It may be the one thing that every driver dreads, but an illuminated warning light on your vehicle’s instrument panel could save you and your car from expensive damage. This is what the symbols mean and what to do if they appear.
Chris Rutt, service delivery manager for Volkswagen UK says it’s vital drivers pay attention to their car’s warning lights. “They are designed to alert drivers to a fault with their car or van and aren’t as complicated as some drivers may think. A red light indicates the driver should stop the vehicle as soon as is safely possible to investigate further; an amber light is an advisory signal. So while there is no need to stop immediately, the reason for the light should be investigated as soon as is practically possible by a servicing agent.”
BRAKE SYSTEM LIGHT
Assuming you haven’t left the handbrake on, stop your vehicle when it’s safe and contact the manufacturer or dealer. Any fault with the brakes, brake fluid level or the related driving aids such as anti-lock brakes (ABS) and stability control (ESP) could be dangerous.
ENGINE COOLING SYSTEM
This could indicate that there is insufficient coolant fluid in the radiator, or that some sort of blockage or system malfunction has occurred, causing the temperature to rise. Stop the vehicle when safe and contact the manufacturer or dealer. Do not open the coolant bottle beneath the bonnet when the engine is hot as you may scald yourself.
ENGINE OIL PRESSURE
Pull over and check the engine’s oil level. If you are not familiar with the car, read the vehicle handbook for instructions on how to do this. The majority of cars have the good old-fashioned dipstick; some modern motors have electronic equivalents. Low levels of oil will urgently need topping up. Failure to do so could result in serious engine damage.
POWER STEERING SYSTEM
There may be a failure of the power-assisted steering. It is possible to continue your journey, but exercise caution and have the system checked as soon as possible. The steering may feel perfectly alright when you’re travelling at any speed but when you slow down it may feel very heavy and some drivers won’t be able to turn the wheel.
AIRBAGS AND SEAT BELT RESTRAINTS
If there is a fault with an airbag, it may not work in an accident or, worse still, could deploy unexpectedly. Equally many cars have seatbelts that use pyrotechnics to pull you into the seat in an accident and these can malfunction. Head for the nearest qualified servicing workshop.
VEHICLE CHARGING SYSTEM
This probably means the battery is no longer being charged. Switch off all unnecessary electrical items (such as the air conditioning or sound system) and take the car to be checked. If it shows a yellow symbol, it suggests the charge level of the battery is very low, and should be investigated further.
A yellow symbol for the steering lock may simply be there to remind you that the steering lock system is engaged before you can start the engine. However, if it’s red and you’re driving, there is a malfunction. Ideally, do not switch off the engine (as it could prevent you from restarting the car) and drive to your nearest garage to have it checked.
When driving, this can show in amber or red, depending on the severity of the fault with the ignition switch system. Although the car may not be displaying any signs of impending failure you should have it examined further. Modern cars are multiple computers on wheels and their electronic systems are designed to self-diagnose some problems before the driver notices them.
EMISSION CONTROL/ENGINE MANAGEMENT
This could flash or be permanently switched on. It suggests a fault with the engine or the engine’s associated operating software, known as the ECU. You can sometimes reset it, as you would a computer by switching the car off and back on again. If the light doesn’t extinguish after this, consult your garage.
DIESEL PARTICULATE FILTER
A diesel particulate filter is fitted to modern diesel engines to trap sooty exhaust emissions. Depending on how the car is used, it may be necessary to take an extended drive to ‘burn off’ these particles, effectively cleaning the filter. Your vehicle’s handbook will explain how to do this.
It is not uncommon for a diesel glow plug to wear out. This will cause starting problems with the engine. The symbol will alert the driver to any problems – which can be rectified easily and inexpensively by most garages. Even if only one glow plug has failed, it’s probably best to have them all (one per cylinder) replaced for peace of mind.
TYRE PRESSURE MONITORING
If your car has tyre pressure monitoring, it will signal only when one tyre falls to a significantly lower pressure than the other three tyres. (If all tyres gradually lose air over an extended period of time, it may not alert the driver.) If you see this symbol, check all tyres’ air pressure as soon as possible. This is no substitute to checking tyre pressures on a regular basis.
(For vehicles 10 years & under on our closest equivalent UK cover)