Car dashboard warning lights: what they mean and what to do

Jump to
Dashboard light colours
Red lights
Yellow lights
Green lights

A dashboard light coming on – and staying on – is usually a sign that something isn’t right with your car. Ignoring it could lead to engine failure or put your life in danger, so it’s important to pay attention and act quickly.

Dashboard lights come in red, yellow, and green (or sometimes blue), based on their level of urgency. Most lights are universal across different car makes and models so it’s a good idea to learn this ‘car language’. Your car manual is also a great source of information if you aren’t sure about a light, or what action to take.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what the different colours of dashboard lights mean 👇

Car dashboard lights colours

Red 🔴 – Red dashboard lights are a sign that you have a serious engine issue, like overheating, or a safety problem, like an open door or unbuckled seat belt. You should stop your car as soon as possible (but only when it’s safe to do so).

Yellow 🟡 – A yellow light is a warning to take action, but your safety and the car are not in immediate danger. Common examples include the low fuel warning light (or low engine power light in an electric car).

Green 🟢 – A green (or blue) light is for information only, telling you that different functions in your car are in use – like indicators or headlamps – or that you need to do something, like pump your foot on the clutch.

Here’s a little more info about the different types of dashboard lights you’ll see.

Get a quick quote 👇
Whatever you're after, from temporary car insurance for an hour to rolling monthly cover. Get a quote.

Here's a few examples of some common red warning lights.

BATTERY WARNING: This light means there’s a problem with your car’s battery or alternator, or the related electrical system. Ignoring it could end up with a flat battery and not being able to start your car, leaving you stranded.
BATTERY WARNING: This light means there’s a problem with your car’s battery or alternator, or the related electrical system. Ignoring it could end up with a flat battery and not being able to start your car, leaving you stranded.
BRAKE SYSTEM WARNING: If you’ve ever forgotten to lower the hand brake before driving off, you’re probably familiar with this light. It can also mean there’s a bigger problem with your brake system, or something simple like low brake fluid.
BRAKE SYSTEM WARNING: If you’ve ever forgotten to lower the hand brake before driving off, you’re probably familiar with this light. It can also mean there’s a bigger problem with your brake system, or something simple like low brake fluid.
OIL PRESSURE WARNING: Your engine needs just the right amount of oil to work properly – too much or too little can spell disaster, resulting in irreparable damage or a hefty repair bill. This is one of the most serious warning lights so you should pull over and get help as quickly as possible.
OIL PRESSURE WARNING: Your engine needs just the right amount of oil to work properly – too much or too little can spell disaster, resulting in irreparable damage or a hefty repair bill. This is one of the most serious warning lights so you should pull over and get help as quickly as possible.
SEATBELT WARNING: This warning usually comes with a sound alert and means someone in the car is not wearing their seatbelt. It’s illegal for anyone in a car to travel without a seatbelt, so while easily fixed, this light is a serious and helpful reminder to put safety first.
SEATBELT WARNING: This warning usually comes with a sound alert and means someone in the car is not wearing their seatbelt. It’s illegal for anyone in a car to travel without a seatbelt, so while easily fixed, this light is a serious and helpful reminder to put safety first.
ENGINE TEMP WARNING: The engine temperature warning is one of the most serious lights on your dashboard. The causes range from simple fixes like low levels of coolant or antifreeze to more complex (and expensive) problems like a faulty water pump or blown head gasket. Turn off the engine as soon as you can and remember to wait a few minutes for the engine to cool down before checking the coolant and water levels.
ENGINE TEMP WARNING: The engine temperature warning is one of the most serious lights on your dashboard. The causes range from simple fixes like low levels of coolant or antifreeze to more complex (and expensive) problems like a faulty water pump or blown head gasket. Turn off the engine as soon as you can and remember to wait a few minutes for the engine to cool down before checking the coolant and water levels.
Want the stats for the driving test? 🚗
We've also crunched the numbers for the practical exam. Find out more

Orange car dashboard warning lights

Here's some examples of some common yellow warning lights.

FYI, some of these may occasionally be shown as red warning lights depending on your car make or model.

AIRBAG FAULT WARNING: Your car’s complex airbag system is made up of a number of elements, including sensors, seatbelts, and the airbag itself. This light could mean there’s a problem with any one of these things. While you can still drive with this light on, ignoring it could put you in danger – the airbag could fail to deploy in an accident, or activate when you least expect it.
AIRBAG FAULT WARNING: Your car’s complex airbag system is made up of a number of elements, including sensors, seatbelts, and the airbag itself. This light could mean there’s a problem with any one of these things. While you can still drive with this light on, ignoring it could put you in danger – the airbag could fail to deploy in an accident, or activate when you least expect it.
POWER STEERING WARNING: A problem with your steering system could be very dangerous. Most of the time, this light can be fixed by topping up your power steering fluid or resetting the steering system. (Check your car manual for instructions on how to do that.)
POWER STEERING WARNING: A problem with your steering system could be very dangerous. Most of the time, this light can be fixed by topping up your power steering fluid or resetting the steering system. (Check your car manual for instructions on how to do that.)
ENGINE MANAGEMENT WARNING: The engine management light covers a wide range of potential issues, from a fault with the ignition or emission control systems to a faulty fuel filler cap or minor electrical issue. The problem is not always obvious so you may need a mechanic to do a proper diagnostic. If the light is flashing, check your car manual for details as this could signal a more specific issue.
ENGINE MANAGEMENT WARNING: The engine management light covers a wide range of potential issues, from a fault with the ignition or emission control systems to a faulty fuel filler cap or minor electrical issue. The problem is not always obvious so you may need a mechanic to do a proper diagnostic. If the light is flashing, check your car manual for details as this could signal a more specific issue.
BRAKE PAD WARNING: Brake pads wear down over time and this light is usually a sign that your brake pads need to be replaced. You’ll still be able to drive, but you should book your car in for a service to keep your brake system in safe working order.
BRAKE PAD WARNING: Brake pads wear down over time and this light is usually a sign that your brake pads need to be replaced. You’ll still be able to drive, but you should book your car in for a service to keep your brake system in safe working order.
LOW FUEL WARNING: This is one of the most commonly seen dashboard lights – and a sign that it’s time to fill up. When the light comes on, there is still a small amount of reserve fuel left in the tank so you can get to the nearest services.
LOW FUEL WARNING: This is one of the most commonly seen dashboard lights – and a sign that it’s time to fill up. When the light comes on, there is still a small amount of reserve fuel left in the tank so you can get to the nearest services.
TYRE PRESSURE WARNING: This light might have you scratching your head in confusion and concern, but it’s a very helpful alert that your tyres have too little air in them. You might have a puncture, or just need to give them a top up. You can check and adjust the tyre pressure at most garages or petrol station forecourts.
TYRE PRESSURE WARNING: This light might have you scratching your head in confusion and concern, but it’s a very helpful alert that your tyres have too little air in them. You might have a puncture, or just need to give them a top up. You can check and adjust the tyre pressure at most garages or petrol station forecourts.
Learner driver insurance 🎓
Hourly policies. Perfect for practicing outside of lessons. Find out more

Green car dashboard lights

Finally, here are some examples of green dashboard lights. Some may show up as blue, depending on the specific light or the make and model of your car. They normally give you a status update or an instruction, and aren’t indicative of anything wrong.

PRESS BRAKE: In automatic cars, you need to put your foot on the brake when moving the gear out of park mode. Some cars have this light to remind you to do this when starting the engine.
PRESS BRAKE: In automatic cars, you need to put your foot on the brake when moving the gear out of park mode. Some cars have this light to remind you to do this when starting the engine.
CRUISE CONTROL: If your car has a cruise control function, this light simply means the cruise control system is activated. This isn’t a warning light, so you don’t need to do anything.
CRUISE CONTROL: If your car has a cruise control function, this light simply means the cruise control system is activated. This isn’t a warning light, so you don’t need to do anything.

Learner driver tips

We’ve put together some other helpful tips and tricks for learner drivers, or any driver hoping to improve their skills or learn a little more about how everything works.

Need insurance, from temporary policies to rolling monthly cover (or special learner driver insurance and young driver insurance)? It only takes a few minutes to get a quote.

Updated on 12th January 2023