Dash Warning Lights

Today’s vehicles are equipped with a dizzying array of warning lights. We’re all familiar will the seat belt warning chime and the door ajar indicator. However, with the auto industry’s technological advancements there are a number of warning lights that can be quite alarming.

Following is some helpful information on some of the more common warning light concerns.

SRS Light (Supplemental Restraint System): The SRS light is your Supplemental Restraint System – more commonly reffered to as our airbag system. It may incorporate a variety of active, passive, and even pre-safe technology depending on the vehicle. Given that the SRS system is a safety system, it is well monitored with numerous sensors and automatic self-tests. The slightest malfunction in this system illuminates the SRS light.

Can the vehicle be driven with an SRS Light on? Yes, at the owner’s risk. There are thousands of vehicles on the road without SRS technology.

Is the airbag going to blow up? It’s unlikely. When the SRS Light is on the system is inoperative. If you’re nervous, tow it to a service center.

ABS light (Anti-lock Brake System): Why is my ABS light on? How do I reset the ABS Light? These are very common questions. If this light is on, you’re ABS brakes are not operational. It’s dangerous, and could cause you to spin out of control. Get is checked out ASAP.

Low Coolant Light: The Low Coolant Light will come on when the coolant drops below the coolant level sensor—generally when your vehicle loses one to two quarts. If this light is on, there are two primary possibilities. The most common is a coolant leak. The other is an electrical fault in the warning lamp circuit. Have them checked out. Keep an eye on your temperature guage to ensure you’re not overheating your engine.

Can your car be driven? If there are no major leaks, the vehicle is not overheating (and does not start to overheat), and there is still some evidence of coolant in the overflow bottle, it can be driven. If you can see coolant leaking on the ground—tow it. When in doubt, always tow it.

Red Oil Light: Stop driving immediately and shut the engine off! If a Red Oil Warning Light comes on it’s important to take action. The best case scenario is that your engine oil is a little low, or there is an electrical issue with the Oil Level Warning System circuit. Either way, follow your owners’ manual’s instructions to check your oil, and then add as recommended. Get your vehicle checked out at your earliest convenience. The worst case scenario is internal engine damage.

Note: many of today’s vehicles have very sensitive and sophisticated Oil Level Warning Systems. You may be alerted of oil level too high, or oil level too low. Again, follow your owners’ manual’s instructions.

Red Brake Light: Generally, Red Warning Lights mean danger. In the case of a Red Brake Warning Light, there may be a hydraulic brake fluid leak. If the brake pedal feels abnormal or spongy, don’t drive. Tow it to a trusted auto service center.

Hint: make sure that your emergency brake is not on as this will illuminate a Red Brake Warning Light.

Yellow Brake Light: This light is an early warning system for brake pad wear. Essentially, as your disc brake pads wear down, at a certain point a sensor is tripped to alert you that you will need brakes soon.

Can I drive the vehicle, and for how long? Yes, you can continue to drive. How long depends on your driving style. In other words, city drivers (city driving is generally harder on brakes due to the constant stop and go) will likely need their brakes addressed before someone who does primarily highway driving.

Will I do more damage to the brakes? Depending on how long you continue to drive you could conceivably wear your disc brake pads down to the metal backing plate, which could then damage your disc brake rotors and, in rare cases, the disc brake calipers.

However, with many of today’s brake systems, the replacement of the disc brake rotors along with the disc brake pads is required or strongly recommended anyway. Calipers rarely need replacing during regular brake work.


If your Yellow Brake Warning Light is on, it is better to have your brakes checked early to increase the possibility of saving money by not having to replace the rotors.

Note: many of today’s brake disc pads and rotors require replacement due to rust and corrosion versus wear; thus rotor replacement is often necessary anyway.

Tip: Brake work is easy money for auto service centers so they tend to be aggressive in their suggestions. Learn what you can do to protect yourself at car repair costs

Oil Service Reminder Lights (Maintenance Reminder Lights): Next to resetting check engine lights, resetting oil lights is the most common question we receive. Oil Light Reset Procedures, and Oil Change Warning Light Reset Procedures mean the same thing. Whether you’re driving a GMC or a BMW, the Oil Service Light requires a specific course of action.

Most owners’ manuals have this information. You should find it under maintenance or oil service. You can also call your local mechanic, who resets oil service lights everyday on a variety of models. A dealership will certainly have the information; however, finding someone in a dealership who can translate it effectively to you may be difficult.

If the above fails, see the process for Resetting Check Engine Light

Note: several European models require special tools to reset the oil service light, thus it’s best to call or visit a specialist or dealer.

Emissions Light: This light is similar to the Check Engine Light. Many European models such as Volvos have this type of Warning System. It’s essentially letting you know that an emissions component has failed or detected a fault. Follow the check engine light tips to address this particular warning light. Make sure you take your car to a shop equipped to handle emissions work. The service center should be Emissions Repair accredited.

Check Engine Light: See check engine light

Suspension and Traction Control: Air Suspension Lights (Airmatic, Air Ride, Hydraulic Suspensions): Suspension Warning Lights illuminate when the suspension’s monitoring system has detected a fault. Often there is a leak—either air or hydraulic fluid.

Can your vehicle be driven? Sometimes. But if the suspension is lower than usual, and/or the vehicle just doesn’t feel right, tow it. Extensive damage could result if the suspension drops too low while driving.

Note: suspension repairs are best left to the best, state-of-the-art service center you can find, preferably a dealership.

Tire Pressure Warning Lights: This technological causes quite a bit of confusion. Put simply, if your tire is getting low on air, your car lets you know via sensors mounted in various places depending on the model.

Sometimes the reset procedure is as simple as pressing a button. Other times one has to set the tire pressures, recalibrate the on-board computer, genuflect and cross two fingers. Check your owners’ manual.

What is the low tire pressure warning light reset procedure? The answer to this simple question depends on the vehicle. Check your owners’ manual or call a specialist or dealer.

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