damaged in the process. You could check your oil level, but it is a good idea to get your engine checked to ensure the oil pressure is correct, there are no leaks in any gaskets, or that the engine is not burning oil internally.
8. Check Engine
We’ve saved the best (or worst) for last, the infamous check engine light. It can come on for a number of reasons and gives drivers very little clue on where to look first. Many people ignore this until their car kicks the bucket on them completely, often causing more damage than necessary. So here’s where to check first if you notice this light is on:
1. O2 Sensor
This sensor measures the amount of unburned oxygen in the exhaust system. Not only will a faulty O2 sensor cause your car to burn more fuel, but it can also cause damage to spark plugs and your catalytic converter.
2. Gas Cap
The issue could be as simple as tightening your gas cap (if your car has one).
3. Catalytic Converter
No this isn’t from a Sci-Fi movie, the catalytic converter converts deadly carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide, protecting the environment. Not only that, but with a bad catalytic converter, your car won’t pass for emissions, will run at a higher temperature (risking overheating), and will have reduced performance and fuel economy.
4. Mass Airflow Sensor
The MAF sensor measures the amount of air entering the engine in order to determine the amount of fuel needed to run efficiently. Ignoring replacing the MAF sensor will cause damage to the spark plugs, catalytic converter, and O2 sensor, as well as reduce fuel economy.
5. Spark Plugs or Plug Wires
The spark plugs ignite the fuel and air mixture in the combustion chamber and the wires deliver the spark from the ignition coil to the plugs. Not replacing these can cause poor performance, reduced fuel economy, and can damage the ignition coils, O2 sensors, and catalytic converter.
With this information, you’ll be prepared in any situation. Remember that routine upkeep and maintenance is the way to prevent any issues with your vehicle, but should a problem arise, it is best to replace the necessary parts ASAP to prevent further damage and strain on other parts. Always check your user manual for specific symbols and warnings unique to your vehicle.
For information on protecting your car from harm, call 724-929-2300 to speak with our auto insurance experts about your policy or request a free quote today.