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Do you know your car warning lights?

Apr 19, 2021

As rights of passage go, getting your hands on your full driving licence for the first time has to be right up there with the best. However, to make sure the future is as happy and trouble-free as possible, you’ll want to get off to the very best start.

Just one of the top tips for first time drivers is getting to know your car both outside and in. A key way to spot any problems early is to listen to what your car is telling you. And we don’t just mean those mysterious rattles and wheezes that sometimes appear. No, we mean something much more obvious, your car warning lights!

From blue, green, amber and red there are a whole host of symbols and lights that could appear on your dashboard at any one time. While some are nothing to worry about others are far more serious and need to be dealt with urgently. As a first time driver this could be a real cause for concern. Just as with buying insurance for first time drivers, let us take a load off your mind so you’ll know exactly what to do next time.

Getting the lowdown on car warning lights

You’ll no doubt be aware that when you first turn the key in the ignition a whole variety of lights will flash momentarily across the dashboard. This is perfectly normal and is a sign everything is working as it should be. However, what if one or more lights stay on when you’ve got the engine running?

Unfortunately, you could have a problem. The seriousness of which is usually indicated by the colour of the light – going from red for the most serious, through amber, green and finally blue.

Dealing with the least urgent first, blue and green lights usually mean a system is on or is operating and the light is there to remind you. For example, you’ve got your headlights on full beam or the lane departure warning system is on. If you’re ever unsure about what a light means then stop in a safe place and take a look in your vehicle’s handbook.

However, if red or amber warning lights appear then it will be something more serious you need to check out as soon as possible. While a low fuel warning is easily solved yourself others such as brake warnings could require some professional help.

If you’re ever unsure about what a light means then stop in a safe place and take a look in your vehicle’s handbook.

A red and an orange warning light lit up on a car dashboard
Red warning lights spell potential danger

Here’s a rundown of some of the red lights that commonly feature on most modern car dashboards. Depending on the make and model these can appear in different places and mean slightly different things. Always refer to your vehicle manual to double check.

Oil pressure warning

A loss in oil pressure can be caused by an oil leak, a faulty oil pump or too little (or too much) oil. When the pressure drops, lubrication can become low or even lost completely, potentially causing serious damage to the engine. It might just mean you need a simple oil top up. If this doesn’t help then get to the nearest garage.

Engine temperature warning

If your engine temperature goes above normal limits then this light will appear. You need to stop as soon as possible and let the engine cool down. Once it’s done so, check the coolant level. If it’s too low then it could be you’ve got a problem with the radiator and coolant is leaking out.

From a faulty fan or broken water pump to a blown head gasket there can be many reasons why an engine is overheating. If it keeps happening, then give a mechanic a call.

Brake warning

This usually means you’ve left the handbrake on. But if it isn’t that, then it could be you’ve got a more serious brake system problem and you need help.

Unfortunately, there’s really no way of knowing the extent of your problem without a full investigation by a professional. Never take a chance when it comes to the brakes.

Battery charge warning

Another all-purpose warning light covering a whole range of problems with the battery system. It could be a problem with the battery itself which needs replacing or a fault with the alternator or drive belt.

Whether the battery is low on charge or not charging properly it can lead to a whole host of car systems not working. Get a garage to check your battery and charging system to find the fault.

Airbag indicator

This indicator light usually appears because you have turned off the front airbag. However, it can also appear if there’s a fault with the airbag safety system. With such a vital piece of safety equipment that saves so many lives every year, it’s important to get it checked immediately.

Depending on the make and model these can appear in different places and mean slightly different things.

Various warning lights lit up on a dashboard
Amber warning lights – take care

Just because a light is amber rather than red doesn’t mean that you can ignore it. You’re risking serious damage and danger if you don’t take timely action.

Check engine warning

This warning light can appear for a variety of reasons, even when your car seems to be driving normally.

Your car is full of onboard diagnostic sensor systems that usually go about their job without you even noticing, before quickly warning you if potential problems develop with anything from ignition to fuel injection.

You won’t know whether it’s a minor or a major issue without a proper diagnosis from a mechanic.

Remember, picking up on problems early can save you spending more on repairs or breakdown recovery further down the line. First time driver insurance can include breakdown recovery if you need it – just ask the Smartdriverclub team for more details when you get a quote.

Anti-lock brake system (ABS) warning

Just like the airbag safety system, ABS has saved many lives on the roads but it needs to be working correctly. Provided there aren’t any noises or other danger signs coming from the wheels you should be safe to continue your journey until you reach a garage.

However, if the warning light appears alongside the brake warning light, there could be a major fault with the brakes. Gradually slow to a stop and then phone for help.

Low-fuel warning

Never ignore this light for anything more than a few miles. It’s best to stop at the nearest petrol station and fill up. As a new driver it’s important to be aware of where the nearest petrol stations are on your route. You don’t want to run out of fuel far from home.

Tyre pressure warning

Tyre pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) constantly monitor the pressure in all your tyres. If the pressure is too high or too low in one or more of your tyres, you’ll get a warning.

Having the wrong tyre pressures can affect braking, cornering and even cause a blow-out in some instances. Knowing what your tyre pressures should be and how to top them up is an important part of car maintenance for new drivers.

Traction control warnings

Most modern cars have traction control and there are a variety of symbols used. From the letters ESC (representing Electronic Stability Control) to a car with squiggly lines beneath it, it’s always worth checking in your manual.

It usually appears to warn you that the system has been turned off or there’s a fault. Turning the system back on should solve it. If not, you’ll need to get it checked.

Brake pad warning

If this symbol shows up on your dashboard it means a sensor has detected at least one brake pad is too thin and needs to be replaced.

If the light has only just appeared then this shouldn’t be an emergency as the sensors should be triggered before it’s dangerous. However, fitting a new brake pad should still be considered a priority.

If they wear down completely then braking performance will be dangerously affected. You could also do some seriously costly damage.

Damaging your car in an accident is one thing, but personal injuries are something else. That’s why benefits of first time driver insurance with Smartdriverclub can include personal injury cover up to £5,000.

Seatbelt warning

This one is very obvious, but also very important. If you or your passengers don’t have your seatbelts fastened then there’ll be a light and even an alarm to tell you.

According to road safety charity Brake the risk of a fatal crash quadruples when new drivers have a car full of passengers of a similar age. So, if you’re giving your mates a lift then always insist everyone buckles up!

Just because a light is amber rather than red doesn’t mean that you can ignore it.

An engine warning light lit up on a speedo
Exterior warning lights and when to use them

Dashboard warning lights are clearly an important source of information for the driver of a vehicle. However, there are also some important exterior lights to help keep other road users safe, too.

Fog lights

When you were a learner driver you may never have come across the need to use your fog lights. However, now you have your licence you could be driving in all weathers and could easily come across fog.

According to the Highway Code, you must not use your front or rear fog lights unless visibility is seriously reduced (generally when you cannot see for more than 100 metres).

If you use them when visibility is better, you could be putting other drivers at risk by dazzling them. Your rear fog lights could also obscure your brake lights in this case. Once visibility improves then you must turn them off immediately. If you’re stopped by the police, you could face a fine of £30.

Parking lights

Those small sidelights housed next to your main headlights not only make your car more visible at times when it’s not dark enough for main headlights. They also have a second purpose as parking lights.

The ever-helpful Highway Code states all vehicles must display parking lights when parked on a road (or a lay-by) with a speed limit greater than 30mph.

If the speed limit is 30mph or less, then parking lights are not needed provided your car is:

  • At least 10 metres from any junction, close to the kerb and facing in the direction of the traffic flow.
  • In a recognised parking place or lay-by.

While it’s especially dangerous to park in fog, if this is unavoidable then leave your parking lights on.

And if you’re worried about draining your battery then don’t be. Parking lights are designed to be left on for long periods of time.

Hazard lights

These blinking amber lights positioned at the four corners of your car are used to warn other drivers of danger or obstructions on the road ahead. You’ll know when you’ve turned them on as the dashboard button will show a red warning triangle.

In general, you should only turn on your hazard lights when your car is stopped in order to tell others you’re causing a temporary obstruction. For example, you might have been involved in an accident, broken down or been forced to stop by an obstruction.

You can use hazard lights when driving on a motorway if there’s an obstruction ahead that you need to warn other drivers about.

These blinking amber lights positioned at the four corners of your car are used to warn other drivers of danger or obstructions on the road ahead.

A red triangle button to turn the hazard lights on in the centre of a car dashboard
First time driver insurance to deal with any problem

There are enough potential problems in those vital first years of driving without worrying about the cost of first time driver insurance. If you want to bring down the cost of your insurance premiums have you considered black box or telematics insurance?

Our telematics insurance uses a simple-to-install Smartplug device to constantly monitor elements of the way you drive. For example, how often you brake or accelerate rapidly, take corners sharply or drive late at night.

Simply plug the Smartplug into your car and data will be fed back to your insurer and to a clever app on your smartphone. This lets you track your driving performance, get tips on how to improve your driving and when it comes to renewing your policy, you may even see your premiums reduced!

Benefits of Smartdriverclub insurance can also include windscreen cover, 30 day European cover, courtesy car cover, personal belongings cover, fire and theft cover, and in-car equipment cover up to £1,250.

There are also plenty of optional extras, too, to give you even more protection. Call Smartdriverclub for a first time driver insurance quote today.