What's that light on my dashboard?

YAY! You're a new car owner. You signed the papers, paid the insurance, collected the ride, and drove all the way home yourself, without scratching it. One thing the auto dealer will tell you is to read your manual, but how many of us have time for that? Most times we only grab the book when a light comes on the dash and we wonder 'What the heck?'

Not to worry, general automotive mechanic Sean Robertson says figuring out that light or those lights isn't hard, and you shouldn't have to worry, especially if you have been following your servicing schedule.

Here are some of the lights that might appear, the meaning for which you may not be waare of.

Boat sitting in water

This sign looks like a boat sitting in water, and may come on as soon as you start the car and stay on for a few minutes. It's the engine temperature warning. A blue light indicates a low temperature, and a red light indicates a high temperature.

Check engine

Your car will either say this in words, or the display will look like a small orange or yellow submarine, or a literal car engine. This will come on when you start the car, and should go off. If it stays on it means that there is a small or large problem, and it's best to get your car to the mechanic shop. This can mean anything — from bad gas to a bad oxygen sensor, loose gas cap, bad spark plugs, or bad coil pack.


When lit, if your car has this feature (ECO, ECON or just a green leaf) it means that your car is in fuel-saving mode, and is maximising efficiency and not performance. Reminder: If you're going to revert to driving hard you'll not benefit much from the eco mode.


This is another light that will come on at start-up, but should go off. ABS means anti-lock braking, and if it stays on it means that there's an issue with your brake system and you therefore need to see a mechanic.

Car skidding

This light is represented by a car skidding, and represents the vehicle stability assist (VSA) indicator, or the traction control. In some cars it will activate automatically once your VSA or traction control system is activated, in the event of a slippery road surface, or where there's loose gravel. It means that you should slow down, so you're better able to control the car.

Oil can or genie lamp

This also illuminates at start-up, and is your "low oil" pressure indicator. If it stays on it means your car is losing oil pressure, and you may have an oil leak.

Air flow indicator

These indicator buttons have arrows, the curved arrow meaning that air in the cabin is what's being recirculated, and the other, with an arrow passing through the front of the car (or fresh air mode) meaning that air is coming in from the outside. If you switch the air recirculation button on, then your air conditioner will be circulating the cool air inside, making you save on gas. If it's off, then the car will be constantly cooling warm air from outside your vehicle, and you're more likely also to get a whiff of outside smells like smoke.

Battery sign

This is the charging system indicator and will also come on with start-up. If it stays on there is an issue with your car's electrical system — anything from your alternator to your actual battery. It can also mean that the car's charging system is running on low power and that your vehicle is running largely on battery power, and that you're soon to have a dead battery or a car that won't start.


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