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You’re behind the wheel, rolling along and enjoying the ride, when you look down and see a car warning light has come on. Uh-oh! Naturally, you’re concerned, and you should be! Each car warning light is there for a reason. Not every symbol or light requires immediate attention, but some mean you should pull over and call a tow truck. To help keep your car out of the shop and on the road where it belongs, we put together a list of car warning lights and their meanings.
Here are some of the most common car warning lights that may pop up on your dashboard.
1. Oil pressure warning light
The oil pressure warning light — i.e., the old-fashioned oil can — illuminates when there’s a problem with the engine’s oil pressure, possibly due to low oil levels, a blockage in the oil system, or a failing oil pump, among other things. If the oil pressure is too low, the oil won’t flow through the engine properly, which could lead to serious damage and an expensive repair bill! Don’t take this warning lightly. Pull over to a safe location and call a tow truck.
2. Charging system warning light
The charging system warning light, also known as the battery light, lets you know something’s wrong with your vehicle’s battery or charging system. This warning can illuminate for several reasons, including:
Check and clean any corrosion on the battery and tighten your cable clamps. If the light persists, take your vehicle to an automotive professional for a battery check.
3. Low fuel warning light
Often designated by a gas pump symbol, the low fuel warning light means you must fill your gas tank soon. While you can still drive with this light on, don’t make it a habit. Of course, you risk getting stranded (no fun!), but your in-tank fuel pump needs gas to act as a lubricant and coolant. When you constantly let your vehicle run on fumes, you can prematurely wear out your in-tank fuel pump, which can be expensive to replace.
4. Engine temperature warning light
The engine temperature warning light, usually represented by a thermometer, tells you your engine is overheating. There might be a radiator problem, lack of coolant, damaged water pump, or another issue related to the cooling system. Regardless of the cause, it’s crucial to immediately pull over to a safe location and let your engine cool down to prevent severe damage. Call a tow truck and let an automotive professional identify and fix the issue.
5. Brake warning light
The brake warning light typically appears as a symbol of an exclamation mark inside a circle, sometimes with the words "BRAKE" or "PARK.” When it illuminates, it can indicate several different issues with the braking system. Some common reasons include:
Ignoring this light can compromise your and other drivers’ safety, so take your vehicle to an automotive professional for a brake inspection.
6. Windshield washer fluid low warning light
The windshield washer warning light indicates that your windshield washer fluid is low. Luckily, getting rid of this light is easy. Just check your windshield washer fluid and refill the tank. If you have plenty of fluid or the light doesn’t disappear after filling your tank, you may need to inspect and replace the sensor.
7. Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) warning light
The TPMS warning light alerts you when the air pressure in one or more tires has dropped below the recommended level. If the tire pressure is too low, it can cause reduced traction, decreased handling, and even a tire blowout. When the light comes on, check your tire pressure, and add air to the affected tire until it reaches the recommended pressure. If the light is still on after inflating the tire, have a technician inspect and service your TPMS.
8. Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) warning light
The ABS warning light — which typically appears with the letters “ABS” — indicates a problem with the Anti-lock Braking System, a safety feature that helps prevent wheel lockup and skidding when braking on slick roads. Several reasons could cause this warning light to trigger, including:
When the ABS warning light is on, the ABS may be disabled, but your vehicle's regular braking system should still function. However, the ABS won't be available to provide its anti-locking functionality. At your earliest convenience, take your vehicle to your local automotive professional for a brake inspection.
9. Traction Control System (TCS) warning light
The TCS warning light comes on when there’s a change or issue with the Traction Control System. This safety feature helps maintain traction and prevent wheel spin during acceleration, especially on slippery or uneven road surfaces. Depending on your vehicle’s make and model, the TCS light may come on when the system activates, which is normal. However, if the light persists and you’re not driving in slippery conditions, there might be a TCS malfunction. Have a professional inspect your vehicle so there are no major underlying issues.
10. Electronic Stability Control (ESC) warning light
ESC is a safety feature that helps prevent a vehicle from losing control and spinning out. It uses sensors and accelerometers to collect information and send it to a computer that can apply brakes, reduce power, or use the steering and transmission to keep the vehicle stable when turning. The ECS light may appear when the system activates, detecting a loss in traction. The light should only stay on for a short time, so if it continues to illuminate longer, there may be an ESC malfunction. Visit your local automotive professional for an inspection.
11. Malfunction Indicator Light (MIL)
The Malfunction Indicator Light (MIL) — also known as the engine warning light or Check Engine Light (CEL) — alerts you to potential problems or malfunctions in the vehicle's engine, emissions system, or other critical components. These possible issues can be anything from a loose gas cap to a major engine misfire, but when the MIL comes on, check if it’s steady or blinking. A steady MIL means that the issue is usually not an emergency but should be attended to at your earliest convenience. On the other hand, a blinking MIL may indicate a serious engine problem that requires immediate attention.
12. Supplemental Restraint System (SRS) warning light
The SRS warning light indicates a potential problem with the Supplemental Restraint System — a safety feature that deploys airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners to protect passengers during a collision. If the SRS warning light comes on, it could mean there's an issue with the system, such as a malfunctioning sensor, faulty airbag module, or wiring problem. Visit an automotive professional to inspect and fix your vehicle to ensure your airbags will work properly in the event of an accident.
13. Low radiator fluid level warning light
As the name suggests, the low radiator fluid level warning light alerts you when there’s insufficient fluid. If this light comes on, your vehicle could be leaking radiator fluid. Without radiator fluid, your engine may overheat or seize up, so don’t ignore this warning. Take your vehicle to an automotive professional to help diagnose the problem.
14. Electronic Throttle Control (ETC) malfunction light
The ETC malfunction light indicates that there may be a problem with the Electronic Throttle Control, a system that manages airflow into the engine. When the ETC light appears, your vehicle may enter a “reduced power mode” to help protect the engine. The issue could be a faulty throttle body, a damaged sensor, or a malfunction in the throttle body’s electric motor, among other things. Visit an automotive professional to inspect and service your vehicle.
15. Loose fuel filler cap warning light
The loose fuel filler cap warning light indicates a potential issue with the fuel filler cap or fuel system. Typically, this light appears if the cap isn’t properly tightened, especially after filling your gas tank. But if the light persists after tightening the cap, there could be a problem with the cap itself or the fuel system. While you can still drive with this light on, your vehicle may experience reduced fuel efficiency and pressure issues in the fuel system. Take your vehicle to a professional at your earliest convenience.
16. Oil temperature warning light
The oil temperature warning light signals you when the engine's oil temperature has risen to an unsafe level, which can lead to engine damage or failure. This warning light usually illuminates due to overheating engine oil, low oil levels, or a malfunctioning oil temperature sensor. When it appears, pull over safely, turn off the engine, check the oil level, inspect the cooling system, and seek professional assistance to prevent potential engine problems.
Color matters when it comes to car warning lights. For example:
Just like with red warning lights, a flashing warning light indicates that a problem is currently happening and requires immediate attention. Here’s what you should do when you see these warning lights:
Don’t ignore these car warning lights! They’re your vehicle’s way of communicating with you. If you ever encounter a warning light that requires professional attention, visit your local Jiffy Lube®. Our trained technicians can perform diagnostic testing to determine what’s wrong with your vehicle and provide a written estimate for any repairs. If you have any questions or concerns, our friendly and knowledgeable staff will gladly provide the information you need.
NOTE: Not all services are offered at all Jiffy Lube service centers. Please call ahead or check jiffylube.com to ensure the service is available at the Jiffy Lube location near you.