Car dashboard warning lights

Car dashboard warning lights and symbols explained

Newer cars have various electronics to monitor their performance and behaviour. Knowing what each of your car’s dashboard warning lights means can help you avoid a breakdown or a potentially expensive vehicle fault.

In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about each of the most important dashboard warning lights, including:

  • Why they may illuminate.

  • Whether it is safe to drive.

  • The action required to fix the issue.

Get a free valuation

What are the three main types of warning lights?

Green: When a green light appears on your dashboard, this means that the system is working correctly or is currently in use.

Yellow: A yellow light indicates that the component is not working correctly and should be checked at your earliest convenience.

Red: Finally, a red light means there is a serious problem - and you should stop driving immediately.

ECU/engine warning light

This is also known as the ‘check engine’ or ‘engine management’ light.

ECU warning light symbol


If this light is illuminated, it could mean that the engine is not working properly. This may be due to a lack of power or weak acceleration. It can also be caused by a broken electrical sensor or perhaps a fault with your emission control system or catalytic converter.

Can I still drive?

If the check engine light comes on, you should get it checked as soon as you can. By continuing to drive, you risk causing further, potentially irreparable damage to your engine.


Get this checked at a garage to resolve any engine management issues.

Airbag warning light

The airbag warning light is also known as the supplemental restraint system (SRS) warning light.

Airbag warning light symbol


If this light is red, at a minimum, one element of the airbag system isn’t properly functioning. This may impact the airbag system, the front passenger occupant classification system, or the seat belt pre-tensioner system.

Can I still drive?

You can still physically drive, but it is important to be aware that the airbag system is vastly important to your safety.


Go to a garage to get this issue fixed as soon as you can.

Anti-lock brake system (ABS) warning light

Have you ever wondered, “What Is an Anti-lock Braking System (ABS)?” In simple terms, ABS is a safety feature that helps to tackle icy roads and abrupt stops.

ABS warning light symbol


There are a few reasons an ABS warning sign may appear on your dashboard:

  • There may be a malfunctioning ABS module.
  • Fluid levels in the fluid reservoir may be too low.
  • The wheel speed sensors may be compromised, or the system may be turned off altogether.

Can I still drive?

If your ABS light comes on by itself, be assured that your unassisted braking should be intact, so you should be fine to carry on driving. However, make sure that you keep your distance. If your ABS appears with a brake warning light, your brake system may be failing - and you should stop immediately.


Go to a garage to get this issue fixed.

Coolant levels warning light

Coolant fluid absorbs your engine’s heat whilst dispersing it through the vehicle’s radiator, helping to prevent your engine from overheating.

Coolant warning light symbol


This warning light appears when the coolant levels are running low. This is to remind you that they need to be topped up.

Can I still drive?

Avoid making any long journeys without sufficient coolant. You should stop and top up your coolant fluid as soon as possible. Otherwise, you risk causing serious damage to your car.


Ensure that the engine has cooled down, then check to see if the coolant needs topping up. If the light repeatedly comes on, service your car to make sure there are no leaks.

Power steering warning light

The power steering warning light is also known as the EPS or EPAS warning light.

Power steering warning light symbol


This is often caused by an issue with the steering pump; there may be low steering fluid or an electrical fault.

Can I still drive?

Yes. However, faulty power steering will make the car harder to manoeuvre. It could be dangerous to drive at high speeds without power steering.


You may be able to solve this issue by pulling over and rebooting the computer. If the light stays on after you’ve rebooted the system, take your car to a garage so it can be checked over.

Exhaust particulate filter warning light

This may also be known as the petrol particulate filter (PPF).

Exhaust warning light symbol


You may see the exhaust particulate filter warning light if the engine output is restricted to protect the petrol particulate filter.

Can I still drive?

Whilst you can still drive with this warning light, doing so could cause further damage to your car.


You should take your car to a garage and get the exhaust particulate filter replaced.

Battery charge warning

This warning light may also be known as the battery warning light or the battery charging system light.

Battery charge warning light symbol


If the battery charge warning light illuminates while you are driving, this indicates that the battery is not charging. This could be due to a fault with the electrical system such as:

  • A faulty alternator.
  • A faulty battery.
  • An inadequate electrical connection.
  • Compromised cabling.

Can I still drive?

Your car will no longer run once your battery is dead. If you’re able to drive, visit a garage at the earliest opportunity.


If you break down, you can try to jumpstart your car or call a towing service to collect your car and take it to a garage.

Oil warning light

The oil warning light may also be known as the low engine oil or low oil pressure light.

Oil warning light symbol


This warning light comes on when the oil temperature is too high, or the oil level (or pressure) is too low. This could be dangerous, because if the oil is not lubricating the engine correctly, the engine could be irreparably damaged.

Can I still drive?

If this light comes on, stop driving immediately and turn the engine off. Look for any oil leaks under the car, whilst also checking whether the oil levels need to be topped up. If your oil levels seem fine, the oil pump might be faulty.


If there are no obvious leaks and the light goes off after topping your oil up, then continuing your journey should cause no problems. However, if the light comes back on after topping up the oil, you should get this checked at a garage.

Low battery warning light (electric only)

This warning light only relates to electric vehicles (EVs) and is vastly important.

EV battery light symbol


This light comes on when your EV is about to run out of battery. You’ll typically see this warning at around 12% (and a red warning at around 5% charge).

Can I still drive?

Yes, but you’ll need to drive to a charging point as soon as possible to avoid getting stranded.


Simply recharge your vehicle at a charging point.

Brake system warning light

This warning light depicts an exclamation mark with a circle around it.

Brake warning light symbol


This warning comes on when there’s something wrong with your brakes. This could be an issue with a brake component, or the hydraulic fluid may need a top-up.

Can I still drive?

Do not drive with a brake system warning light. Instead, stop the car and call your breakdown provider.


Your brake system can be fixed at your local garage.

Low fuel warning light

Your low fuel light should have an arrow alongside it, indicating which side of the vehicle the fuel flap is located.

Low fuel warning light symbol


This light pops up when you're running low on petrol or diesel.

Can I still drive?

When this warning comes on, the average distance you’ll be able to drive before running out of fuel is 49 miles, but this will vary depending on your specific car model. However, it’s prudent to stop for fuel as soon as you can to minimise the risk of getting stranded by the roadside. If the fuel tank needle hits ‘empty’, you won't be guaranteed any more miles - but you may still be able to travel for a very short distance.


Simply fill up your car to get rid of this warning light.

Tyre pressure warning light

Newer cars have tyre pressure monitoring systems. If your tyre pressure is low, a small exclamation point inside a half-circle will appear on your dashboard.

Tyre pressure warning light symbol


This warning system pops up if your tyre pressure is lower than it should be. Once you’ve topped up the pressure, the light will go away on its own.

Can I still drive?

Whilst you can physically drive with low tyre pressure, your car’s fuel efficiency and the performance of the affected tyre(s) will be compromised. You also risk endangering yourself, your passengers and other road users. Therefore, you should pull over at the nearest petrol station to fill up your tyres.


If your tyre pressure is looking a bit low, carefully drive to a petrol station to fill them up with air.

Traction control light

The traction control light is also known as the electronic stability control (ESC) light.

Traction control warning light symbol


This light pops up when there’s an issue with the traction control. If the light is flashing, this means that the electronic stability programme (ESP) system is intervening. This may occur if you're on a slippery road for example. If the ESC light stays on your dashboard, this means that the ESP system isn’t working properly.

Can I still drive?

It is generally safe to drive if the traction control light is on. However, you should get the issue checked out by an experienced mechanic as soon as you can, because your vehicle's ability to maintain traction, especially in slippery conditions, may be compromised.


If the ESP light states ‘OFF’, this means that the system has been deactivated - and may have been unknowingly turned off. To check this, turn your engine on and off and if the light stays on, get it checked out at the garage.

Screen wash warning light

The screen wash warning light is depicted by a windshield with a jet of water.

Screen wash warning light symbol


This light appears when your car is low on washer fluid.

Can I still drive?

Yes, you can. Just be aware that visibility could be compromised whilst driving if you don’t have enough screen wash. Be mindful of pesky, gooey bugs getting trapped on your windshield!


Simply top up your screen wash fluid to resolve this warning light.

Glow plug warning light (diesel only)

This warning light is specific to diesel vehicles and signals that the glow plugs are active. The glow plugs warm the air in the cylinder before ignition.

Glow plug warning light symbol


This warning can be triggered by the following scenarios:

  • If it’s cold outside, the glow plug light may indicate the car needs to be heated further.
  • However, if the light stays on for a long time or starts blinking, this could indicate a fault or a decline in the plug’s efficiency.

Can I still drive?

If your glow plug light is solid, your car won’t start until the light has turned off and the engine is fully warmed up. However, if the glow plug light is flashing and you need to drive, make sure to avoid high speeds.


Going to a garage and having your glow plug replaced should resolve this issue.

Diesel particulate filter warning light (diesel only)

This is also known as the DPF or exhaust particulate filter warning light.


In a diesel car, this light may illuminate because there is a problem with the exhaust particulate filter. This filter removes harmful soot from the exhaust gases, helping to lower emissions. If this light is on, the filter may be blocked with soot.

Can I still drive?

Whilst you can still drive with this warning light, be aware that your car may be releasing toxic smoke every time you accelerate, potentially causing further damage to your car. Therefore, you should take your car to a reputable mechanic as soon as you can.


You should get the diesel particulate filter replaced at a garage.

Resetting your dashboard warning system

  • After visiting a garage about a warning light, the warning should disappear. If it does not, you may need to reset your onboard computer.
  • This can be done by opening and shutting the bonnet and then turning your vehicle on and off. If this doesn’t work, you might have to disconnect, then reconnect your battery.
  • Sometimes, you have to drive for a while for the light to be reset.
  • If the light remains after trying these solutions, go back to the mechanic.

What is the most serious warning light in a car?

The engine management light is arguably the most serious warning light, as it indicates there is an issue with the engine or emissions system.

Which dashboard lights will fail an MOT?

The following dashboard lights will cause you to fail your MOT:

  • ABS.
  • Traction system.
  • Headlight main beam.
  • Brake fluid level.
  • Power steering.
  • Seat belt.

Ultimately, any dashboard lights which can lead to engine failure will cause you to fail an MOT.

Does webuyanycar buy cars with warning lights?

Yes, webuyanycar buys cars with warning light issues. However, we always recommend declaring any such faults when getting your free car valuation, as they may impact the final valuation you receive at your appointment.