But a large portion of car owners can't decipher what exactly their car is trying to tell them. According to a recent survey from Schrader International, a whopping 43 percent of people are unable to recognize the low tire pressure warning light, which is a serious safety alert.
We've compiled a list of the five most important warning lights that can go off in your car. Understanding them on your instrument cluster will help you take the take the proper steps to remedy common issues before they result in expensive damage to your car.
Stan Markuze is the founder of PartMyRide.com, the online marketplace for original used auto parts.
Low Tire Pressure WarningMany modern vehicles constantly monitor the pressure of each tire, and inform you when there is a pressure drop due to a puncture. When the low tire pressure light turns on, you should pull over to visually inspect your tires.
While it’s fairly straightforward to visually identify a normal tire that has gone flat, it’s much harder to do so with a run-flat tire. If you see that a normal tire has gone flat, you should mount a spare or call roadside assistance. If you have run-flats, you should drive to the closes tire shop to get the tire patched or replaced. Driving a long distance on a punctured run-flat can be dangerous, so don’t risk it.
Even if the tire isn't completely flat, low tire pressure can be a serious safety issue, as it impairs your ability to steer the car. It also negatively impacts fuel economy.
The low tire pressure light looks like an exclamation point in the middle of a horseshoe.
Low Battery WarningDepending on how much you drive and the weather where you live, your battery will last 4 or 5 years on average. When the low battery warning light turns on, it’s a good idea to change the battery within a few days to avoid getting stranded somewhere because the car won’t start. If you buy a new battery before the old one dies completely, you can purchase an inexpensive replacement at your local warehouse store and do the swap yourself. Otherwise, you could be forced to pay double the money for a battery off a road service truck.
The low battery light looks like, well, a car battery.
Brake Fluid WarningYour brakes the the most important safety device on your car, and you should take the brake fluid warning light very seriously. This light can indicate a brake fluid leak, or another problem in your brake system.
If the problem is serious, you may experience diminished stopping power, which can have serious consequences. When this light turns on, get a brake system inspection as soon as possible. Brake failure can have life-threatening consequences for you and your loved ones.
The low brake fluid warning light looks like an exclamation point in the middle of a circle, which is enclosed in parentheses.
Oil Pressure WarningWhile coolant is necessary to regulate the temperature of your engine, oil is necessary to keep the internal components running smoothly. The engine is the most valuable single part of your car, so it’s important to make sure it’s properly cooled and lubricated.
When your oil pressure light comes on, it can indicate that you have an oil leak or that your engine is burning oil. In either case, it’s important to get your oil level back to normal. You can do this by purchasing the correct type of oil for your car (as indicated in the owner’s manual) and using the dipstick to top it off. Be careful not to overfill the engine – too much oil can also cause damage. To figure out the root cause of the low oil level, you should take your car to a mechanic for inspection.
The oil pressure light looks like the genie's lamp from Aladdin. Or, for the more mechanically inclined, an oil can.
Temperature WarningWhen your temperature warning light turns on, your car probably has a coolant leak, bad water pump or faulty thermostat. Driving a car with cooling problems can cause the engine to overheat, which can destroy the gaskets within the engine or even cause the delicate metal components to warp. An overheated engine can cost thousands of dollars to be rebuilt or replaced. Unless that’s a risk you want to take, take your car to a mechanic as soon as the temperature warning light comes on.
The temperature warning light looks like a thermometer floating on water.