Monday Maintenance: Dashboard Confessionals - What What Those Warning Lights Really Mean

We're back after a month-long hiatus with our regularly scheduled blog post, Monday Maintenance: your step-by-step guide to keeping your vehicle on the road! This week we're bringing you Dashboard Confessionals - a tour of the most common warning lights.

Modern vehicles are complex machines with over 24 computer modules working together with a vast network of sensors and hundreds of electrical wires linking these components together.

 Fun Fact: The amount of wiring in a vehicle can span over a mile in length! 

With so many components, the potential for an issue to occur is high and the lights on your dashboard are often the first and only indicator that something is wrong.

While the best source of information comes from your vehicle’s owner’s manual, we’ll walk you through some of the most common dashboard warning lights so you’ll know when to call us.

DID YOU KNOW? Dashboard warning lights come in a variety of colors.

  • Red indicates a major issue or component failure.

  • Yellow indicates a low-grade hazard or warning such as your traction control system activating while driving on slippery roads.

  • Green or Blue simply means a feature is on or engaged such as your Daytime Running Lights or Cruise Control.​

Although it may be the scariest alert, the dreaded check engine light is actually the most common and most ambiguous warning light. Usually shaped as the silhouette of an engine, it warns of any engine related issue from something minor such as a loose gas-cap or something more serious like a misfire.


Since 1996, every new vehicle is required to have an On Board Diagnostic system (OBD) which monitors emissions levels and other vital components. An OBD scan will aid in sourcing the reason for the light. As a general rule of thumb, if the check engine light illuminates while you’re driving and you aren’t experiencing any drivability issues, don’t panic! You can stop into Lancer Service at any time for a courtesy code scan. If it’s something you’re really concerned about, one of our Service Advisors would be happy to take a brief road test with you in your vehicle!

However, should the light turn on and your vehicle suddenly begins operating erratically or making strange noises, pull over immediately and call for a tow. This could indicate a far more serious problem that could permanently damage your vehicle’s engine.

 

When illuminated, this means your engine is overheating. Pull over and turn off the engine immediately. This could be caused by low coolant levels, broken water pump, or damage to the radiator. These are serious concerns that if left unchecked can permanently damage interior components of your engine.

 

This light indicates the transmission is operating at higher than optimum temperature. Pull over and turn off the engine immediately and call for a tow.
 

An illuminated oil pressure light could indicate multiple messages - a yellow or amber light indicates something as simple as your car needing oil topped off. On the other hand, a red oil light indicates a more serious issue such as a leak in the engine or broken/worn parts. When you see this light, turn the engine off immediately and do not drive.

 

Lancer Service Tip Regarding Oil Pressure
After verifying what the light could mean in your owner’s manual, your next step should be to check the oil level on your dipstick. We recommend regularly checking the oil level for any vehicle with oil consumption issues (as a loyal Lancer customer, we’ll be sure to let you know if your vehicle falls into this category). If adding oil turns the light off, great! If that doesn’t work, it’s time to bring your vehicle in. Ignoring this indicator and driving for extended periods of time will likely lead to the need for major damages and repairs.

If your brake light illuminates, first double check to make sure your parking brake isn’t engaged. If that isn’t the culprit, worn brake pads or low fluid levels might be the issue. You may also experience a problem with the anti-lock braking system (ABS) which usually indicates an issue with a wheel speed sensor or other problems with the connections and wiring that could prevent the activation of the ABS. An inactive ABS will increase stopping distances and a repair is necessary to restore full braking effectiveness.

A battery light illuminates if the vehicle’s computer detects that there is a problem with charging the battery. This could be due to a number of reasons such as corrosion of the battery terminals, a loose cable, weak battery, or a failing alternator and your vehicle should be serviced as soon as possible.

 

In many modern cars, the tire pressure monitors include a display in the driver's gauges, or in a menu located within the info system, to tell the driver the exact tire pressure at each wheel.

Driving on severely under or overinflated tires can create tire wear issues. If one tire shows significantly less air pressure than the others, stop the car and refill the tire to the correct pressure rating. Start the car and drive to see if the warning light goes off after a few minutes. If it doesn't, there could be damage to the tire that's causing a rapid leak in which case you’d want to bring your vehicle in for a tire inspection.

When to call Lancer: In any case, your dashboard lights are there to help you care properly for your vehicle. Don’t ignore warning signs as they can lead to major damages and repairs. Our service advisors are more than happy to talk through any issue, do a courtesy code scan, or take a road test with you to ensure your vehicle is safe to operate - no appointment necessary. If at that time it's determined that more information is needed, we’ll walk you through the process of diagnosing and providing you with thorough estimates to address the issue(s).