They used to call them “idiot lights,” the dashboard warning lights replacing the gauges for your oil pressure and coolant temperature. So what does it mean when they come on? Let’s talk a little car maintenance advice here…
First, your dashboard lights are designed to come on in the first few seconds after startup, as a bulb check to ensure they’re working properly. It doesn’t mean there’s a problem. The two most important lights are for the oil pressure and temperature gauge. If you see either come on and stay on, at any time, pull over and turn off the car! The oil pressure is set to alight only when oil level or oil pressure has dropped to a dangerously low level. Running an overheated car or a car low on oil will cause serious engine damage, so don’t risk it!
Newer cars also have an ABS warning light, indicating problems with your antilock braking system, and a Check Engine light. The Check Engine light can be one of the most confusing for many drivers. From the mid-90s on, all engine and emissions functions became controlled by a central engine control computer. The computer receives feedback from a string of sensors, monitoring all aspects of what’s going on under the hood (and what’s coming out the tailpipe). A reading out of parameters from any of the sensors can cause the Check Engine light to come on; the confused amateur mechanic must understand one faulty reading can cause readings to be out-of-whack for other sensors in the chain. Also, sometimes the Check Engine light can come on for a short while and then go away (even a loose gas cap can cause it to illuminate). Only when the light comes on and stays on should there be concern – this means a “hard trouble code” has been recorded in the engine’s computer.
Of all the car maintenance questions we receive, questions about dashboard warning lights are most common. Remember, at Dr. Nick's we do much more than just Transmission Repairs. We want to be your go-to source for all your maintenance and minor repair needs, including when your dashboard warning lights come on!
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