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The Truth about Warning Lamps

Abhishek Saksena, 01-May-2011

Tips 1-5

The Truth about Warning Lamps

AUTO BILD INDIA explains what the confusing warning icons in your car mean

The instrument panel on most cars is absolutely cluttered with warning indicator lights and buzzers. These lights are colour coded so that different colours indicate the severity of the potential problem. A red light indicates an immediate danger. Pull over, turn off the car immediately and assess the problem. A yellow light, (usually a 'Service engine soon' light) indicates "Proceed with caution. As you start the car, all of the lights should come on, and as the computer verifi es each component is working properly, the light should switch off. You should only be concerned with lights that remain on for several minutes after the car has been started.

1. Seatbelt


This little icon must be the most recognisable warning lamp. It means somebody forgot to buckle up. Seatbelts save lives so always use them, even on short trips. Driving without being bucked up may result in a ticket and a fi ne for a safety violation.


2. Airbag


A warning light that looks like this or says SRS (supplemental restraint system) should never come on unless there is a fault in your vehicle's airbag system. The airbag control module runs a self-check every time the vehicle is driven. If it finds a fault in a crash sensor, one of the airbag modules, the wiring or itself, it will set a code, turn on the warning light and disable itself. You can drive the vehicle but the air bag(s) will not deploy should you be involved in an accident. You should have the problem checked and repaired by a mechanic.


3. Oil level

Oil level

If this light stays on after starting the car, stop, switch off the engine and check the engine oil level. Top up straight away if the level is low. If the warning lamp illuminates, even though the oil level is correct, do not start the engine and seek assistance.


4. Washer fluid

Washer fluid

This lamp comes up when the washer fluid level falls. If possible use a washer fluid instead of plain water. These cleaning fluids leave the windscreen clean and also prevent the settling of dust and grime. Keep the fluid topped as driving with a dirty windscreen can be dangerous since it reduces visibility.


5. Steering


Most cars nowadays come equipped with a power steering option, except maybe for the cheapest ones. The power steering reduces driving effort by providing additional boost to move the wheels. In an electronic power steering there are no hydraulic components. It works only when the engine is running. The lamp stays on if there is a trouble with a system, like reduced assistance or a complete failure. It will take a lot more effort to steer the car if the system has failed and getting it fixed soon should be a priority.


Tips 6-10

6. Low fuel

Low fuel

The fuel warning lamp comes up when the fuel level drops down to the reserve level. Cars come with a fuel gauge and the warning lamp only supplements the gauge. Most vehicle will go a fair distance even in reserve, but it is advisable to get the car tanked up at the earliest to avoid running out of fuel with no pump in sight.


7. Cruise control

Cruise control

This lamp glows when cruise control is being employed. It allows the car to maintain a constant speed without the need to keep the right foot on the accelerator. The cruise control can be used to increase or decrease the speed with a touch of the lever. The system switches off when the brake or accelerator is pressed.


8. Fog lamps

Fog lamps

Fog lamps are meant to light up the road edges in poor visibility conditions. Most cars come equipped with fog lamps these days. When visibility drops the road irregularities aren’t visible. Fog lamps light up the road and have minimum upward spread. Switch them on if visibility drops. Remember they are not to be used for primary illumination.


9. Low tyre pressure

Low tyre pressure

Low tyre pressure Warning light comes on if your vehicle's tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS) detects a tyre that is more than 25 per cent underinfl ated. Driving on a low tyre can be dangerous because it increases the risk of a tyre blowout. A low tyre can also cause your vehicle to brake unevenly, pull to one side, handle poorly and give reduced fuel economy. If the TPMS is on, check the air pressure in your tyres as soon as possible, and infl ate them to the recommended pressure.


10. ESP


The ESP light comes on and then goes off within a couple of seconds of starting. It will also come on if the ESP is switched off by pressing and holding the ESP button (possible in some cars only). If the system is active it will come on for a few seconds only when it is actually working.


Tips 11-17

11. Engine warning

The lamp should go off within a couple of seconds of ignition being turned on or stay on till the time of the engine being started. If you are driving and you notice that it starts flashing or blinking, you need to slow down right away. If it remains a steady light, drive slowly to the nearest service station and get your vehicle checked. If the indicator light turns red, turn off the engine and pull over. You may need to get the vehicle towed. In any case if the engine warning lamp comes on then we recommend you take the car to the workshop and get it checked.

12. Service reminder

Modern cars are getting smarter by the day. This warning came up on our long term Passat when the time came to get it serviced. A handy feature considering the hectic lifestyle we lead today, most owners tend to forget to get their cars serviced in time. The car will remind you it’s time for you to get her the attention she deserves to stay in shape. Refer to your vehicle owner's manual for the service intervals.

13. Door ajar

You’ll see a small drawing of the vehicle with doors open. If this is on, check all four doors and the boot of the car. In some vehicles, you’ll hear a beeping sound until you close all doors.

14. Hazards

In case of an emergency, or when parked to the side of a busy road, switch on the hazard lights on your car. They warn the other drivers on the road coming in your direction about your presence and perform the job of keeping you safe.

15. Glow plug

In a diesel engine, if the engine management system develops a problem, the glow plug warning lamp comes up. Take the car to an authorised workshop and get it inspected. Running the car with the lamp on means that the engine is not being run properly as the management system is not working up to the mark. The light also comes up when the ignition is turned on and that signifi es that the glow plugs are warming up prior to start up.

16. Press brake auto

For a car equipped with an automatic transmission, the brake pedal must be pressed to put the transmission in D mode. This is a safety feature as it prevents accidental engagement of the gearbox with the engine running. The lamp glows to warn the driver to depress the brake pedal if he wishes to engage the gearbox.

17. Battery charge

Your battery is not being charged as there is a fault with your charging system. This may be due to slack battery or starter terminals, a broken or loose alternator drive belt or an alternator failure. If the drive belt is broken, it must be replaced before you restart the engine. The coolant system may rely on this belt and its failure could cause the engine to overheat.



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