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What Do Car Warning Lights Mean? – An Essential Guide

What do car warning lights mean – Car dashboard with warning lights on

What Do Car Warning Lights Mean, and Why Shouldn’t You Ignore Them?

We Kiwis tend to approach life with a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude, which can work wonders in everyday life – but often lands us in trouble when it comes to our cars. While not an issue when buying new NZ cars, it’s essential to take immediate action if your old vehicle starts lighting up like a Christmas tree. Here we discuss what car warning lights mean and why ignoring them is never okay.

Check Engine Light

The check engine light is one of the most common warning lights. While most dashboard lights relate to a single issue, a check engine light is a catch-all for serval potentially nasty issues brewing in your engine. Depending on the gravity of the problem, the warning light can appear in either red or orange.

Most drivers will ignore their orange check engine light because it isn’t red yet. However, any form of engine light requires attention. Ignoring the engine light can lead to several consequences, including reduced fuel economy, engine damage, and even complete engine failure. If your check engine light is screaming at you from the dash, your best bet is to pull over and seek immediate professional assistance.

Brake Light

Unless you’ve forgotten to pull the handbrake, brake warning lights indicate a critical issue in your car’s braking system. This warning light is triggered by worn brake pads, low brake fluid levels, or an anti-lock brake system (ABS) problem. Any of these issues could lead to a big surprise the next time you try to slow down and require immediate attention.

The consequences of ignoring your brake lights should be obvious. No brakes! While we’re all guilty of occasionally pretending to be race car drivers, fully operational braking systems are essential to your safety and others on the road.

Coolant Temperature Light

If your coolant temperature light flicks on, it indicates that the engine is running hot. Serval coolant issues, such as a malfunctioning thermostat, a blocked radiator, low coolant levels, or a failed water pump, can cause this warning.

Ignoring the coolant light will turn your engine into an oven hot enough to damage its components and even wield sections of the engine together. Nobody wants to deal with an overcooked engine, so if this light comes on, pull over immediately to let the car cool down and seek professional assistance.

Oil Pressure Light

An oil pressure warning light means your car’s oil pressure is low, the levels are low, or it is too hot. Oil is the secret sauce that makes the entire engine operate smoothly, so maintaining components such as the flushes and filters is vital to avoid complications.

Due to its crucial role in your car’s operation, ignoring any signs of issues with its oil can be disastrous. A drop in oil pressure can cause engine components to rub against each other, leading to significant wear and tear, engine overheating, or failure. If you ignore your oil light and continue driving, it can cause your engine to seize, leaving you stranded on the side of the road or, worse, involved in a serious crash. While it’s tempting to avert your gaze when these warning lights come on, it’s always better to handle them immediately.

Battery Light

The battery light usually flashes when you start your car, but if it hangs around, it could be a sign of an issue with your car’s electrical system. Serval issues can cause this light to turn on, such as a failing alternator, loose or corroded battery cables, or a dead battery.

If left unchecked, you may find your car unexpectedly running out of juice or, in severe cases, more widespread damage to other electrical components of the vehicle. While we have suggested pulling over immediately when other warning lights switch on, it’s best to continue diving home or to a mechanic before conducting a thorough inspection for a battery light.

Vehicle Warning Lights Flash for a Reason!

Burying your head in the sand is a far too common response to vehicle warning lights. However, knowing what car warning lights mean is the first step towards breaking this bad habit. A flashing light doesn’t always mean a costly trip to the mechanics if taken care of early!
Here at Portage Cars, we offer after-sales service for cars to help you handle those scary flashing lights properly. Get in touch to find out more about our services. 


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