As seen on:

SMH Logo News Logo

Call 1300 303 181

Australia’s Best New Car News, Reviews and Buying Advice

What do those lights mean…?

Do you know what those dashboard warning lights mean?

There are currently more than 15.5 million drivers on Australia’s roads. While a growing population expects to see an increase in motorists, it doesn’t necessarily expect to see an increase in traffic accidents. But that’s what has happened. Research shows that by June 2013 19.6% of motorists had been involved in at least one accident, a figure up from 18.7% in 2008.

Another recent survey conducted in the UK has found that 98 per cent of motorists don’t know what all the dashboard warning lights mean. With most of the accidents coming from new and old drivers, we ask whether being unfamiliar with or forgetting the signals your car gives you can lead to more accidents.

It shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise that people don’t pay much attention to their dashboard. After all, when was the last time you picked up your car’s manual? And, if memory serves, it’s not as though driving instructors are required to take learner drivers through the meaning of dashboard indicators. Most of us simply pay attention to the fuel level indicator and, it seems, rarely wonder what the other symbols represent, assuming that it’ll be self-evident.

The problem has been compounded by a lack of consistency among car manufacturers, with only 12 dashboard warning symbols being the same across 15 of the most popular, recent models. The Mercedes E Class has the most warning/information lights, with 41, and the least was the Volvo S40’s 21. Many of these correspond to newer functions from air-conditioning options to sat-navs.

In another survey conducted by the British Car Auctions (BCA) it turned out that over 20 per cent of drivers had ignored warning lights and decided to address the problem later in the journey. Five per cent admitted to hoping it would eventually switch off of its own accord and six per cent of motorists had gone more than a month without checking a warning light.

Clearly, for the well-being of your vehicle and your safety on the road it’s a good idea to know the most common symbols. Check that you’re aware of the following problems and their corresponding symbols and you’ll be a good deal safer on the road:

Brake System – This is usually indicated by an exclamation mark within a circle. It will automatically illuminate when the handbrake is engaged but should disappear when it is released. If not, it could indicate low brake fluid level or something more serious. Any issues with the braking system should be checked out immediately.


Battery – This is usually indicated by a square with a positive and minus signs. If the light illuminates, it means your car will not be able to travel much further as the battery is no longer being charged. The reasons for this are usually a broken alternator belt, a failed alternator or a faulty battery terminal.battery

Tyre Pressure – Very few people can recognize this symbol: it resembles a bulging tyre with tread at the bottom. Lit-up, it indicates low pressure which can be dangerous, especially when travelling at high speeds. You should stop at the nearest services to put air in your tyres.tyre

Coolant temperature – Indicated by a symbol that resembles a thermometer sitting in a liquid. If you see this warning light illuminate, your engine could be in danger of overheating. This is a problem that requires stopping straight way as overheating an engine can cause irreparable damage.coolant