What are the different car dashboard symbols and their meaning?
The dashboard is an essential part of the cabin. It relays crucial information to the driver such as the vehicle’s speed, RPM (Revolutions Per Minute), gear position, fuel level, total distance covered, engine temperature, etc. Apart from these parameters, the dashboard displays several other symbols that light up to indicate a particular function or warn the driver of any malfunction.
Some symbols may be familiar as you see them daily, and some warning signs may be advanced, and you rarely or do not see them at all. Understanding car dashboard signs is crucial to identify any malfunctions in the car. With adequate knowledge of car dashboard lights, you can avert potential fatal damage to your car or an accident in case of a failing component.
The following sections explain various signs and warning symbols displayed on a car’s dashboard.
Car warning lights
Here are the common car warning lights that may appear on your vehicle’s dashboard.
1. Battery charge warning light
If you see a battery symbol (with + and - signs) on your dashboard, it means there's a problem with the battery charging.
A faulty alternator belt, loose battery cables or corroded battery terminals may trigger this warning symbol.
Excessive load on the battery (too many accessories) can also lead to a battery alert sign appearing on the dashboard.
Get your battery checked as soon as you get this car warning light.
Also, read: How to Charge a Car Battery from Another Car?
2. Hand brake warning light
When you engage the handbrake, you can see an icon (a circle with an exclamation mark or letter P) on the dashboard.
If the light stays on even after releasing the handbrake, the system has some issues.
It indicates a loss of hydraulic pressure or a low fluid level in the master cylinder.
Visit a service centre if the handbrake warning light glows in your car’s dashboard.
3. Windshield washer fluid light
The washer fluid light glows if the washer fluid is low.
If the light stays lit even after refilling the fluid, the sensor may have some issues.
Always fill the wiper washer fluid as it may come in handy to clean the windshield.
In case of a faulty sensor, get it checked at the service centre.
4. Low fuel indicator light
If your car is low on fuel, you can see an icon resembling a fuel pump with a hose.
It glows if the system detects there is insufficient fuel.
If you see a low fuel warning light refuel immediately.
Engine warning symbols
Below are the engine warning lights that may appear if there’s an issue with your car’s engine.
1. Engine temperature warning symbol
If the engine is running too hot or overheating, you will see an engine temperature warning light on your dashboard.
A faulty cooling system, low coolant level, low oil level, a faulty thermostat, leakage of coolant, etc., can trigger this warning sign.
If the temperature warning sign glows, you should immediately stop the vehicle and shut down the engine.
If possible, you can open the bonnet and check the problem only after the engine cools down. However, it would be better to take the help of an expert mechanic to identify and rectify the issue.
2. Engine oil pressure warning symbol
An oil can sign may appear on the dashboard if there’s an issue with engine oil circulation.
The warning sign appears in case of low oil level, a faulty oil pump, higher consumption of oil, a clogged oil filter or a faulty sensor.
If the warning sign glows, the first thing you need to do is check the oil level and top up if necessary.
If there’s an issue with the oil pump or oil filter, take the help of a mechanic to solve the problem.
Also, read: How to check engine oil level in a car? A 6-step guide
3. Check engine warning symbol
A small engine icon may appear on the dashboard if there’s an issue with the engine management system.
It could be triggered due to a problem with the vehicle’s emission system or an incorrectly fitted air flow sensor.
Sometimes, a loose fuel cap can also trigger the warning sign as there may be air in the fuel system.
It’s better to drive down to the service centre to check the reason behind the engine warning light.
4. Engine service symbol
The exact reason why the engine service light may pop up can vary from one car to another.
In some vehicles, it may mean a minor issue with the engine.
In some car models, it may also mean that it’s time to service the car.
Take your vehicle to the service centre for a general service if this light appears.
Brake warning light symbols
Here are the brake warning signs in a car’s dashboard.
1. Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) light
The anti-lock braking system light comes on when you switch on the ignition. However, the light will disappear once the car is moving.
If the light stays on, then the ABS may not be working.
A faulty ABS can lead to a lockup of wheels when you apply the brakes in an emergency.
The ABS failure can be due to any defective component or sensor in the system.
Since ABS is a safety feature, it is not safe to drive a vehicle with a faulty system.
Get the brakes checked if the warning sign comes on.
2. Low brake fluid warning light
This warning sign appears on the dashboard if the brake fluid is low.
A low fluid level may lead to the failure of brakes.
One should immediately top up the fluid when the symbol comes up.
It may be dangerous to drive with low brake fluid. Hence, never neglect this warning sign.
Also, read: How to handle and prevent car brake failure
3. Brake pad warning light
Brake pad warning light means worn brake pads, and it’s time to replace them.
Worn brake pads can deteriorate the braking performance, and it could be dangerous during emergency braking.
When the warning sign comes on, immediately replace the brake pads.
All safety symbols
Below are some of the common car dashboard safety signs.
1. Seatbelt reminder warning symbol
Seatbelts are one of the vital safety features of a vehicle.
If the driver or passenger does not buckle up the seatbelts while the car is moving, the seatbelt reminder warning appears on the dashboard.
In some cars, along with the warning light, the system will play a warning sound to alert the occupants.
You can fasten the seatbelts to negate this warning sign.
2. Airbag warning symbol
An airbag is crucial safety equipment that can save your life in case of an accident.
The airbag warning light means that the airbag system is not working correctly.
It may be due to incorrect fitment of the airbag or an issue with the computer management system.
One must avoid driving the car with an airbag warning indicator as the airbags may not activate in case of a collision.
Visit the service centre to diagnose the issue if the warning sign comes on.
3. Tyre pressure warning symbol
Cars with TPMS (Tyre Pressure Monitoring System) may display a TPMS warning sign on the dashboard if the tyre pressure is low.
Some vehicles even display the tyre pressure of each tyre.
The warning may also trigger due to a fault in the system.
Inflate the tyres if you see a TPMS sign.
4. Automatic shift lock symbol
As the name indicates, it is a warning symbol specific to automatic cars.
If you do not press the brake pedal while starting or shifting from Neutral to Drive, this warning sign glows on the dashboard.
If you see such a symbol, you need to press the brake pedal and then shift to Drive or start the vehicle.
If the warning light stays on, you may have to visit the service centre.
5. Door open warning symbol
This warning sign comes on if one or more doors are open.
In some cars, the warning sign also indicates which door is open.
If the doors are not shut properly, this warning sign may appear.
To stop the symbol, open the doors and close them properly.
6. Electric parking brake warning symbol
Some high-end cars have electric parking brakes.
The warning sign will trigger if there’s an issue with the electric parking brake.
When the warning light pops up on the dashboard, one should immediately diagnose the problem.
7. Bonnet open symbol
The symbol indicates that the car's bonnet is not closed correctly.
The light may appear if there's an issue with the bonnet's locking mechanism.
8. Power steering warning symbol
This symbol illuminates if there's an issue with the car's power steering system.
Never ignore this warning light, as faulty power steering can impact your ability to handle the vehicle.
9. Steering wheel lock symbol
This symbol indicates that the steering wheel is locked.
You can unlock the steering wheel by inserting the key and turning it to the first position.
You can also try turning the steering wheel simultaneously to unlock it.
10. Automatic gearbox warning symbol
The warning sign illuminates if there’s an issue with the automatic transmission.
It’s better not to drive the vehicle when this symbol comes up.
Stability and traction control symbols
Here are a few car dashboard signs related to stability and traction control.
1. Traction control symbol
A car with a Traction Control System (TCS) will display this symbol.
When the system is on, you can see an icon of a vehicle with sliding marks.
Generally, TCS will be on by default for safety reasons.
You need not worry if this sign appears on the dashboard.
2. Traction control off symbol
The symbol appears when the TCS system is off.
You can also treat it as a warning sign as it is not safe to drive without traction control.
You can activate the TCS to eliminate this warning sign.
3. Traction control malfunction symbol
As the name indicates, this warning sign lights up if there’s an issue with your car’s Traction Control System.
The warning light may trigger due to a component failure or fault with the sensors.
In some vehicles, the TCS malfunction sign may appear if there are problems with the ABS.
TCS is a crucial safety technology, and one should not ignore this symbol.
4. All-wheel/four-wheel drive symbol
The AWD or 4WD symbol turns on if there's a malfunction in the vehicle's drivetrain.
In some vehicles, the indicator means that the AWD or 4WD system is activated.
Also, read: AWD vs 4WD: What is all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive?
Electric/Hybrid vehicle symbols
Here are some common dashboard signs in a hybrid or electric car.
1. Battery charge level warning light
This warning light appears if the battery is low on charge.
In a hybrid car, the vehicle can run only on the internal combustion engine until the battery gains enough charge.
Whereas in an electric vehicle, it indicates that its battery needs a top-up.
2. Battery temperature warning light
It is a similar warning as the engine temperature warning light.
When the battery heats up, the warning light appears on the dashboard.
Stop the vehicle immediately and let the battery cool.
3. Eco mode light
When this symbol illuminates, it means that the vehicle is operating in a mode to get the most mileage out of the battery.
In Eco mode, the EV may have reduced performance.
The acceleration is also reduced for better efficiency.
4. EV mode light
This dashboard symbol is specific to hybrid cars.
It indicates that the vehicle is running on electric power.
Some hybrid cars can run on EV mode at slow speeds.
5. Low battery indicator light
This warning light is specific to electric cars, and it is similar to low fuel warning.
When a low battery warning lights up, you should immediately charge the EV.
6. Regenerative braking system light
It is a symbol that lights up when the electric car’s regenerative braking system is active.
The sign means that the battery is getting charged via regenerative braking.
If the system malfunctions, you may also see a regenerative braking warning sign on the dashboard.
Advanced feature symbols
High-end cars come with advanced creature comfort and safety features. The car’s dashboard will also indicate such features through specific symbols listed below.
1. Cabin air circulation light
It indicates that the ventilation system is circulating air within the cabin.
This feature is useful when the outside temperature is too low.
2. Cruise control light
This symbol lights up when the cruise control system is on.
The sign goes off as soon as you tap on the brakes or deactivate cruise control.
Also, read: What is cruise control in a car? Meaning and how does it work?
3. Adaptive cruise control light
It indicates that the Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) system is activated.
ACC automatically controls the vehicle's speed as per the traffic on the road.
4. Lane departure warning light
The warning light comes up if the vehicle changes lanes or moves out of its current lane without indicating the surrounding traffic.
The system also detects any other vehicles in the lane which the car is approaching.
5. Lane assist light
When this light is on, the lane assist system is active.
It can detect the lane/road marking to assist the driver in driving on the same lane.
6. Collision warning light
The warning sign appears when the vehicle is too close to another car, obstacle or pedestrians.
Some vehicles have forward, side and rear collision sensors.
7. Speed limiter light
It is a symbol that illuminates when the speed limiter function is active.
The driver can set a speed limit to refrain from driving above a particular speed.
8. Hill descent light
This symbol lights up when the hill descent control system is activated.
The system helps you maintain a specific speed while driving down the hill.
Diesel-powered vehicle symbols
Here are some of the common dashboard symbols of a diesel engine-powered car.
1. Glow plug symbol: It indicates the warm-up of glow plugs, and you should not start the engine until it goes out. If the symbol flashes, the glow plug is not functioning correctly.
2. Fuel filter warning symbol: It means that the fuel filter needs to be emptied to ensure the smooth functioning of the engine.
3. Exhaust fluid symbol: The symbol indicates that the exhaust fluid reservoir is low on fluid.
4. AdBlue tank empty symbol: It indicates that you need to top up the AdBlue tank.
5. AdBlue malfunction symbol: If this sign comes on, it means the AdBlue system is not functioning correctly, or the system is not filled with proper liquid.
Below are the few common dashboard symbols you see while driving your car.
1. Hazard light symbol: It illuminates when you switch on the hazard lights.
2. Indicator/turn signal light symbol: The car indicator symbol comes on when you activate the turn signal indicator light.
3. High beam light symbol: The symbol comes on when you activate the vehicle’s high beam lights or use the pass/flash function.
4. Low beam light symbol: It turns on when you switch on the low beam lights.
5. Fog lights symbol: When this symbol is illuminated, your car’s fog lights are on.
6. Parking lights symbol: You can see this symbol on the dashboard when your car’s parking lights are switched on.
7. Windshield defrost symbol: It indicates that the car’s windshield defrost function is in operation.
Why should you never ignore car dashboard warning lights?
Here are the reasons why you should not ignore the car warning signs.
If you observe the car warning signs, you can identify the issues with the car's components. The earlier you determine the problem, the lesser the damage.
The car warning signs can help identify any issues with the engine. If you ignore those warnings, it can lead to catastrophic engine failure.
The warning symbols also help you identify issues with several crucial components of your car. Components such as brakes, steering, transmission can be expensive to repair if you ignore those warning signs.
Ignoring some dashboard signs can hamper your safety. For example, if you ignore the airbag warning sign, it can be fatal in case of a collision.
Also, read: How to Use Defogger in Car?
Frequently asked questions
Here are some of the common queries related to car dashboard symbols and meanings.
How can I reset the dashboard warning lights?
It depends on the type of warning light. Generally, the warning signs reset themselves once the issue is resolved. The service centre can reset some warning signs by resetting the vehicle's ECU.
Can I drive my car with a check engine warning light?
Yes, you can drive your car, but only for a short distance, ideally to the service centre. Since the exact issue is unknown, you should refrain from driving long distances when the check engine light comes on.
What does the car sliding icon mean?
The car sliding icon means that the Traction Control System is on. It helps you maintain the car's stability in tricky driving conditions.
Why does the ABS symbol illuminate when I switch on the ignition?
Generally, the anti-lock braking system light turns on when you switch on the ignition. But it should disappear once you are moving.
What to do if the engine temperature warning sign pops up on my car's dashboard?
If you get an engine temperature warning, you should immediately stop the vehicle and shut down the engine. It will prevent any further damage to the engine. Wait till the engine cools down before opening the bonnet. Get help from an expert mechanic to figure out the issue.
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Green: the system is working correctly or is currently in use. Yellow: something is not working correctly - take extra care and check it out as soon as possible. Red: there is a serious, and potentially dangerous problem - stop driving as soon as it is safe to do so.What do different signs on car dashboard mean? ›
Green: the system is working correctly or is currently in use. Yellow: something is not working correctly - take extra care and check it out as soon as possible. Red: there is a serious, and potentially dangerous problem - stop driving as soon as it is safe to do so.What is the most serious warning light in a car? ›
Check Engine light
An experienced mechanic will tell you that this warning light usually means something serious has gone wrong in your car's engine or transmission.
- Red warning lights mean you should stop the car as soon as it's safe.
- Yellow warning lights mean that action is required.
- Green warning lights are for information only.
Notice a visible light flashing a thermometer and gearbox symbol on your dashboard? Or a gearbox with an exclamation mark? That's your transmission warning light, and you should pay attention. A lit transmission light can be a reflection of car troubles like bad transmission, gearbox issues, or a low fluid level.What does the engine warning light look like? ›
If the check engine light illuminates, it will either blink or remain constantly illuminated, depending on the problem. A blinking light, or in some cars a red light instead of a yellow or orange light, indicates a problem that needs immediate attention. Either way, you should have the vehicle checked by a mechanic.What are the hazard signals on a car? ›
Hazard warning lights are a pair of intermittent flashing indicator lights that flash in unison to warn other drivers that the vehicle is a temporary obstruction. They are also called hazard flashers and hazard lights.What is the orange exclamation light? ›
You might notice the orange exclamation mark on your dashboard. It's a common symbol often surrounded by a tire or flat tire icon. If you see this symbol, pay attention. It's typically an alert that one of your tires has dropped below 75% of its recommended pressure. It's an easy fix: You need to inflate the tire.What are all the gauges on a dashboard? ›
The most common gauges that you can notice are speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, oil pressure gauge, and temperature gauge.What are the 2 main types of dashboard warning lights? ›
There are two main types of dashboard warning lights: red and orange. A red warning light generally indicates a serious issue with your car. You should act quickly if your dashboard warning light is red – it could be an overheating engine, low engine oil pressure or a braking system problem.
Red dashboard lights are serious warning lights. You should stop immediately, or risk damage to the car (or worse, yourself). If you are out driving when you see a red warning light, pull over and deal with the problem.What is the symbol for traction control? ›
It can look different, depending on your vehicle model, but it usually has the letters “TC” or an image that looks like a car with lines bending away from the tires.What does (!) Mean in a car? ›
In the event that you see an exclamation mark with a circle around it in your dash, that means something is wrong with your brakes. There may be a problem with brake components or the hydraulic fluid may need a top-off. Stop the car and call a tow truck as soon as you safely can.What do yellow symbols mean on car dashboard? ›
Yellow or Orange Lights on Dashboard
If you see orange or yellow dashboard lights it is reminding you that something needs to be serviced soon, like an oil change, or that something is wrong with your emissions system. While not an emergency, you should have a car mechanic look at the problem as soon as possible.
A small, yellow engine-shaped light indicates that the car's electronic system has detected a problem that needs to be checked. This warning light is known as the Malfunction Indicator Light (MIL).Is an orange check engine light serious? ›
Depending on your car's make and model, a solid yellow or orange light may indicate lower severity. However, it's still a sign that you should make an appointment to diagnose and fix the problem. A flashing check engine light means you should take in your car ASAP.What to do if coolant light comes on? ›
If the light is red, you should pull over as soon as it is safe to do so and switch off the engine. If the coolant level is low or there is another problem with your cooling system, you could cause serious damage by continuing to drive. Then you can do some basic checks yourself or call for help.