August 20, 2014
Common Dashboard Warning Lights and Symbols Deciphered
It’s happened to everyone: you’re driving down the road or starting your car, and a warning light comes on. Unfortunately it’s a symbol you’ve never seen before. Should you pull over? Drive to the service station? Or just leave it alone? To help you stay safe and take care of your car, our Oklahoma City buy here pay here dealership has put together some explanations for common warning lights and symbols you might see while driving.
1. The “Check Engine” Light
The most common of warning lights, the Check Engine light is also one of the most ambiguous. It gives you very little information about what could actually be wrong with your car. Most drivers dread seeing a Check Engine light pop up in their instrument cluster, but generally the problems it indicates aren’t too serious.
To solve the mystery behind a Check Engine light, you’ll have to do one of two things. The first option is to take your car to a service center and have them diagnose the problem. Usually this service costs $50 to $75 dollars, but if the problem is minor they can often fix it right away.
The other option is to buy an automotive code reader and try to diagnose the problem yourself. Code readers are available from most auto parts stores and some big-box retailers like Wal-Mart. An inexpensive code reader can cost as little as $30, while more full-featured ones that interpret the codes for you can cost upwards of $100. These readers connect to a special diagnostic port that is usually under the steering column.
Check engine lights have many causes, but the most common usually relate to the car’s fuel system or emissions sensors. A check engine light can be caused by a faulty oxygen sensor, a loose gas cap, or a failing catalytic converter. Some of these problems are simple to fix yourself, while others require an experienced mechanic to do the work. In any case you’ll need to know the code before making any decisions, so either head to the shop or read the code yourself. One thing is sure: don’t ignore the light. If your car’s engine, fuel system, or exhaust has a problem, you might make it much worse by ignoring it.
One more note: if your check engine light is flashing, it indicates a more serious problem such as a misfiring engine. If you continue to drive under these conditions you could do serious damage to your engine. In other words, if you see a flashing check engine light you should pull over and turn your car off, then call a tow truck to bring you to our OKC buy here pay here dealership’s service center.
2. The Brake System Light
Usually represented as small circle with lines on either side and an exclamation point in the middle, the brake system warning light comes on under two very different circumstances: when your emergency brake is on, and when your car detects low pressure or other problems in your brake lines. The first problem is easy to solve, but the second could be a major danger.
Most of the time, the brake system light is pointing to your emergency brake. IT’s an easy mistake to make, and nearly anyone who’s set the e-brake (especially in an unfamiliar car) has tried to drive off with it still locked. Simply release the brake and the light should go away.
If you see the brake system light while your emergency brake is off, though, it could be a more serious problem. Most of the time it indicates low pressure in the brake lines, which could be caused by a leak in the lines or a lack of brake fluid. Adding brake fluid isn’t too difficult, but if your car has a brake leak you’ll need to get it serviced by a professional. An easy way to tell if your system is leaking is to look for a puddle under your car. Brake fluid is usually amber or gold in color. If your fluid level is very low you might have to add more before driving to our service center at our Oklahoma City used car dealership.
3. The Temperature Light
Car engines run hot – anyone who has put their hand on the hood of a recently-driven car knows that. But if your engine is running hotter than normal, you might see the temperature light come on. This light indicates that your engine is in danger of overheating, a potentially serious problem. In addition, your car probably also has a temperature gauge that gives you a general idea of how hot or cold your engine is. If you see the gauge rising higher than usual, it could be a problem.
You might notice that your engine is running too hot before the warning light comes on. In this case, the best thing to do is to check your engine coolant level. The engine coolant reservoir is usually located near the radiator, and filling it is as simple as pouring more fluid into the top.
In cases where the light comes on and stays on while you’re driving, the best thing you can do is release as much heat as possible from the engine. Turn the heater and fan on their highest setting, and turn any other devices – A/C, radio, running lights, etc. – off to relieve stress on the engine. Then pull over and call for a tow truck. Don’t continue to drive: an overheating engine is in serious danger, and could severely damage itself or even explode if pushed too far.
4. The Oil Pressure Light
Along with the temperature light, the oil pressure light is one of the most serious in your car. If your oil pressure warning light comes on while you are driving, it could indicate a major system failure in your engine.
If your oil pressure light comes on and stays on right after you start your car, the best thing to do is turn it off again and check the oil level. This is an easy process that your car’s owner’s manual can walk you through. In some cases, the light will turn back off once there is enough oil in the system.
On the other hand, if the light doesn’t turn off, or if it comes on while you’re driving, you should pull over immediately and turn off the engine. It’s important that you don’t continue to drive when the oil warning light comes on – an engine running without proper oil pressure can be irreparably damaged in just seconds.
In these cases, it’s best to have the car towed to a qualified repair or service center, such as the one at The KEY’s buy here pay here car dealership. Don’t try to turn the car back on, and make sure the technician knows that the oil pressure warning light was on so he or she can take the proper precautions when diagnosing the problem.
5. The Tire Pressure Light
This is one of the more mysterious lights on the dashboard. A small circle with a flat bottom, this warning light tells you that one of your tires may be underinflated. Unfortunately it doesn’t tell you which tire it is, so the only way to solve this problem is to get out and take a look at your tires, or get to an air pump and test the pressure.
On most cars the correct tire pressures are listed on a sticker on the frame of the driver’s door, and they’re almost always in the owner’s manual as well. Filling your tires the correct pressure is a simple matter, and it’s also important to take care of. Driving on underinflated tires can cause increased tire wear, loss of traction, and poor gas mileage.
6. The Battery Warning Light
A fault in your car’s electrical system is every bit as serious as a problem in the engine or brakes. Cars today are heavily computerized, and also rely on the battery to start the engine. An electrical problem or a bad battery could leave you stranded or spell big problems.
Most of the time, the battery warning light comes on when your car’s alternator isn’t providing enough voltage to charge the battery. The alternator keeps your car’s battery charged while the car is running, so this could be a serious problem if you ignore it. If you wait until your battery goes dead, nothing in your car will work and you’ll have to have it towed to the garage.
A battery light can also indicate a loose connection between the cables and the battery terminals, or even just an old battery that doesn’t hold charge well. Unless you’re skilled with a voltmeter, though, you probably won’t be able to tell what the exact problem is without professional help. You’ll need to bring your car to our OKC buy here pay here service center and have the technicians diagnose the problem.
7: The Service Light
One more common light is the service indicator. Unlike the other lights explained in this blog, though, the service engine light doesn’t actually indicate any problem itself. Rather, this is simply a reminder to get your engine regularly serviced by a qualified technician.
If you haven’t had your oil changed in a while or went past one of your regular service milestones, this light might pop up on your dashboard. Once you take your car in for an oil change or regular scheduled service, the technician should clear it and set it at the next service interval.
In some cases, your car has so many warning lights that your dashboard might remind you of a Christmas tree. If that sounds familiar, it might be time to end the cycle of service stops and get a new car instead. At The KEY, we have a huge selection of quality used cars for sale that are guaranteed to serve you well for years. In fact, we’re so confident in our cars that we sell every one with a Lifetime Warranty! Come to our Oklahoma City buy here pay here dealership and see which ones you’re already qualified for!